HMC Introduces Joint Major in Chemistry and Climate

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Harvey Mudd College students interested in chemistry and climate will have the option of making it their main area of study as faculty recently approved a new joint major. Developed by The Hixon Center for Climate and the Environment and the Department of Chemistry, the major in chemistry and climate will be offered starting in the 2024–2025 academic year.

This is the first joint major with a climate focus—more are planned for the other majors at the College. “The idea is for students in any program to be able to study climate,” says Lelia Hawkins, director of the Hixon Center and Hixon Professor of Climate Studies. “Each of the new joint majors with climate will be designed to help students develop literacy in the climate system and climate change while continuing to pursue depth in one of our existing majors (in this case, chemistry).”

The Hixon Center will be primarily responsible for the advising of the joint majors and will be developing new courses, including a four-course series: Climate Dynamics, Climate Impacts, Climate Interventions and Climate Contexts. The Climate Contexts requirement is fulfilled through humanaties, social sciences and the arts coursework, including newly funded courses in religion and climate, anthropology and climate, and human geography and climate.

New faculty members in the Hixon Center are already creating and offering new courses, including Climate Dynamics and Games for Climate Literacy, and plans are in the works for additional courses, including The Chemistry of Oceans and the Atmosphere, and Plants and Climate. “We also envision offering a new course on decarbonization of our energy system, as well as a course on air quality and data science,” says Hawkins, whose research at Mudd centers on the effects of air pollution on climate and anthropogenic climate change. Incoming faculty hires beyond the current cohort will determine which courses are developed next year.

The joint major is distinct from the College’s Emphasis in Environmental Analysis, which is not a major but a coordinated program of study that gives students majoring in the sciences, engineering and mathematics the opportunity to address environmental issues from a range of perspectives so that they may better understand the impact of their work.

“The Emphasis in Environmental Analysis is incredibly flexible, offering students a variety of ways to demonstrate their interest in environmental subjects, while the joint major serves to prepare students specifically on the subject of climate,” Hawkins says. “We want students to be able to take several courses in the area of climate and not be limited by how much elective space they might have in an existing major program. A joint major allows students to develop expertise that would otherwise have to come through overloading courses.”

Hawkins adds that she’s excited about the program getting started. “Students at HMC are already being trained as problem solvers with broad technical foundations as well as critical experience in the humanities, social sciences and the arts. Our new program will leverage these existing strengths to prepare our graduates for leadership and innovation in the climate space,” she says.

View the list of Harvey Mudd College Majors.