Studying to Save the World: The Passion of Environmental Studies

College is stressful as it is, but is it more stressful when you carry the weight of the future of the world on your back? This is the reality of students studying Environmental Studies, where climate change is the most prominent issue that students focus on. With the weight of the world’s future on their shoulders, it’s hard to imagine what a day in the life of an Environmental Studies student is like. Although I am an Environmental Studies major, I also study Philosophy/Pre-Law, so getting the perspective of another Environmental Studies major is always helpful in fully understanding how other students spend their time on campus.

            I interviewed Maria Holloway-Racine, a second year Environmental Studies major at Millikin University, about her day and how she feels about majoring in Environmental Studies. Maria also majors in acting, so similarly to me, Maria has a full agenda. Maria gets up at 8 am to shower and get dressed, then goes to work in the costume shop in the School of Theatre and Dance, where she hand sews different costumes for the department.

Maria hand sewing a costume for the Theater Department.

Today, she stopped at Einstein’s to grab a quick egg and cheese bagel before going to the University Commons to work on homework for Global Environmentalism class, as well as attend a Zoom class in one of the University Commons Zoom rooms. Afterwards, she squeezed in time for a nap before dinner, then went right back to working on homework until it was time for bed. Maria’s schedule is similar to mine in the way that there is little downtime in our daily schedules. Although her days are busy, Maria contends that her major is not only morally fulfilling, but enjoyable as well.

Maria’s lunch date with rice and her studies.

            With the opportunity I was presented with to interview Maria, I first asked her what her favorite part about being an Environmental Studies major was. She replied, “I like studying Environmental Studies because it gives me an opportunity to think about the planet on a regular basis. I believe that our environment is the most sacred thing we have, including the biodiversity and ecological landscape. It is our job to protect that, and I feel like I am doing my duty by learning about our earth and having compassion for it.” Maria’s passion for the environment truly shines through the way that she views her courses. When asked what her favorite courses were that she’s taken, Maria said “Some of my favorite classes are my environmental classes (because I absolutely love professor O’Conner) and I often really resonate with my professors and the lessons we learn.” Professors are a large part of student success at Millikin University, and Professor O’Conner is the source of motivation for students studying Environmental Studies, or rather, advisees.

Maria hard at work late at night, with some help from a friend.

            I also had the opportunity to interview Professor O’Conner, in which she elaborated on how Environmental Studies majors feel about their studies. When asked about how her advisees feel about their general work load, she replied “No one’s really complained about…There are one or two classes that are challenging but I think on a daily basis I find that the majority of Environmental Studies majors are successful.” To build off of that response, I asked her what she thinks sets apart Environmental Studies majors from other majors on campus, to which O’Conner replied: “To me, it’s their passion for helping the planet, obviously. But just the empathy of it… Being an Environmental Studies major is looking at how you can help not only the planet, but realizing that everything is connected, and once you help the planet, you’re also helping socially, economically, politically, all of those things are combined, so you really have to be a student that’s able to think outside the box and think about problems and solutions from a multitude of ways.” Professor O’Conner is beloved by all of her students and continues to be a “cheerleader” for her advisees, as Maria describes it.

            With the imminent threat of climate change accelerating, Environmental Studies students feel that they have a bigger picture to focus on than other common majors. Although studies can become overwhelming, the passion, drive, and support from professors that Environmental Studies students experience make the work all that more rewarding. When it comes to studying the environment, the best advice I have is this: always keep a positive mindset, and remember that with hard work comes great reward, not only for you, but for everyone else that is impacted by the work you do.

Hannah Prochnow is a sophomore double major in Environmental Studies and Philosophy/Pre-Law at Millikin University. Prochnow currently works as an office assistant in the Honors Office for the Honors Program at Millikin, where she has gained experience working with school faculty and spent time familiarizing herself with the inner workings of campus business. In her free time, Prochnow spends time reading classic novelists, as well as spending time outdoors when the weather permits and indulging in video games.

Hannah Prochnow

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