The Evergreen State College’s MES program celebrates 40 years

Students in the program Analyzing Permaculture Systems take measurements to analyze the carbon stored in the forest surrounding the organic farm on Mon., Jan. 27, 2020. Melissa Nivala and Steven Scheuerell are faculty. Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College

Submitted by The Evergreen State College

Evergreen has been a leader in environmental studies for more than 50 years and the Master of Environmental Studies program is celebrating 40 years since the program started at Evergreen in 1984. The MES program allows students to earn an interdisciplinary graduate degree that prepares students for the complex nature of professional environmental work. Coursework combines natural and social sciences, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, communication, and policy with opportunities to gain specialized knowledge in group and independent project work. MES students are innovative thinkers who approach environmental challenges with eagerness and ambition, representing a range of ages, cultures, and expertise. The interdisciplinary curriculum is centered in collaboration which is often emulated in the program by the faculty who team-teach together in core classes; each member coming from varying disciplines and expertise to demonstrate unified perspectives on environmental work.  

Students in the annual Wetlands Ecology and Monitoring Techniques Internship learn to identify plant species on campus under the guidance of WSDOT staff on Tues., Jun. 26, 2018. The internship is offered by the Washington State Dept. of Transportation in conjunction with Evergreen, and provides hands-on field and laboratory experience collecting and analyzing environmental data gathered from WSDOT wetland mitigation sites. Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College

A cornerstone of the Evergreen model of learning, the lack of grades and GPA’s, is also adopted in MES. Graduate students are expected to engage in a feedback system that allows students the chance to gain insights into their own writing development, analytical thinking skills, communication skills, and understanding of key concepts. Students engage in giving and receiving feedback throughout the quarter and are then asked to critically reflect at the end of each course about their experiences, learning, growth, and development. Students write self-evaluations, faculty evaluations, and receive narrative evaluations from their faculty for each course pursued, a similar experience to performance reviews in the workplace.  

In the first year, students experience interdisciplinary core curriculum with the option of pursuing electives in topics that each student is passionate about. Often students will pursue one or both graduate level certificate offerings in Geographic Information Systems and Mapping with Drones. Students also have the flexibility to pursue internships for elective credit in place of coursework for one or two quarters so that real-world work experience is represented on their transcript. One unique offering in MES is the Evergreen self-driven course option called an Independent Learning Contract. These are great opportunities to work with a faculty member to design a learning experience that meets a student’s academic or professional interests for a quarter. These are often curated and carried out independently which is a great option for students who enjoy academic freedom and the chance to chart their own course during their graduate education.  

Students in the program Maritime Cultures of Northwest Washington visit the Nisqually National Wildlife area on Thurs., Apr. 19, 2018. Evergreen alumnus Davy Clark talks about the history of the land and leads a bird watching walk through the preserve. Students in the program Analyzing Permaculture Systems take measurements to analyze the carbon stored in the forest surrounding the organic farm on Mon., Jan. 27, 2020. Melissa Nivala and Steven Scheuerell are faculty. Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College

The second year in MES may be different depending on a student’s timeline in the program. Offering both a full-time and part-time track option, students can complete the degree in a two or three-year timeline. This allows students who work full-time, or who have many personal-life obligations, the chance to experience a better work-life balance as they earn their graduate degree in three years. Students on the full-time track take a four-credit elective each quarter for two years. Part-time students pursue only the core curriculum in the first year, all elective requirements in the second year, and solely focus on their thesis in the third year. 

The final requirement in MES occurs in the last year – an independent thesis research project. Students are not asked to know what they want to do their thesis on when they apply for admissions to the program, but they are instead asked to experience coursework and explore their interests through networking, attending conferences, participating in internships, talking with their supervisors and colleagues, or connecting with peers about thesis topics and community research needs. In the final year, each student narrows their focus to a thesis research project on a topic of their choosing which allows them to gain subject matter expertise and project management skills in an area beneficial to each student’s career goals.   

Students with Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies (MES) program visit the Taylor Shellfish Mussel farm on Tues., Feb. 27, 2018. They talked with staff about the roles that water quality, biology and climate play in the northwest shellfish industry. Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College

Throughout a student’s academic journey in MES, they gain invaluable skills in collaboration, writing, communication, statistical analysis, critical thinking, and project management. The flexibility and transferrable skills developed in the program allow students the opportunity to create their own path, whether entering with a clear goal or discovering a passion along the way. All students who complete an MES degree are poised for careers in professional environmental work or careers in academia and research. Regardless of career path, students leave the program knowing there are many ways to view and address environmental challenges and continue to remain open-minded to the thoughts and opinions of others, knowing that collaboration and communication are essential to creating a brighter future for all. 

For more information on Evergreen’s Master of Environmental Studies program please visit the MES website.

MES student Stephanie Blair isolates Coho salmon hemoglobin in the lab on Fri., Nov. 3, 2017. Blair developed a new methodology for studying fish hemoglobin as part of her MES thesis work. Photo courtesy: The Evergreen State College


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