Date of this Version
Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council Vol. 12, No.2 (Fall/Winter 2011). ISSN 1559-0151
The earth’s biota is in the middle of its most severe rate of decline since the end of the Cretaceous, the period that encompassed the extinction of the dinosaurs roughly sixty-five million years ago (Glavine). Numerous anthropogenic practices have contributed significantly to these losses in biodiversity (Eldredge; Novacek and Cleland). For instance, habitat reductions as a result of expanding human land use (Franklin; Sala et al.; Harte; Falcucci et al.), environmental degradation due to pollution (Barker and Tingey; McNeely), introduction and establishment of non-native species (Wilcove et al.; Sala et al.), and climate change (Lovejoy and Hannah) are among the factors known to have contributed to declines in biodiversity. Alarmingly, results of at least one survey have revealed that the American public does not rank this biodiversity crisis highly (Novacek) despite the many negative consequences associated with significant reductions in biodiversity (Chapin et al.; Worm et al.).
Several methodologies have been proposed to mitigate, halt, or even reverse losses in biodiversity (Johns; Novacek). Of these, education that conveys the importance of biodiversity to human subsistence is one particularly effective approach (Caro et al.; Braus; Bonine et al.; Brewer; Jacobson et al.). At the post-secondary level, biodiversity education is primarily the responsibility of a few closely-related scientific departments such as biology, natural resources, ecology, and environmental sciences. This restricted focus is not unexpected since biodiversity is a discipline that falls squarely under the purview of the natural sciences (see Takacs, 1996). However, in addition to its deep biological roots, biodiversity routinely traverses legal (Keiter; Glowka), political (Thomas; Boardman), economic (Chopra; Swanson; Johnson et al.), ethical (Tilman; Clark), and social (Takacs; Peine) arenas. Thus, comprehensive studies in biodiversity and its conservation require at least a cursory understanding of several highly varied academic disciplines (Van Dyke). Such a holistic presentation of diverse academic disciplines may present a significant challenge to individual instructors, many of whom have spent their careers acquiring expertise in a single, narrowly focused field of study.
The multifaceted nature of biodiversity and conservation lends itself nicely to honors programs. Among other goals, honors seeks to provide for its students a multidisciplinary educational experience that furthers the core mission of a program. For example, at Northern Kentucky University, our honors program emphasizes four central domains: 1) active learning 2) global citizenship, 3) civic engagement, and 4) undergraduate research. We will demonstrate the ease with which biodiversity and conservation education can align with these four domains and with the multidisciplinarity and valuesbased mission of honors. While we use the NKU Honors Program as an example, we hope that readers readily and easily extend this example to their own honors programs, departments, or colleges. We attempt to highlight how the myriad of academic expertise typically housed within honors programs readily promotes and addresses biodiversity and conservation education.