The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW to add Climate Science minor beginning fall 2016

3 min read
By SHAWNYA PETERSON The University of Mary Washington’s Geography Department is set to offer students the opportunity to minor in Climate Science beginning in the fall 2016 semester.

Professor Joseph Peterson, one of the designers behind upcoming Climate Science minor, sits in his office. (Shawnya Peterson)


The University of Mary Washington’s Geography Department is set to offer students the opportunity to minor in Climate Science beginning in the fall 2016 semester.

Architect of the minor, associate professor of geography Joseph Nicholas, sought to reflect the diverse nature of this field of study by allowing students to select courses that best match their field of study from a wide range of options.

Even though the three required courses are offered through the Geography Department, students can choose elective classes from departments such as geology, oceanography and physics, allowing them to gain a broader perspective on the delicate forces behind Earth’s climate.

“I’ve come to find out, more and more as I study climate science, that it’s really not so much about the atmosphere as it is about how the atmosphere affects surface processes,” Nicholas said. “I’m interested in the surface of the Earth, and landforms, and landforms are very much a product of climate processes, so when I see landforms, I see climate processes.”

As the general education requirements for the geography major overlap with the required courses for the Climate Science minor, Nicholas anticipates that the minor will be especially popular with geography students, but the wide array of possible electives lends itself to various scientific disciplines.

Professor Nicholas said that he welcomes the movement toward STEM fields, admitting that this emphasis is, in part, what prompted him to put forward the idea of the climate science minor. In addition to post-graduation employment opportunities, study of the sciences offers students an important tool.

“It’s just generally good, I think, to understand science and technology because sometimes we treat scientists like a kind of priesthood, and what they do is so esoteric that we can’t understand it, so I think it’s good if we can come out…understanding the fundamentals of science, and how it operates, and what its limitations are,” Nicholas said. Professor Nicholas also touched on the political side of studying climate and the need tolook past external agendas at the hard facts.

“What we need are people that can understand the science, because what’s written is sometimes so fraught with political agendas that you don’t know, sometimes, when somebody writes something…what their conclusions are,” Nicholas said. “You need your own ability to kind of cut through and look at the science.”

Students familiar with the geography department are similarly enthused.

“I think that the Climate Science minor is a great addition to the department. I like how we’re sort of expanding the options available for students,” said junior geography major Katie Armstong. “[I think it will] encourage students to take geography classes, which I think is a great thing.”

The Climate Science minor also allows for students to explore a new discipline without the pressure of selecting a field of study.

“As an undeclared major, I am possibly interested in environmental science—particularly environmental justice—and having this as another alternative to that is a nice option,” said freshman Elysia Duncan. “I think I’ll try to look more into it, do some research.”

For more information on the Climate Studies minor, contact Dr. Joseph Nicholas at

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