Academics and Research
At Hamilton College, we believe in the power of education to drive sustainability. Our curriculum provides many pathways for students to get involved inside and outside the classroom. Students in Environmental Studies, Biology, and other departments work with interdisciplinary faculty in environmental justice, environmental data science, and climate change, as well as with faculty from other disciplines to develop skills and perspectives needed to understand the Earth we live on. Field work during class time includes trips out to local sites and Hamilton’s glens, the 800-acre forested area surrounding the core of our campus. Students are given the opportunity to measure erosion, bodies of water to measure pH, and local farms to speak with farmers.
Sustainability Across the Curriculum
Sustainability within the curriculum is integrated into both humanities and STEM curricula, providing students with a comprehensive understanding of environmental issues and solutions across academic disciplines. Here is a sample of some of the broad themes that incorporate sustainability for students to learn at Hamilton.
Ecology courses allow students to learn about challenges facing the natural environment, and also focus on conservation action. Since 2019, Ecology students have been contributing to a reforestation project in the underutilized areas of Hamilton’s golf course. To date, ecology students have planted hundreds of native trees (birches, oaks, cherries, maples, hickories, and more), as well as important pollinator plants (e.g., milkweed). This allows students to better understand native trees, their pests, successional stage, and ecosystem services, as well as to estimate changes that these plantings will make to Hamilton’s carbon budget over time.
Biodiversity topics within the curriculum explore the diverse patterns of life on our planet and the factors that shape them. Students examine how human activities are endangering biodiversity, leading to a significant loss of species. In various department’s labs, students assess the variety of species in our campus forests and contribute to conservation efforts.
Literature courses explore representations of the natural world throughout history and across cultures. Students may examine the balance between environmental protection and the sustainability of civilizations in poems, non-fiction, autobiographies and memoirs. Literature chronicles humans' evolving decision to protect their environment or use it as a disposable resource.
Women and Gender Studies
Women’s and Gender Studies classes delve into the interconnections among gender, labor, and environmental issues within social movements. Students examine women’s activism, their roles in organizing work, caretaking responsibilities, and motherhood within these movements. Moreover, this topic includes an art exhibit at the Wellin Museum.
Economic topics examine the intersection of economic theory and environmental concerns. Through this lens, students explore topics such as evaluating the costs and benefits of pollution control, developing effective public policies for environmental enhancement, and analyzing historical and current environmental programs in the United States. Students also address the concept of sustainable growth and explore issues related to environmental quality.
Philosophy delves into the multifaceted aspects of food systems and their impact on the environment, society, and personal well-being. Through engaging discussions and analyses, students explore various ethical considerations surrounding food production, distribution, and consumption. Students also examine ways in which Hamilton’s dining halls can enhance the quality and sustainability of their meal selections.
Archeology explores the connections between human societies and the natural environment. Through topics such as biodiversity decline, human-environmental interactions, and the resilience of past civilizations, students will gain an understanding of sustainability and the challenges of building resilient societies in the face of environmental changes.
Environmental Studies Senior Capstone
In the Capstone Practicum, Environmental Studies seniors develop and apply interdisciplinary research approaches to a local environmental issue via collaborative, community-engaged research projects. In 2023, students focused on the influence of climate change on maple trees and maple syrup in central New York. Students explored the science behind climate change, maple sap, and forest health. The course connected students with local farms and guest speakers to learn about the cultural significance, economics, sustainability, and food systems involved in maple syrup production. Student projects covered a range of topics that spanned the human and natural science dimensions associated with maple syrup. Examples of student projects include measurements of maple sap sugar concentrations, the creation of a local climatology relevant for sap producers, and explorations of the role of agritourism and energy efficient technologies in maple farms.
Examples of student projects include measurements of maple sap sugar concentrations, the creation of a local climatology relevant for sap producers, and explorations of the role of agritourism and energy efficient technologies in maple farms.
At off-campus destinations, Hamilton students expand their knowledge through academic and real-world engagement. Internships and experiential learning are major components of Hamilton’s domestic programs. Students in Environmental Studies who focus on sustainability do a large number of programs. Here is a sampling of programs Hamilton students may participate in:
- Byron Bay, Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action
- Sustainability and Environmental Action (SIT)
- Lisbon, Portugal: Sustainability and Environmental Justice
- Paro, Bhutan: Himalayan Environment and Society in Transition
- Himalayan Environment and Society in Transition (School for Field Studies)
- Ísafjörður, Iceland: Climate Change and the Arctic
- Copenhagen, Denmark: Sustainability
- Puerto Natales, Patagonia: Fire and Ice
Student and Faculty Research
At Hamilton College, students have the opportunity to explore various research topics related to sustainability through collaborations with professors, grants, and summer fellowships. These projects cover a wide range of areas, enabling students to contribute to the field of sustainability. Additionally, the faculty members at Hamilton are actively involved in their own research, creating a dynamic environment for students to engage in meaningful sustainability initiatives.
The Program on Sustainability at the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center is an interdisciplinary program that supports research on sustainability as well as programs that complement and enrich classroom learning. The Program is a broad-based, multi-faceted initiative that promotes both academic research on sustainable practices and policies to achieve them as well as hands-on learning experiences for Hamilton students. The Levitt Center’s sustainability program supports the study of issues related to meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. These issues include environmental conservation as well as poverty reduction and health. In the past, we have brought Matthew E. Kahn ’88, Sean Safford, and Edward Glaeser to campus to speak on sustainability.
Past Levitt Center research projects on Sustainability:
- Katelyn Bieber ’23: The Subarctic Ethic: Understanding the Impact of Dramatic Landscapes on Climate Visions and Values in Southeast Alaska
- Oliva Chandler ’23: Realizing Radical Hope in Rural Places: How Tidelines Institute in Alaska Connects Place, Advocacy, and Alternative Environmental Education
Motivation to Embrace or Escape? A Comparative Look at Two Post-Capitalist Communities.
Emory Goodwin ’23: Development or Decline: Understanding Community Barriers to Solar Expansion in Upstate New York
Sean Storr ’22: Environmental Equity and the Cosmetics Industry: An Intersectional Perspective