Environmental Leadership

Explore politics, power, justice, and the environment.

Field research 2019

Water Wars: The Politics of Clean Water 

Environmental Leadership explores the science, politics, and economics behind the management of clean water. It does so by focusing on water management in a vulnerable geographic region and looks at the issue through the lens of environmental justice.

A requirement for all life, access to clean water is an essential environmental function. Much of the modern environmental protection movement has been dominated by the politics of water. Central issues include the control of excess water, the management of polluted water, and the unequal access to clean water. Many of these problems are aggravated by issues related to climate change. 

The program is led by Howard Ernst, Professor of Political Science at the U.S. Naval Academy and non-resident expert at the Eisenhower Institute. Professor Ernst is the author of several books and academic articles on the politics of clean water and is widely recognized as an national expert in this area of study. With over ten years of experience leading Environmental Leadership, Dr. Ernst provides students a unique opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the politics of clean water, to apply social science research methods, and to develop their personal leadership skills.

These objectives are achieved through guided discussion sessions, readings, and the completion of an original research project in which participants work as a research team to plan and implement a rigorous field analysis. The program culminates with the research team presenting their key findings and policy suggestions at a public symposium at Gettysburg College. Throughout the program, students are provided meaningful opportunities to interact with environmental policy leaders and to learn from leading scholars in the field. Each student will lead a major aspect of the research project and will help plan and implement the spring field study.

This program is designed from a social science perspective and is not intended for students who desire to conduct natural science research. It will focus on the competing values and economic pressures that fuel the politics of water. The program is divided into three complementary parts: structured discussions that provide students with the conceptual grounding necessary to understand the politics of water; field experiences that enable students to research the annual theme; and a student-run symposium in which seminar participants present the key lessons from their research.

The research focus for the spring break research trip is the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay experiences many of the problems related to water management including pollution from sewage, stormwater, and agricultural sources; saltwater inundation due to rising sea levels; chronic problems related to algal blooms; and others. Students will research how water is managed in the nation’s largest estuary, giving special attention to environmental justice issues related to the unequal access to clean water and the unequal exposure to polluted water. The focus will stretch from the inland headwaters of the Chesapeake to the isolated islands.

The program is open to all Gettysburg College students, though students with a strong interest in environmental protection and issues of justice are especially encouraged to apply. As a hands-on field experience, students must be willing to get their hands dirty. Outdoor activities are an integral part of the field experience. 


Fall 2022

  • Saturday, Sept. 24, 1-3:30 p.m. – Environmental Ethics and the Chesapeake Bay (Glatfelter 007)
  • Saturday, Oct. 8, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. – Applied Environmental Ethics: A Photo Exploration of the Glenstone Facility (Field Experience)
  • Saturday, Oct. 22, 1-3:30 p.m. – Environmental Economics and the Chesapeake Bay (Glatfelter 007)
  • Saturday, Nov. 5, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. – Applied Environmental Economics and visit to the Anacostia Museum (Field Experience)
  • Saturday, Nov. 19, 1-3:30 p.m. – Environmental Policy and the Chesapeake Bay (Glatfelter 007)
  • Saturday, Dec. 3, 1-3:30 p.m. – Field Experience Planning Session 1 (Glatfelter 007)

Spring 2023

  • Saturday, Jan. 21,1-3:30 p.m. – Field Experience Planning Session 2 
  • Saturday, Feb. 18, 1-3:30 p.m. – Field Experience Planning Session 3
  • March 3-10 – Field Research at the Chesapeake Bay
  • Saturday, April 1, 1-3:30 p.m. – Symposium Planning Session
  • TBD – Student Research Symposium