Force of Nature: 35 Years of Environmental Science

climate changeenvironmental sciencenew york citySTEMsustainability Barnard’s Department of Environmental Science was founded 35 years ago. Its origins, however, reach as far back as Barnard’s first year, 1889, when students studied geology, geography, and mineralogy with Columbia University professors. Below we share the history of the department as it grew from one course to a department that is leading innovation in environmental research and education.

The Rise of Environmental Science

On November 14, 2017, the Barnard community will celebrate the anniversary with a day-long event that honors its environmental leadership and innovation. Keynote Speaker Annie Leonard ’86, executive director of Greenpeace USA, will discuss, “The State of the Environment: How to Get to a Better Future?” The day will also include workshops on creative approaches to advocacy, education, outreach, research, and technology. Panel discussions, featuring faculty and students from the department, will range from our global ecology to hydrofracking.


1889: Barnard students interested in geology, geography, and mineralogy study with Columbia University professors.
1902: Barnard brings geology to its own campus with the hiring of Ida H. Ogilvie—who heads the department from 1911-1941—to teach the first course on the subject. The first summer field course is offered in 1905.
1911: The Department of Geology becomes official. In 1913, New York City is used as a classroom for the first time when “The Local Geology of New York” is taught.
1944: “Natural Resources” first appears as a course.
1953: The New York Times writes, “Nine are employed in scientific laboratories” from a class of 234.
Department Beginnings

1961: When the shift from studying Earth’s resources to studying humankind’s dependence on natural resource occurs, students now major in Conservation of Natural Resources.
1968: Environmental Science is taught for the first time under the Geology, Geography, and Botany departments.
1970: The Conservation of Natural Resources major becomes Environmental Conservation and Management—one of the nation’s early Environmental majors—with a focus on issues crucial to human survival.
The First Decade

1982: The Department of Geography dissolves. Environmental Science, led by adjunct assistant professor Richard Bopp, is created and offers both a major and a minor in Environmental Science. The department has no full-time faculty.
1984: The department graduates its first two students.
1987: Professor Peter Bower becomes the department’s first full-time lecturer. The following year, with Bower as chair, students flock to register for the Environmental Case Studies class, which enrolls 45, compared to just 12 the year before.
The Second Decade

1991: Professor Joe Liddicoat joins the department (through 2006) to co-teach and co-direct Intro to Environmental Science Labs, and to teach in the Harlem Education Activities Fun program and the Pre-College Summer Program (Brownfield Action).
1992: Environmental Science majors and Professor Bower (now also Mayor of Teaneck, NJ), with support from President Ellen Futter and other faculty, create a tenure track line which gives the department equal standing with the other science departments.
1993: Stephanie Pfirman, Professor of Environmental Science and the Alena Wels Hirschorn ’58 and Martin Hirschorn Professor of Environmental and Applied Sciences, becomes chair of the department.
1995: In collaboration with Columbia’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Professor Stephanie Pfirman

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