College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Environmental Science & Policy

Dr. James finishes strong: Wins 2015 Paul R. Poffenberger Award for Excellence in Teaching & Advising.

Photo Credit: 
Edwin Remsberg

Dr. Bruce James, Professor & Director, Environmental Science & Policy Program, has been awarded the 2015 Paul R. Poffenberger Award for Excellence in Teaching & Advising.  Until now, Dr. James has been the only Director of ENSP, and the success of the program has rested largely on his shoulders.  To date, the Program has graduated well over 1,000 students – and Dr James has taught or mentored all of them.

The impetus for the Environmental Science and Policy Program was twofold. First, it had become apparent by the early 1990’s that many talented high school students were bypassing the University of Maryland to seek environmentally oriented majors elsewhere, particularly at Penn State and the University of Virginia. In response to this, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) proposed an undergraduate environmental major that would draw extensively on seats in courses in the other colleges. The other colleges’ concern about use of their classes, and the growing interest campus-wide in such a major, led to what was then a four-College initiative coordinated by then-Acting Provost Nelson Markley and then-Assistant Provost Victor Korenman.  

Creation of the program did not come easily, for there was no existing model for a cross-college, interdisciplinary undergraduate major at Maryland.  Early concerns about environmental science as a discipline -- that such a major could lack depth and focus, that it might fail to prepare students adequately for graduate school, that coordination among the colleges could be poor, and that the major might attract weak students -- influenced the committee’s thinking greatly. Dr. James's high academic standards, openness to feedback, and soothing interpersonal style helped defuse these concerns and landed him in the Director’s seat; and shortly thereafter, he set about nurturing the substantive and challenging academic program we know today.

The creative design choices that resulted from early discussions defined ENSP and remain its distinctive features today: (1) the major requires students to gain depth through “concentrations” that feature advanced coursework within specific disciplines; (2) once students complete a foundational core of introductory courses, advising is provided by faculty within the supporting academic departments; and (3) the program is governed by a Program Steering Committee (PSC) consisting of the faculty adviser in each concentration, the ENSP Director (and, later, Associate Director), and a dean’s representative from each of the colleges.  Through a combination of cooperation and coordination, the Program allows students to benefit from the academic resources and opportunities of a Research I University while providing an intellectual home more like a small liberal arts college.

The Environmental Science and Policy Program does not espouse an explicit, activist policy of “environmentalism;” rather, it seeks to challenge students to question critically and think expansively about the complex concerns surrounding environmental quality and human-environment relations in the future.  This approach is a direct reflection of Dr.James's personality and teaching. ENSP exams demand significant writing, application, and analysis and have a well-deserved reputation for being long but fair.

Eighteen years later, the combination of a broad, multi-disciplinary core of courses and a focused, department-based concentration has proven its strengths time and again. It has provided a novel introduction to the field through the use of the social and natural sciences, and the 11 concentrations have proven to be rigorous and varied.  

It is noteworthy that for most ENSP students, Dr. James's lectures in ENSP101 and case studies in ENSP400 are among the very first and very last they take as undergraduates.  Consequently, they can attest that he is as interested in meeting with anxious freshmen seeking help with problem-sets as with upper-level students experiencing personal challenges that have affected in-classroom performance or seeking advice about graduate study and recommendations. 

With great care and personal attention, Dr. James has mentored, guided, inspired and motivated countless students through his efforts, not only in ENSP, but also in ENST, College Park Scholars, the Honors College, the Sustainability Studies Minor, and the Student Government Association.  Students value his commitment to them as individuals; and respect his commitment to teaching, environmental science, and academic rigor.

Consequently, ENSP has been successful in attracting enthusiastic students who have established the program’s reputation on campus.  Enrollment today holds steady at 325 students and the ENSP Honors program graduates talented students annually.  Alumni have been accepted into the nation’s best graduate programs and schools of law, public policy, and planning; and gain successful employment in both public and private sectors, as well as non-profit agencies.   ENSP students tend to be passionate about their studies, and they want to make a difference in how human-environment interactions evolve in the years ahead. 

The 21st century has been described as “The Century of the Environment,” and issues such as energy and climate change, human population and water resources, and land use and urbanization challenge faculty and students to address complex questions with global, regional, and local consequences.  Thanks to the guiding hand of Dr. Bruce James, ENSP graduates are prepared to answer these challenges.  Dr. James is retiring in June and moving home to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but evidence of his work continues on via the thousands of alumni working locally, nationally, and internationally to solve the world's most vexing environmental problems.


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