Environmental Leadership

Explore politics, power, justice, and the environment.

Field research 2019

Environmental Leadership explores the science, politics, and economics behind environmental issues through the lens of environmental justice.

During the 2024-25 academic year, students will research a project similar the the 2023-24 cohort's project. Over the past year, students researched the central role of water to life in the arid Southwest, culminating in a research project focusing on the politics of water in a border town near the Rio Grande and US/Mexico border: Bisbee, Arizona. Along the border, water gives sustenance to a thriving eclectic community, provides a barrier to and lifeline for southern migrants, sustains a fragile ecosystem, and supports agriculture on an industrial scale. It serves as vital protection from seasonal wildfires, the foundation for the area’s agricultural industry, and supports endangered migratory species. The politics of who gets water in this parched landscape is the politics of life and death and has defined the area throughout its history. Central issues include the management of polluted water and the unequal access to clean water, as well as the role of water in U.S./Mexico relations. Many of the problems associated with water scarcity are aggravated by issues related to climate change and the border politics of the southern border.   

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 twelve 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 design, plan and implement a rigorous field analysis. The program features a weeklong field study during spring break and culminates with the research team presenting their key findings and policy suggestions at a public policy 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 (conducted during Saturday sessions in the fall semester); field experiences that enable students to research the annual theme (conducted during spring break); and a student-run symposium in which seminar participants present the key lessons from their research (conducted at the end of the spring semester).

Fall 2024

  • Sat., Sept. 21, 1:00-3:30 (Gettysburg), Session 1

  • Sat., Oct. 5, 11:00-5:00 (Glenstone Facility), Enviro Ethics Field Experience

  • Sat., Oct. 19, 1:00-3:30 (Gettysburg), Session 2

  • Sat., Nov. 2, 1:00-3:30 (Gettysburg), Session 3

  • Sat., Nov. 16, 1:00-3:30 (Gettysburg), Session 4

  • Sat., Dec. 7, 1:00-3:30 (Gettysburg), Research Design Planning Session 

Spring 2025

  • Sat., Jan. 18, 1:00- 3:30 (Gettysburg) Field Experience Planning Session 1

  • Sat., Feb. 15, 1:00-3:30 (Gettysburg) Field Experience Planning Session 2

  • March 7-16 - Field Research Trip over Spring Break

  • Sat., April 5, 1:00-3:30 (Gettysburg) Symposium Planning Session

  • TBD – Student Research Symposium

Previous Research Projects and Program Outcomes

  • 2023-24 Project: The central role of water to life in the arid Southwest, culminating in a research project focusing on the politics of water in Bisbee, Arizona, a border town near the Rio Grande and US/Mexico border.
  • 2022-23: Cultural Remembrance in Bay Country - Students interviewed U.S. Naval Academy Museum Director Claude Berube on the Preble Hall podcast as part of their project exploring underrepresented cultures surrounding the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore. The project was presented at the National Environmental Justice Conference on March 8, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

  • 2021-22: Hidden History of Beach Segregation - Students conducted original research and field interviews on Amelia Island and in Palm Beach County, Florida in a continued exploration of segregated coastal communities, and current access issues. See and hear their work, shared in a campus wide presentation.
  • 2019-20: Parking Access, Beach Usage and Race: A Study of the Relationship Between Parking Access and Racial Inequality at Public Beaches in Palm Beach County, Florida - Students used SOPARC methodology in a field research project over 5 consecutive days, resulting in a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Justice. 
  • 2018-19: Loxahatchee River Restoration Project: Students submitted a white paper to the South Florida water management community with policy proposals regarding water management and restoration plans along the Loxahatchee River. The proposals were the result of an original field research project, presented at a campus symposium. Their report was discussed at a meeting of the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners. 

Prospective Applicants

The program is open to all Gettysburg College rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors. 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.

Application Center