They hail from different parts of the country, coming to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with diverse backgrounds, distinct academic specialties and a fascination with the environment.
Associate lecturers Lucy Schultz and Catherine Meeks Quinlan are two driving forces behind UTC’s growing environmental studies minor, an interdisciplinary field that examines human interactions and the environment. These include the effects of human societies on the natural world and the role that environments—both natural and built— have played in shaping human cultures.
The development of a new program has its roots in a faculty gathering.
“They have these mixers where they get faculty together; you do this speed dating sort of thing where you go with all these different people and brainstorm an interdisciplinary class,” said Schultz, who joined the UTC Department of Philosophy and Religion in 2019. “Catherine and I ended up just talking and learning that we were both interested in environmental topics and we both had small children.
“I thought it was really cool that Catherine was very forward and was like, ‘What’s your number? Let’s be friends,’ so we became friends.”
That initial conversation was only the beginning.
Schultz and Meeks Quinlan are two of the many UTC non-tenure-track faculty doing research, providing excellence in teaching and participating in University-level and community service.
What makes them a tad unique is they have been at the forefront of creating a minor—with the long-term goal of developing a major.
Meeks Quinlan, a member of the Department of English, said the specific idea of developing the environmental studies minor could be linked to a summer 2021 College of Arts and Sciences interdisciplinary project.
“I reached out to Lucy and (Guerry Professor) Jennifer Boyd in environmental science, who I’d known from my first stint at UTC, and she agreed to take part in that project with us as well so that we had a humanities and natural science connection,” said Meeks Quinlan, who began her second stint at UTC in 2019. She previously taught at the University from 2008 to 2013.
“That project was really motivating. We looked around at all of UTC’s peer and aspirational schools—and some others we were familiar with from our contacts and networks—and saw what other schools were doing. UTC didn’t offer environmental studies but could based on what we already had here in terms of faculty interest and ways to connect.”
Boyd said collaborating with Meeks Quinlan and Schultz on the environmental studies minor for the last two years has been “an absolutely fantastic experience.”
“Their passion for exploring the humanistic side of environmental issues, which is vital as we seek effective ways to solve problems, is contagious,” Boyd said, “and their abilities to collaborate across programs, departments and the local community are inspiring.
“Having the privilege to work with these amazing women has expanded my perspective of environmental issues as a natural scientist and elevated my appreciation of the humanities.”
Their work was soon supported by a highly competitive $35,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to explore the potential to develop environmental studies programming at UTC, and the minor was first offered for the 2022-2023 academic year.
“Environmental studies requires an interdisciplinary approach because the environment is part of everything that we do,” Schultz said, “so you can have poets who are reflecting and philosophers who are thinking and writers who are communicating. You have the scientists who are studying and trying to figure out how things work. There’s environmental history, and then there are all these ways that business, sociology and health interact with the environment.
“The environment is essential to every aspect of life. We need all hands on deck and everyone working together to give students the education they need to be able to think systemically about how everything fits together.”
Schultz earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and a master’s in philosophy and the arts at Stony Brook University in New York. After receiving a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oregon, she held faculty positions at Midwestern State University in Texas and Barton College in North Carolina before coming to UTC.
Her fascination with the environment began in the heartland of western Iowa.
“In philosophy, you think about the defining questions of what it means to be human, and part of that is to understand our place in the cosmos,” Schultz said. “I study world religions and world philosophy, and a big part of the world views of all these traditions is how they conceive of what nature is.
“Growing up in rural Iowa, I was immersed in agricultural landscape. I’ve carried an interest in agriculture to this day because agriculture is one of the primary ways that we interact with the natural world. And, of course, as a kid growing up in a rural place—even though I was from a town—you are outdoors all the time and cultivate a love for the environment.”
Meeks Quinlan is a “fifth-generation Tennesseean” who chose Berry College in Georgia for her undergraduate studies “in large part because the campus is phenomenally beautiful and they have 27,000 acres of land with hiking trails and all kinds of outdoor activities.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English literature, she earned a master’s degree in environmental studies with a focus in environmental writing from the University of Montana and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.
Her interest in the environment from an academic standpoint came about “when I was in college and was always interested in writing and literature and just drawn to a lot of writers who were focused on investigating the relationship between humans and nature,” Meeks Quinlan said.
Meeks Quinlan said she and Schultz share many similarities around framing questions and approaches to the significant environmental and sustainability issues that the minor is geared around.
“Because both of us have a background in interdisciplinary thinking and working, that’s what connected us,” she said, “and coming from our distinct disciplines—because we both value the interdisciplinary approach—that’s the bridge.”
Creating the minor has also allowed them to work with faculty from all corners of campus.
“What unites everybody is the appreciation for interdisciplinary approaches to solving problems,” Meeks Quinlan said. “Another thing about environmental studies is its very applied nature. It emphasizes not just theoretical framing but also action-oriented problem-solving and projects—and that filters into how we emphasize community engagement and experiential learning as part of the student experience.”
In environmental studies’ first full year at UTC, 22 students declared that minor encompassing eight majors and 13 concentrations.
“I think with this student generation, there’s a sense of urgency, so we want to respond to that and empower them to feel like they can make a difference and take initiatives,” Schultz said. “Our hope is that the combination of the location of Chattanooga and the strengths of UTC will attract students to come here to study environmental studies.”
Added Meeks Quinlan, “It’s a field that the world needs—that Chattanooga needs—that will have a real impact in the community. Chattanooga is very well-positioned to support this because it’s the Scenic City and has all of this natural beauty and recreation.”