SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Numerous Wofford College students have made the world their environmental studies classroom.

Ireland McGaughey, a senior environmental studies and sociology and anthropology major from Savannah, Georgia, studied wildlife conservation and ethics in Tanzania.

Casey Harcourt, a senior environmental studies and mathematics major from Moreland, Georgia, explored public policy, science and Spanish in Quito, Ecuador, and the Galapagos.

Reeves Goettee, a senior biology and environmental studies major from Summerville, South Carolina, discovered even greater respect for sustainability while honing her photography skills in New Zealand.

The three women, who are members of the 10th anniversary class of environmental studies majors at Wofford, think global and act local. They embrace the breadth of the major while digging deep into their capstone projects. They’re products of everything the program was designed to be, and they’re going to make a difference wherever they go — no question.

McGaughey grew up on the Atlantic coast, fishing and catching insects. Harcourt’s family owned a small farm outside of Atlanta.

Goettee’s home was in the suburbs, but she spent time in the country with her grandparents.

“The students who major in environmental studies usually come from one of two pathways,” says Dr. Kaye Savage, professor and chair of the department. “Some have grown up hunting and fishing and spending time in the woods with their families. They love that culture and love being outside. Then we have the students who come because they feel like the world is falling apart, and they need to make a difference.”

Savage speaks from experience when she says those differences make for interesting class discussions. Add the interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum to the mix, and it’s not uncommon for a topic such as climate change to start with science but jump to politics, the economy, demographics, denial and even religion or science fiction.

“In environmental studies, we emphasize the importance of the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities in understanding the world. They’re the legs of the three-legged stool on which environmental studies students must metaphorically sit,” says Dr. Peter Brewitt, assistant professor of environmental studies.

“The interdisciplinary nature of the major is what sets Wofford apart from other colleges and universities,” says John Lane, a 1977 Wofford graduate, who team-taught the class and learning community that became the model for the major. Lane became the first director of the environmental studies program, which was designed to be broad with a rigorous fieldwork component.

Interdisciplinary courses — an introduction and a senior seminar — bookend required courses and electives that highlight environmental issues in the context of different disciplines.

“You can connect environmental studies to anything,” Harcourt says. “That and the hands-on nature of the subject drew me into the major.”

Savage explains that breadth is important because environmental problems cross boundaries. “If we’re going to tackle those problems, we have to have an understanding of complex systems,” she says.

Students gain depth through the major’s capstone experience.

“The capstones are time consuming but rewarding. Working with students on projects of their own choosing and advising them as they ask questions and work through problems has turned out to be one of the more critical aspects of the program,” says Dr. Terry Ferguson, a 1975 Wofford graduate, associate professor and senior researcher for the Goodall Environmental Studies Center.

Harcourt chose to do a capstone project on the practicality of green roofs. It builds on knowledge in sustainability, physics, botany, data analysis and even aesthetics.

Goettee combined photography and environmental studies for her capstone, which explores how humans interact with the landscape. She took most of the photos while she was in New Zealand. “I call the photos anti-selfies,” Goettee says. “My project is a commentary on place and how people should be present in the landscape, instead of making it all about them.”

McGaughey’s capstone delves into the world of hydroponic farming. “This major speaks to my soul,” she says.

A guiding faculty

Natural resource depletion, overpopulation, deforestation, genetic engineering, global warming … Goettee still remembers the waves of environmental gloom and depressing statistics she and other students discussed for weeks in one of her first environmental studies courses.

“On one hand, I was compelled to act, but on the other, I felt like I was losing hope,” she says.

“To lift our spirits, Dr. Savage had each of us bring in a positive article about the environment. It was really uplifting.”

The exercise wasn’t on the syllabus, but it’s what her students needed, so she adapted. That’s something Savage says she’s gotten better at since coming to Wofford.

Savage’s background was in environmental science, specifically geology and geochemistry. She’s also an artist, and her art — handmade paper and mixed media sculptures that explore geologic and hydrologic data — was her way into a department shared by Lane, a poet, environmental writer and professor of English, and Ferguson, geoarchaeologist and photographer.

“This was new to me,” says Savage, who team-taught several introductory classes with Lane in the beginning to get the hang of the “studies” part of the major.

In the fall of 2020, Savage will be the department’s veteran and will become director of the Goodall Environmental Studies Center in Lane’s stead. Lane and Ferguson both will retire at the end of the spring semester. Brewitt will take over as chair of the department.

Ferguson, who has been at the college for 40 years, was just published in Nature Scientific Reports. He will continue that research on platinum levels in sediments in the Midlands of South Carolina that supports an extraterrestrial impact event that occurred nearly 13,000 years ago. He’s also working with several other research teams, including one that’s studying the Glendale area near the Goodall Environmental Studies Center.

Lane will be promoting another book, “Seven Days on the Santee Delta,” with two more on the way: a second novel and a nonfiction work combining autobiographical experiences growing up in Spartanburg County with Ferguson’s research on buried organic deposits. Lane also is working on another poetry manuscript.

The department’s faculty also includes Dr. Amy Telligman, assistant professor, who came to the college as part of the Milliken Sustainability Initiative at Wofford College. Dr. Jennifer Bradham and another tenure-track faculty member will join the department next year.

“Now we have a food systems lab in the works in the Chandler Center for Environmental Studies that Amy is starting, and our students will get hands-on experience — from garden to stove. That’s a direction that we didn’t anticipate 10 years ago,” says Savage. “Who knows what our other new faculty will bring to the department? It will be amazing.”

Goettee says the conversations she has had with the environmental studies faculty after class or during their labs make the department special. “They’ve guided me toward opportunities that I never would have considered for myself, and they all foster a culture of ruggedness,” she says.

“They’re right there with you. Getting in the water. Carrying kayaks. Doing the labs. We’ve been out there in the rain, and still, somehow it’s fun,” says McGaughey.

According to Savage, Lane was rallying a class before a particularly wet, cold lab at the Goodall Environmental Studies Center when he first used the “culture of ruggedness” phrase. It’s been the department’s motto — and a point of pride — ever since.

Preparing the soil


Biology and geology were two of the first requirements in the college’s founding curriculum. The first documented field experience occurred in 1874 when Warren DuPré took 15 members of the senior class to Lake Lure, N.C., to study the effects of an earthquake. In 1964, Dr. John Harrington joined the faculty after a distinguished career as a professor at Southern Methodist University, petroleum geologist and consultant. He brought a robust, hands-on, field-based approach to learning about the environment and taught Wofford students to “see a world” broadly and across disciplines. He inspired students such as renowned naturalist Dr. Rudy Mancke [class of 1967], as well as Ferguson and Lane.

There was also Dr. Ray Leonard, who taught animal ecology; Dr. Gibbes Patton, Wofford’s first full-time botanist, who was friends with pioneering ecologist Eugene Odom; Dr. B.G. Stephens [class of 1957], a chemistry professor who taught the first environmental science classes to nonscience majors; Dr. C.L. “Ab” Abercrombie, who taught sociology, but also held degrees in biology and mathematics; and Dr. Jack Seitz, who wrote the book on global issues.

In 1970, Wofford received a three-year, $295,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for curriculum innovation. With the money, the college established a junior/senior seminar during Interim, a summer research program and a “permanent experimental sciences study group” to meet and discuss “problems arising within and between the different experimental science departments.” The grant also funded the purchase of equipment to “improve electronics instruction” and an overflight program as part of a geology laboratory. An interesting footnote: The geology overflights were done from a rented DC-3 that had flown Winston Churchill in World War II.

There was a core group of environmental activists as well. In the 1970s, Dr. Linton Dunson, professor of government, joined Patton on a statewide pollution task force, and Dr. John Fowler, also in government, and Patton began the “Friends of Lawson’s Fork” to protect the watershed in which the college is located. Harrington and others joined the Lawson’s Fork protection efforts.

Patton, Dunson and Fowler taught an early Interim, Environmental Problems and Land Use. Duane Stober, professor of physical education, offered River Voyagers, an Interim during which 15 students and two guides paddled 350 river miles from Spartanburg to the sea. Other Interims to explore environmental studies included Field Work in Archaeology, Water: Its Ecology and Politics, and Internships in Resource Management.

Ferguson’s return to Wofford continued the tradition of field- based study. His introductory geology sequence included 22 field labs and two overnight experiences during the year and further widened the college’s variety of courses that had an environmental emphasis. More and more faculty began incorporating environmental studies into their courses. Faculty in the departments of biology and chemistry were joined by faculty in economics, sociology, modern languages, English and philosophy. Environmental reading groups, art and speakers became more and more common on campus.

Several attempts to start a major in environmental studies failed, but an interest had been building in interdisciplinary majors. Lane (English) and Dr. Ellen Goldey (biology) taught courses and a learning community on the nature and culture of water that combined the sciences and the humanities. Then Goldey secured a grant from the NSF for curriculum innovation, and the college formed a group to develop and propose a major in environmental studies, which would incorporate the college’s geology department. In addition to Ferguson, who had been chairman of the geology department, and Lane, the group included Dr. Caleb Arrington (chemistry), Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden (Spanish), Dr. Cissy Fowler (sociology), Dr. Mackey Salley [class of 1995] (physics) and Dr. Philip Swicegood (finance).

Out of this fertile ground grew environmental studies.


The college’s environmental studies program received another boost in 2015 when the college received a $4.25 million grant from the Romill Foundation to create the Milliken Sustainability Initiative at Wofford College. The initiative, which connects the college to community partners in the Northside and Glendale communities, put the college in the middle of the community and environmental sustainability conversation. It included funds to fuel student social entrepreneurs and their business ideas as well as community-based coursework and research in the partnering communities.

According to Dr. Tim Schmitz, professor of history and associate provost for administration, the Milliken Sustainability Initiative already has had a major impact on sustainability at Wofford and the surrounding community:

  • The college’s  energy metering and monitoring systemis in place, and the college has improved HVAC and lighting systems to realize energy savings.
  • The Center for Community-Based Learning now coordinates partnerships in the Northside and Glendale communities as part of the initiative, and faculty have developed new courses in human and environmental sustainability.
  • The college purchased a house in the Glendale community, adjacent to the Goodall Environmental Studies Center. The space includes an apartment for visiting speakers or college guests as well as office and meeting space.
  • The grant has funded four Interim travel/ study experiences, including Thinking Like An Island: Sustainability Sessions From Hawaii to Spartanburg (Dr. Dave Pittman, class of 1994, psychology) and the Biodiversity of Costa Rica (Dr. Lori Cruze, biology, and Dr. Kimberly Hall, English). An Interim trip with community partners is planned for January 2020.
  • The student innovation fundis up and running and administered through The Space in the Mungo Center. The grant also funded student workers in an urban garden in the Northside.
  • The grant has funded a series of summer charettes, or meetings, in which campus and community stakeholders look at challenges and map solutions.
  • Construction is underway on a new living- learning communityon College Street in the Northside, with occupancy scheduled for spring 2020. The seven-apartment unit will house 13.