The Center for Environment & Society
The Center for Environment & Society serves as a bridge between Washington College and the rich natural and human resources of the region. Lecture series, workshops, films and seminars provide new perspectives and professional development opportunities for the campus and the larger community. Competitively awarded student fellowships put students to work on real-world problems, allowing them to build a resume and establish connections in the professional world. In the innovative Chesapeake Semester, students range throughout the watershed, exploring the people, places and issues of the Chesapeake Bay in all of their complexity. The Center supports faculty teaching and research through collaboration and by providing access to a variety of resources. It also has led the College in meeting its obligations under the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, while acting as a catalyst in campus recycling, energy savings and the search for alternative energy. The knowledge gained in this effort has been transferred into surrounding municipalities and counties, allowing them to achieve significant cost-savings, while lowering their carbon footprints.
The Past Is Present Initiative (PIPI) acknowledges that to understand the present and where we are headed, we need to understand where we have been. It melds cultural and natural resource management, with an additional emphasis on eco- and heritage tourism as an important regional economic engine. The River & Field Campus (RAFC) offers 5,000 acres of farmland and forests for research and conservation, as well as 300 acres of restored prairie grasslands and the Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory. These resources broaden research and teaching opportunities and strengthen the College’s link to the Eastern Shore’s working landscape and agriculture. It will in the future be the home of a student-run farm. The Natural Lands Project is a large-landscape effort to restore native grasses, wetlands, and forest throughout the region, on private and public lands. With its grasslands model based on the successful restoration at RAFC, this effort to improve biodiversity and water quality is the largest habitat restoration project in the state. The Watershed Innovation Lab and its Chester River Watershed Observatory are an ambitious effort to comprehensively test, analyze, and understand the movement and quality of water in the watershed, at a level of detail achieved nowhere else on such a scale. It promises more refined modeling for the Chesapeake Bay and an approach that may be transferred to other parts of the country. The Center’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory utilizes cutting edge spatial analysis technology to work on a wide range of problems, including analysis of urban tree canopies and green infrastructure, biodiversity and land-use, crime mapping, habitat and ecosystem mapping, and community visioning. The GIS Lab and resources such as research vessels (46 ft and 27 ft) offer research and training opportunities not only for Washington College, but for local school children and their teachers.
Through these programs and others, the Center reaches out to communities, providing expertise to solve local problems. The emphasis, however, is on engaging communities, giving them the tools and information they need to resolve these problems on their own. Other projects include: community visioning, in which communities come together to reach consensus on local values and take charge of their future; analysis of land-use policies and comprehensive planning; tree planting and shoreline restoration projects; oyster gardening and fisheries restoration; professional development and training; and a wide variety of technical support. Washington College students, the primary constituents of the Center for Environment & Society, are involved in all of these projects, putting their academic training to work while learning by doing.
We live in a world with increasing environmental and related social problems, rapidly reaching crisis levels. As we work toward resolution, we especially need to cultivate a new generation of creative, solution-oriented leaders for the future. Everything we do prepares our undergraduates – the next generation of leaders – to help solve the most pressing environmental problems of the 21st Century, through innovative curriculum, real-world experiences, training in cutting edge technologies, and new ways of thinking.
Our vision is a Chesapeake Bay and watershed that is healthy and thriving; one in which natural systems and human communities are in balance. Strong interdisciplinary academic programs promote the integration of environmental and social values; through applied, real-world work, we prepare our graduates to be balanced and productive citizens, skilled and agile professionals, and champions and stewards of our natural and cultural resources.
The Center manages the college’s two research vessels, the Callinectes and Lookdown. The vessels can be reserved for your classes or department usage.
At 46 feet long, Callinectes is fully equipped with an array of the latest electronics and environmental instrumentation including trawls, sonar, acoustic seabed classification systems, magnetometers and positioning systems used in mapping and evaluating geological features of the Bay and its tidewaters. On the Chester River, sampling gear is used to collect water and sediment samples that are analyzed to measure nutrients, dissolved oxygen, algal abundance, toxic contaminants and other factors that tell us about the ecological health of the region.
In April 2013 CES acquired Lookdown from NOAA with the intent to provide additional research opportunities for Washington College students. Lookdown, created for the Coast Guard, will be primarily used for mapping the river with sonar, but will also be available for special trips for water sampling and testing.
Lookdown is considerably smaller than Callinectes, which works to her advantage. She will be able to access shallower areas of the Chester and coastal areas that are inaccessible to Callinectes.
The Center for Environment and Society at Washington College was created in 1999 to promote interdisciplinary learning, research and exemplary stewardship of natural and cultural resources. Its primary objective is to support the integration of ecological and social values.
In its early years, the Center focused primarily upon issues of sustainable agriculture on Maryland's Eastern Shore, along with educational programs to enhance the College's environmental studies curriculum. In cooperation with the Department of Sociology & Anthropology, critical new data management and analytical technologies such as Geographic Information Systems, were brought to campus.
While the mission of CES has remained the same since its inception, its capabilities have expanded significantly since 2006. Programs have grown from regional agricultural sustainability and environmental education to include estuarine studies and marine habitat assessment, the latter focus drawing the attention and interest of the National Park Service. Recognizing that the Center acts as a portal to one of the world’s greatest estuaries - the Chesapeake Bay, the Center, again in cooperation with archaeology, acquired remote sensing equipment including a side-scan sonar, marine magnetometers, acoustic seabed classification systems and hydrographic survey software, giving the Center the ability to expand its focus from the land into the water. Augmented significantly through the grant-supported internship and research associate programs, the Center's modest endowment has allowed staffing to expand and solidify.
The Center continues to give Washington College students the opportunity to understand fully the relationship between human and natural environments and provide them with the technical knowledge, practical experience, and aesthetic perspective needed to advance that relationship for the benefit of future generations.