Blending sociology and environmental science at a community college

Last week was Bellevue College’s 16th annual “Earth Week,” which is an extension of Earth Day, April 22. Throughout the week several lectures and events were held across campus, all focusing on environmental justice. One of the lectures was hosted by visiting Professors Darryl Brice, sociology, and Woody Moses, environmental science, from Highline Community College.
A few years ago, Brice and Moses brought their respective fields together to co-pioneer a class at HCC.

“Woody and I always wanted to teach together [and] we finally had a chance to do it after ten years of teaching at HCC,” said Brice.

According to the duo, the interdisciplinary program combines elements from both departments, crossing the barrier between humanities and the sciences. “We have very specific learning outcomes for our students, [and] the curriculum [between disciplines] overlaps,” Moses said. Some of the primary topics the class approaches are “sustainability, urban sprawl, environmental racism, and biodiversity,” said Brice.

During the lecture on Tuesday, April 21, Brice and Moses gave BC students a sample of what a typical day in their classroom might be like. “We probably have more fun than the students, honestly,” said Brice. The two had been friends before creating the class, which they say helped make it more enjoyable. “Teaching a class like this is almost like being married to each other for a quarter,” said Brice.

According to Brice, some benefits of this cross disciplinary class model are, “getting students to think critically about how the two fields are related” as well as teaching them how to apply what they have learned to other classes. Brice also said that “coordinated studies are a great form of professional development. I get to learn from another professor by watching [him] teach, design assignments [and] interact with students,” Brice said.

The two also did an interactive demonstration of a phenomenon called the “Tragedy of the Commons,” using M&Ms, plastic straws and spoons. This concept suggests that “any commons open to unregulated use will eventually be destroyed,” said Moses.

The M&Ms were meant to represent fish, and straws were given to each student participant to use as spears. Participants were asked to “fish” out of bowl called “fishing holes.” Spoons were then introduced to a few student participants as “new fishing technology.” The demonstration sparked discussion among attendees of the lecture regarding how overfishing, human greed, and capitalism effect the environment.

Classes like these are not entirely new to colleges like BC, they are often thought of as difficult to manage. BC Vice President for Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer Yoshiko Harden also attended and participated in the lecture. Harden explained that currently BC faculty members do have the ability to co-teach classes if they choose to, but she also thinks “faculty could continue to explore ways to teach in an interdisciplinary and cross-discipline manner. It can be challenging to do logistically because it involves a lot of coordination and co-planning.” Harden continued, “I think it supports the way we want students to think, in a critical way.”

Similar interdisciplinary courses are offered at BC, as a the two-class “Bite Me” series, which combines botany, biology, nutrition and environmental science with English. It explores the relationship between humans and nature through an exploration of the ecological and social impact of behavior and diet.