In November 2020, the Bellarmine University Department of Environmental Studies joined Kentucky IPL’s partner community program as a Green Spirit partner. The Department of Environmental Studies was the first program in Louisville to provide a bachelor's degree in environmental studies. The Department leads campus-wide initiatives in environmental sustainability, provides a home for faculty research in environmental science, runs the Terra first-year learning community, and directs the Bellarmine University Farm.
The Bellarmine University and Kentucky IPL connection runs deep. Dr. Kate Bulinski, Associate Professor of Geoscience who currently serves as the Department chair, served as the Kentucky IPL Board chair for many years before stepping down in 2020, she remains an active member of the board of directors.
“We are a Catholic institution. Part of my own interest [in partnering with KIPL] is looking at the intersection of faith and science, seeing connections between faith and creation care and environmental science. It intersects with the mission we have at Bellarmine and in our department,” said Bulinski.
Even before the newly introduced covenant model for partnership, the Department and Kentucky IPL partnered together for several events throughout the years, such as ecojustice tours in West Louisville or guest speakers. An event favorite for Bulinski was in 2018 when Kentucky IPL co-hosted an interfaith celebration of Tu B'Shevat,the Jewish New Year for Trees, and Thomas Merton's Birthday.
In 2018, they fell on the same day - an event that won’t happen again until 2029. The interfaith event co-sponsored by the Department of Environmental Studies, The Thomas Merton Center, New Roots, and Bellarmine University Campus Ministry included speakers, musical interludes, light snacks, and birthday cake. “It was a beautiful celebration. It was a great example of how the Department of Environmental Studies and Kentucky IPL collaborated to bring an interfaith celebration of creation together, combining a Jewish holiday and the celebration of the life of a Catholic monk. It brought in a great crowd,” said Bulinski.
While events like that one have shifted in nature due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work to grow as a department hasn’t stopped. One of the biggest changes to come is the hiring of a new professor. The Department has evolved over the years to incorporate a more intentional focus on environmental justice in the coursework and major. The Department is currently in the process of hiring a tenure-track Assistant or Associate Professor specializing in Environmental Justice with an anticipated start date of August 2021. While the role will be housed within the Department of Environmental Studies, the interdisciplinary nature of environmental studies will give this professor the opportunity to teach a wide range of classes from senior seminars to geography courses. Along with the position, a new course focusing specifically on environmental justice will be introduced.
“People are starting to wake up to the intersections of environmental issues and justice issues – they run deep, and people don’t necessarily see it right away,” said Bulinski, “There is so much you can gain from working in an interdisciplinary way with people from different specialty areas. The environmental field, and especially environmental justice, is a good field for making interdisciplinary connections. You can find intersection points with virtually every discipline.”
To stay up to date on what’s happening with the Bellarmine University Department of Environmental Studies, you can follow them on Facebook @BellarmineENVS.