As the Environmental Program continues to expand, undergraduates with Environmental minors can now look to Dr.Johnston from the Department for the Study of Religions for advising and a sneak peek at the future of the program.

By: Content Development Assistant Kellie Shanaghan (’19)

Dr. Luke Johnston was recently appointed as the Director of the Environmental Program at Wake Forest University. In this role, he supports undergraduate students pursuing minors in environmental studies and environmental science.

The Environmental Program was established in 1995 by a group of faculty across several disciplines. It offers an interdisciplinary approach to studying how humans interact with the environment by offering classes from a range of disciplines including biology, chemistry, English, politics, law, religion, and anthropology. Dr. Johnston takes over the direction of the program from Dr. Eric Stottlemyer, who has joined the office of the Dean of the College as Associate Dean for the Engaged Liberal Arts.

The program, which currently has over 70 declared students, is also working to create a major degree in environment and sustainability. Students have already demonstrated significant interest in the interdisciplinary field.

“I had six students contact me about the major just this week,” Dr. Johnston said. “But we probably have two dozen who have expressed interest.”

In May 2018, Sebastian Irby was the first Wake Forest student to graduate with a degree in interdisciplinary sustainability studies. Irby designed her unique curricular path through the Interdisciplinary Honors major and provided a proof of concept for the long-held vision for a major related to environmental studies. Just one year later, two students from the class of 2019 — Cameron Waters and Mackenzie Howe — graduated with degrees in interdisciplinary honors environmental studies. There are at least six additional students who are crafting their own interdisciplinary majors to reflect their interests in this area.

The curriculum for the environment and sustainability major, which will draw on the capacity of the university’s interdisciplinary program, is several steps into the college’s development process for new degree programs. If the program development goes as planned, students could declare the major as soon as fall 2020. 

“My vision is to have broad faculty buy-in in this hopeful expansion of the program that not only instantiates the values of Wake Forest in terms of Pro Humanitate, but also the college’s emphasis on engaged learning and global programs,” Dr. Johnston said. “I think all of those are things that are evidenced in the minor currently, but will be made made explicit in the proposed new majors.”

Dr. Johnston, a Wake Forest alumnus, graduated with a B.A. in psychology in 1998. He returned to Wake Forest as Postdoctoral Fellow of Religion and Environment in 2009, after receiving an M.A. in Ethics and Social Policy from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, a Graduate Certificate in Environmental Ethics from the University of Georgia, and a Ph.D. in Religion and Nature from the University of Florida.

In this new role, Associate Professor Johnston sees that the application of values across the sciences, humanities, arts, and even professional disciplines is attractive to students as well as employers looking for well-rounded individuals who are trained to interrogate issues across disciplinary boundaries and to develop solutions with local-to-global impact.