As an innovative and interdisciplinary liberal arts bachelor’s degree, Global Liberal Studies (GLS) is known for its focus on experiential learning, immersive study away, and independent research, but also for its constant evolution to keep pace with a changing world. Though its five original concentrations already span far and wide across the arts and culture as well as ethics and politics, in March of last year the next step on the program’s horizon became clear to faculty and students, and SHE was born.
SHE, standing for Sustainability, Health, and the Environment is a multidisciplinary concentration meant to “provide students with the knowledge and skills required for understanding the complex interplay between humans and the natural world,” “[integrating] the humanities and sciences to study human and environmental impacts on the planet's resources and populations.” While the curriculum continues to develop, the current categories of study include agriculture and food studies, arts and literature of the environment, biodiversity and conservation, climate change, demography, ecological footprint, environmental justice, green design, public health and disease, sustainable development and energy, sustainable fashion, urban health and the built environment, and waste management.
Dr. Eugenia Naro-Maciel, a Liberal Studies professor (who has taught classes like Living in the Anthropocene and Environmental Studies) and SHE chair, shed light on the process for creating a new concentration. Taking stock of the global climate (literally), Professor Naro-Maciel was one of the faculty members who recognized the need for expanding GLS’s purview saying, “It coincided with... global recognition that [the climate and biodiversity loss crises] are major threats that have to be confronted...”
Under such pressing conditions, it seems that SHE was started practically overnight. From the moment fellow Liberal Studies professor Emily Bauman raised the idea of a new concentration in a spontaneous hallway meeting, to running the idea by the Science Faculty and administration the very same day, the overall process was swift. As Naro-Maciel notes, it was largely thanks to the unanimous support from the entire faculty and administration that what began as a bold idea was fast-tracked and only six months later, students were able to declare SHE as their concentration. “So many faculty came... together and volunteered to be in the concentration and... every single one of them has just been invaluable,” says Naro-Maciel.
As the concentration continues to grow, Professor Naro-Maciel is thrilled about the possibility that GLS’s truly global focus offers to students. Current SHE students (pioneers of the program, you could say) have already expressed such a diversity in ideas for their research and senior theses, and NYU’s global network will be essential in the realization of their academic goals. Liberal Studies staff are already working behind the scenes to build out the infrastructure for SHE students to spend their junior year away at sites like Shanghai, Accra, and Berlin, from which they’ll have the chance to bring back global insights to their work senior year. From their academic inquiry in the classroom here in New York to their experiential learning at internships abroad, Naro-Maciel hopes that students will ultimately develop their own critical thinking skills to tackle these pressing issues as they transition into their careers.
Truly, the students’ potential is at the heart of this new concentration, and as such, there’s been a clear call from faculty and staff for students to provide their input and shape what their program becomes. Naro-Maciel urges, “We want to meet the needs of the students, do what they want. ...It is a new program so we are inviting our students to… collaborate with us in order to build it together so [it’s] not just faculty led, but student led.”
In a final call to spark interest among incoming students who just may be the world’s future leaders, Professor Naro-Maciel stresses both the situation and opportunity at hand:
We have this rigorous and multidisciplinary focus on pressing issues of our time. There is no doubt anymore—these global reports have come out, we are in a climate crisis, we are in a biodiversity crisis, and…. we are reaching the limits of what the planet can support, so this is an issue that concerns all of us. We need leaders, we need people from many different fields... [that] can really make a difference. Now is the time and this is important for us as well as our future generations; we need to protect the environment, and New York City and NYU are great places to do this.