What’s in a Name?

How much have you thought about your degree’s name? If it’s a fairly standard degree, like Biology or Sociology, I would guess very little. However, if you’re  in the Individualized Major Program, you’re probably used to fielding quite a few questions about your major’s name.  No matter what your degree, though, the one or two little words that comprise it are going to follow you around like a puppy dog, showing up on resumes, staff bios, book reviews, and, eventually, obituaries. Even  amidst accounts of your heroic self-sacrifices and Ritz Crackers addiction, your biographer will slip in somewhere that you got a B.A. in Economics. Thus, I should not have been surprised when, in designing the sustainability major, the issue of what exactly to call the degree came up.

The discussion over the degree’s name began with one of the professors on the committee asking the other student representative, Julia, and me what we thought of the term “Environmental Studies.” Did we connote it with the 60s and radicals, as some of the committee worried students and parents might? I frankly was surprised at the question, never having considered how the degree’s name might impact its success. From the connotations of “Environmental Studies” we moved on to talking about whether simply calling the degree “Sustainability” might be to ambiguous or trendy.

Eventually we decided to put the question to a student focus group and on a student survey. The focus group, comprised of five students with experience in academic and extracurricular sustainability activities, proved valuable in providing feedback on a variety of topics, from what concentrations to include in the major to how to structure the introduction course. As for the major’s name, the groups suggested “Environmental Sustainability”, thinking that it would eliminate the ambiguity of simply calling a degree “Sustainability”.

As for the student survey, 157 respondents ranked the following names: Sustainability Studies, Sustainability Science, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science. The latter name was the most popular. Interestingly, some survey respondents also suggested “Environmental Sustainability”. We chose and modified this name to form the degree’s title: Environmental Sustainability Studies.  Hopefully when that name shows up on resumes, it will garner instant admiration and bonuses galore. Though just getting a good job would be nice too.


Written by Sara Swan, Intern for the Academic Initiatives Working Group


One thought on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I’m glad we finally decided on something! Environmental Sustainability Studies sounds good! Great work and superb writing, Sara.

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