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ESSYI is unique among environmental studies programs in its focus on the interdisciplinary nature of environmental issues and the complexity of potential solutions. By connecting students with over 15 college faculty from a myriad of disciplines, the ESSYI empowers students in ways that catalyze real personal growth. Students find specific topics, sessions and ideas that resonate with them individually, but are also exposed to other ideas and ways of thinking about environmental issues that broaden their framework for thinking about and developing solutions when working with others. Environmental problem solving is rocket science and ESSYI is an excellent first step towards a sustainable future.

Program Dates: Sunday July 15, through Saturday July 28, 2018


Driving Questions

  • How do we use science to describe and understand the environment?
  • How are we related to the natural environment?
  • How can we examine the complexity of environmental issues from economic, scientific, ethical, humanistic and sustainable perspectives?
  • How can we use our tools, ideas and skills to foster and create change?

Four Stages of ESSYI

ESSYI is organized around four themes that inform both the overall organization of the program and the goals within each session. Below are detailed descriptions of each stage with examples of specific sessions.

  • Research
  • Our Role
  • Complexity
  • Developing Sustainable Solutions


How do we use science to describe and understand the environment?



Science is used as the groundwork for establishing the existence of environmental problems. During the institute, students conduct research with Hobart and William Smith faculty members on the HWS Scandling (a 65-foot vessel on Seneca Lake), in streams, quaking bogs, the Adirondack Mountains, and the Colleges’ science laboratories. In the field and the classroom, students explore the ways in which data can be used to monitor changes in the environment and discuss the how science serves as the backbone for understanding environmental issues.


  • Demonstrate how data can be used to monitor changes in the environment
  • Allow students to delineate a set of environmental problems from first-hand observation and data collection
  • Expose students to the variety of scientific fields that are viable career opportunities
ESSYI students exploring biodiversity in a nearby bog.

Example Activities

Invasive Species: Students will collect information about how the world is changing by examining zebra mussels and collecting a core sample from the lake

  • Zurich Bog: Students will have an introduction to succession, biodiversity, and conservation vs. preservation issues
  • Global Climate Change: Students will use the core sample collected from Seneca Lake to explore the geologic history of the Finger Lakes Region and global climate change over time
  • Water: Students will have an overview of the worldwide status of fresh water and specific success stories where research was used to promote human action that reversed pollution accumulation in specific watersheds
  • Steam Sampling: Students will have an introduction to water quality research in streams and how it can be used both to monitor and to promote changes in local policy

Our Role

How are we related to the natural environment?

To investigate our surroundings from multiple perspectives and develop tools for understanding our relationship to the environment, students engage with local organizations with a wide breadth of expertise. This includes engaging with staff at the Cayuga Nature Center, travel to a local landfill that is the repository for many communities throughout New York State, and a trip to an organic farm that participates in Community Supported Agriculture. Through personal experience, students build the foundation for understanding complex issues.


  • Allow students to relate to environmental issues on a personal level
  • Help students connect discussion topics from Geneva back to their homes
  • Build the foundation for understanding more complex relationships

Example Activities

  • Sustainability: Students will explore their impact on the environment as individuals
  • Photography: Students will find a new ‘sense of place’ in the environment based on examining new perspectives
  • Geography of Garbage: Students will travel to the local landfill and study the route of one piece of garbage from the processing plant to the landfill
  • Fellenz Farm: Students will travel to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to examine local food options
  • Sustainable Lunch: Students will investigate the current status of food in the world and make a local lunch as a group
  • Energy: Students will examine the efficiency of our current energy scheme and will be introduced to alternative energy options


How can we examine the complexity of environmental issues from economic, scientific, ethical,
humanistic and sustainable perspectives?

Finally, students examine the complexity of environmental issues from ethical and philosophical perspectives through the investigation of sustainable options that consider geographic location, economic status, materialistic necessity, and political frameworks. Students examine specific examples of how environmental issues have been dealt with in the past and learn to use multiple lenses to develop sustainable solutions.


  • To introduce the vast complexity of environmental issues through humanistic, philosophical, and ecological perspectives
  • To use multiple lenses to learn about and develop solutions
  • Help students expand discussion topics from the local level to the world

Example Activities

  • Environmental Economics: Students will investigate capitalism and the checks and balances associated with environmental economics
  • Environmental Law and Policy: Chemical Valley video: Students will examine environmental racism and investigate the process of change through policy and legislature
  • Environmental Justice and Philosophy: Students will become aware of the vast variety of perspectives on the environment and discuss our responsibilities and role as a species. Students will discuss the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving and employ the use of multiple lenses to examine solitary concepts.


How can we use our tools, ideas and skills to develop sustainable solutions?

The program culminates with a five day trip to the Adirondacks where students combine their newly acquired skills to address a specific environmental issue in the Adirondack Region. While camping, hiking and canoeing, students collect data, investigate alternative energy sources, learn about the history of the region, and discuss ethical implications of environmental solutions.


  • Apply tools, skills, knowledge and habits of mind to a specific environmental issue
  • To engage in the collaborative development of a solution that represents the interests of various stakeholders
  • To reflect upon our individual and collective perspectives regarding sustainable solutions

Example Activity

  • Adirondack Lodge Development Simulation: Students will identify a site and design for a new lodge on one of the lakes at the Adirondack Ecological Center. Students will struggle with the economic, humanistic, and ecological conflicts of development in wild areas. They will research policy and building permits for the Adirondack region, collect data on water quality, biodiversity, and succession in the Adirondack lakes, and examine alternative energy options for their building design.