Associate Professor and School of the Environment’s Co-Director Aritree Samanta teaching ENVS 480- Climate Change Adaptation and Justice HSS 156 on August 30, 2023. 
 
(Colin Flynn/ Golden Gate Xpress)
Associate Professor and School of the Environment’s Co-Director Aritree Samanta teaching ENVS 480- Climate Change Adaptation and Justice HSS 156 on August 30, 2023. (Colin Flynn/ Golden Gate Xpress)
Colin Flynn

San Francisco State University’s College of Science & Engineering launched a new School of the Environment

A new school merges three departments for easier access to environmental degrees and more opportunities for students, including master’s degrees

San Francisco State University opened a new School of the Environment this fall semester to support students who are going into careers involving the environment.

SotE was approved by the Faculty Senate in January 2023 and has Carmen Domingo, the dean of the College of Science and Engineering, overseeing the new school since its incorporation into the CoSE.

SotE merges CoSE’s Departments of Earth & Climate Sciences and Geography & Environment with the Environmental Studies degree programs in the School of Public Affairs & Civic Engagement.

According to Domingo, a lot of time was spent working with the faculty across these three different programs and conveying to them that combining these programs into one SotE would be best for students. In the early stages of SotE’s inception, Domingo and others involved felt it would be challenging to convince professors from the two other programs to join forces.

“It was kind of a big decision to say, ‘OK, we’re going to leave the department that’s been in existence for decades and create this new thing, where we’re going to bring in members from different departments and different colleges together,’” said Domingo. “It’s like creating a new family.”

The committee prioritized students and aimed to improve environmental programs.

“Students would enter a restructured School of the Environment and they could come in, and if they had an interest in environment, they could explore whether it’s geology, land structures, watersheds or environmental policies and practices that are impacting people and behaviors,” Domingo said.

Associate Professor at the School of the Environment, Aritree Samanta, teaching ENVS 480- Climate Change Adaptation and Justice HSS 156 on August 30, 2023. (Colin Flynn/ Golden Gate Xpress) (Colin Flynn)

CoSE is the college that launched the new SotE. Domingo said it was simple because two departments already existed within CoSE.

“The only new program that came into our college came out of the College of Health and Social Sciences, which has a program called the School of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement case (PACE), had an environmental studies program that was situated in a different college. We invited the environmental studies program to join,” Domingo said.

SotE has three co-directors due to the merging of three separate programs instead of having a single director. Autumn Thoyre is one of them.

Thoyre said it was a long process of talking and thinking about whether merging the departments was in the best interest of the faculty and students.

“In the last couple of years, we have been in talks about, ‘Is this something we ought to do?’ We spent fall 2021 and spring 2022, we created a planning committee that included faculty and associate deans from all the three units that came together,” Thoyre said. “And the point of [the] planning committee was to discuss ‘Is this something we ought to do?’ And if so, let’s create an MOU, a memorandum of understanding about how the new school should be.”

Thoyre teamed up with Earth & Climate Sciences and Geography & Environment for more advising support in her department.

“I was program coordinator of the environment studies program, which had about 150 students but only two or three faculty members, and that’s just not enough faculty to support that many students,” Thoyre said.

SotE plans to hold an election in November to appoint an internal full-time director who will take charge in January 2024.

“It’s going to be internal, I think that we don’t have funding for the university to attract an outside candidate, so it’ll be internal. It’ll be somebody who’s already in the School of the Environment, a faculty member,” Thoyre said.

Jennifer Blecha is an associate professor at SotE who formerly taught geography and environment for 16 years.

“We made sure everybody got that proposal and had meetings about it. And we did presentations about it, and the committee went and presented it to all three departments. Then we had a vote last December; four different units had to vote,” Blecha said.

One of the biggest issues students faced was ensuring they were taking the correct course and making sure it was in the correct college.

“Previously, there was an environmental studies major, and there was an environmental science major, and they were in different departments and different colleges, and we had a lot of students sign up for one. And then they were confused why they couldn’t take classes in the other one,” Blecha said.

Aritree Samanta, an associate professor at SotE, was one of two representatives from the environmental studies program on the planning committee for SotE. According to Samanta, SotE was built “from the ground up,” involving environmental professors from the different departments in a discussion process.

“Keeping students at the center of our discussion because one of the primary objectives for these three programs coming together, these two units coming together was to have one home for students who are interested in anything environmental,” Samanta said.

SotE offers 68 courses and currently has a total of 307 students enrolled. The main office is at HSS 279, but classrooms and faculty offices are split between the Health & Social Sciences building and Thornton Hall. HSS also has a map library that is part of the new school and is a community hang-out space.

Editors Note: A previous version of this story stated SotE this fall would offer 16 distinct courses, Aritree Samanta as a co-director of the new school and “Environmental Studies” referring to “studying the environment”. 

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About the Contributors
Luis Cortes, Staff Reporter
Luis Cortes (he/him) is a reporter for Golden Gate Xpress. He is majoring in journalism and minoring in recreation, parks, and tourism. He was born in Mexico but grew up in Richmond, California, where he currently lives. He previously worked for The Advocate, the student newspaper of Contra Costa Community College. During his free time, Luis enjoys hiking, watching sports and listening to podcasts.
Colin Flynn, Photographer
Colin is a photographer for Golden Gate Xpress. He was born and raised in San Diego but lives in San Francisco. Colin started shooting photos while skateboarding with his friends. He has also won a photograph contest hosted by Levi Jeans & The Berrics.

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