School of Environment, Geography, and Sustainability reimagines environmental education and scholarship at WMU

Contact: Elena Meadows

Dr. Benjamin Ofori-Amoah is founding director of the new School of Environment, Geography, and Sustainability (SEGS).

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Dr. Benjamin Ofori-Amoah, founding director of the new School of Environment, Geography, and Sustainability, would like to make Western Michigan University the first-choice school for students interested in the environment, geography and sustainability.

Born of discussions between Western’s Department of Geography, Environment and Tourism and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability about how best to collaborate and strengthen teaching and scholarship focused on the environment, the School of Environment, Geography, and Sustainability combines the expertise of faculty and staff in both units. On July 1, 2023, the school formally became the administrative home of existing programs previously housed separately in the two units. 

These programs include 11 undergraduate majors and five minors, one graduate degree, and two graduate certificate programs from the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and Department of Geography, Environment and Tourism. In addition, the global and international studies major and minor programs and the climate change studies minor will now be administered by the School of Environment, Geography, and Sustainability. The school will also continue to offer a joint graduate certificate program in climate change policy and management with the Department of Political Science. Additionally, the School of Environment, Geography, and Sustainability will be the home of the W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change. 

With 22 full-time faculty and staff, together with part-time faculty and more than 300 students, the School of Environment, Geography, and Sustainability looks forward to pursuing their mission: To foster the training of students who are interested in the environment, providing them with outstanding experiences in the classroom and beyond, and preparing them for diverse careers, while supporting world-class research and creative scholarship focused on protecting the environment for all.

“I’m really excited about the new school because it’s going to be an opportunity for faculty members to work together,” says Ofori-Amoah. “We are bringing together two units that have a wide variety of expertise in all aspects of the environment and sustainability, so it will be very interesting and very good for our students to come in and work with all these wonderful people.”

Gone are the artificial “silos” created from having two separate units. Students will benefit from an expanded pool of faculty with expertise in the environment and other areas. Ofori-Amoah trusts that the new school will encourage faculty to work closely with one another to develop innovative, interdisciplinary courses and programs, creating  something more unique for themselves and their students.

“Down the line we know there will be some transitions, trying to frame certain programs as not geography or environment, but something else in the spirit of both programs, so I see that as an advantage,” says Ofori-Amoah. 

The school plans to revive a community and regional planning program that had been put on hold due to low enrollment despite an outstanding job market for graduates, as well as to investigate how they might combine existing environmental studies and environmental geography programs to create unique environmental- and sustainability-related programs. In addition, “we have a very good master’s program and we think it’s going to become stronger as we get more environmentally focused,” Ofori-Amoah says.

While there will inevitably be some growing pains in achieving the merger for faculty, staff and students, including the task of physically integrating two previously separate units located in different sections of Wood Hall, Ofori-Amoah and his leadership team are fully committed to addressing these challenges throughout the upcoming year. 

Ofori-Amoah brings significant global experience to his role, starting with an education in his native Ghana, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in geography with statistics, and master’s degree in urban and regional planning. After that he moved on to the United Kingdom to pursue a master’s degree in higher educational administration. From there he continued his education in Canada, where he earned a doctorate in geography.

Arriving in the United States in 1990, he began as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point in 1991, teaching economic geography and urban planning, and ultimately becoming a department chair. He joined the staff at Western Michigan University as department chair of geography in 2006, where he has taught classes in economic geography, urban geography and urban planning.

Ofori-Amoah’s original roots in Ghana sparked his special interest in studying economic development issues, while his experiences in Stevens Point and Kalamazoo led him to develop a second interest in studying the needs of America’s small cities.

“Big cities have problems, but they have resources so they can do a lot of things,” says Ofori-Amoah. “Kalamazoo—we are not Chicago, we are not New York. Small cities have their own unique problems. Because of (limited) resources they are not able to bring in high paid consultants to solve these problems.” 

Some areas of focus for School of Environment, Geography, and Sustainability students will include climate change, extreme weather conditions and their impact on resources, freshwater sustainability, environmental planning, and physical and environmental issues that impact living conditions—including those resulting in health inequities such as racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes. 

Long term, Ofori-Amoah envisions opportunities for the school to have a positive impact not only within Western’s walls, but also in the broader community. “Already, some of our programs have a lot of connections within the local community, and with all the things that are going on that are environment related, it is our hope that the school will become a major player and a major contributor with the local community.”

He would like to expand current faculty involvement in the Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition, as well as increase the number of students engaging in service learning with local organizations—sharing their own knowledge and gleaning new information. Such experiential learning opportunities “help our students learn the practical aspects of the concepts they are studying in class,” say Ofori-Amoah, and will prepare them for success well beyond graduation.

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