Spotlight Dave Kaplan
Q&A with Dave Kaplan, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Geography, Kent State University
- Founder and Director of Environmental Studies Program (Fall 2017 -) Now with 175 Majors
- Graduate Coordinator, Geography
- Coordinator of Urban Studies and Planning Minor (1996- )
- Past-President of the American Association of Geographers 2019-20
What are your favorite accomplishments or projects you have worked on so far?
I was very pleased to initiate the Environmental Studies major in Fall 2017. This provided a field of study that had not yet been served at Kent State and the timing was overdue. Since the program began, the number of majors has grown steadily and the courses available to these majors has increased substantially. We introduced a new minor in Fall 2020 which has attracted several students. This year, we are also revising the major a little bit. We are retaining the structure which has proven quite flexible but adding in several new course options. Environmental Studies also just became a part of the Choose Ohio First program and so we have been able to provide some scholarships to entering students.
What is your favorite part of your position?
I enjoy helping all of these students find a course of study that really excites them. The students majoring in Environmental Studies have been wonderful and I like engaging with them as an advisor and as a teacher. I maintain contact with our growing number of alumni through a listserv and am pleased that students and former students continue to assist each other with internship possibilities and job prospects.
What has been a favorite course that you teach? What do you enjoy about it?
I teach the required readings course – Environmental Studies and Sustainability – and the required final project course – Integrative Senior Project. Both of these courses allow me to know all of the ENVS students, to hear their opinions on environmental issues, and to work with them on a meaningful research project. Since the major has gotten so big, we have developed multiple sections of these two required courses. Unfortunately, that means that I cannot directly teach all of the students in the program, but I hope to get a chance to meet and talk with every student in some way.
What was your motivation to found and create the Environmental Studies Program at Kent State and can you tell us more about the program that started in the Fall of 2017?
I was motivated to begin the Environmental Studies program after a semester as the Carroll Visiting Professor at the University of Oregon in 2014. At Oregon, I witnessed a strong and successful Environmental Studies major and thought that it should be possible to develop a similar program at Kent State. As luck would have it, there was nothing like this at KSU! So, after checking into lots of other programs, I assembled a committee and began the process of developing the major. I was grateful for the help of my colleagues and especially for Dr. Chris Post, who spearheaded the development of the major at the Stark campus. What surprised me is just how long it took to get the major established. It took a full three years from the time we initiated the idea in late summer 2014 until it was inaugurated for students in August 2017.
The Environmental Studies major is designed to be quite flexible with only 5 required courses. The rest of the courses are distributed in clusters, divided between science and social science offerings. We encourage students to take on additional minors, sometimes even to double major, and to consider internship possibilities. As director, I try to assist each and every student at the Kent campus. Chris Post works with the students at Stark. The important thing to remember is that this is Environmental Studies – students learn the science of the environment of course, but they also learn about environmental education, communication, stewardship, policy making, and remediation. To really change things in this country, we will need more people who know how to interpret, explain, and persuade.
I look forward to expanding Environmental Studies in the future: first with a revised major and then with other potential curricular offerings, such as a graduate program. In this era of environmental threat, I cannot imagine a more important major.