Spotlight: Program on the Global Environment

Believe it or not, it’s just about time to select Spring Quarter classes, and as usual, incredible options abound for UChicago students. We tracked down Madeleine McLeester, the busy program assistant for the Program on the Global Environment (PGE), to hear what they have on offer this spring.

Q. What’s PGE all about?
A. PGE hosts the undergraduate major and minor in Environmental Studies in the College. Environmental Studies courses encourage interdisciplinary approaches to environmental issues, incorporating models and methods from the humanities, as well as the social and natural sciences. In addition, we also host a range of scholarly and public programming events on campus to highlight environmental issues.

Q. What’s so cool about spring quarter?
A. This year, the Environmental Studies Program will offer an application-only program: The Calumet Quarter. It’s an intensive, experience-based, one-quarter sequence in environmental studies. Named for the region extending from Chicago’s south side along Lake Michigan into Indiana and Michigan, the set of three or four courses explores the complicated nature of environmental issues, particularly how the social, historical, economic, and ecological all intersect in areas like dunes, prairies, wetlands, cities, and abandoned factories.

The Calumet Quarter is a wonderful opportunity for students to understand and experience the Chicago area in an entirely different way. The Calumet region provides a living classroom where students gain hands-on experience with environmental issues right here at home. They can use this experience to analyze similar issues all over the world! Did we mention field trips are a key part of the program? It’s a truly unique program for UChicago students – they learn a tremendous amount in 10 weeks and have a great time doing it.

Q. Okay, I’m excited about this. But what will I do when the Calumet Quarter ends?
A. Don’t worry – PGE has you covered. 

Part of our teaching philosophy is to offer students as much hands-on experience as possible. For instance, in addition to the Calumet Quarter, in the past we’ve offered a summer field school in Costa Rica. Last year, we offered a class on Urban Gardening. Students can also join the Environment, Agriculture, and Food Working Group (EAF) that tackles a new issue each year. And every year, we offer exciting classes on everything from food security to Southeast Asian environmental imaginations to environmental law. Our core courses are pretty great too! 

Every student in our program must also fulfill an internship requirement. We have an internship coordinator that helps students find and apply for internships. Our students have done internships all over the globe – including the Amazon, Kenya, Costa Rica, as well as right here in Chicago. We also assist some students during their internships with a modest scholarship fund.

Q. What if I don’t have room in my class schedule for any of this?
A. PGE hosts events throughout the year for students interested in issues of the environment and sustainability. This year, PGE has played an active role in organizing "Global Energies," a series on the ecology, science and politics of energy. Upcoming events in Winter Quarter include: a panel on the economic effects and viability of biofuel energy on Feb. 20 and a report from an Argonne National Laboratory scientist on new developments in biofeul technologies on March 4. During Spring Quarter, the series will feature Timothy Mitchell (Columbia University) on energy geopolitics, anthropologists Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe (Rice University) on wind energy in Mexico, journalist Steve LeVine on advanced battery technologies, and acclaimed environmental scientist and policy expert Daniel Kammen (UC-Berkeley) on the future of renewable energies. For information, visit

Q. Are there more things in the pipeline for PGE? What should we be looking forward to in the coming academic years?
A. We’re committed to creating an exciting undergraduate curriculum through experiential learning, engaging classes, and issue-focused public series. If you’re interested in the program, consider coming to one of our events – or signing up for our listhost: You can also follow us on Facebook.