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Center for

Environment & Society

About the Center

Our vision is a Chesapeake Bay and watershed that is healthy and thriving; one in which natural systems and human communities are in balance. Interdisciplinary academic programs promote the integration of environmental issues, social values, and good old river mud.


Our vision is a Chesapeake Bay and watershed that is healthy and thriving; one in which natural systems and human communities are in balance. Strong interdisciplinary academic programs promote the integration of environmental and social values and graduates are prepared both in the classroom and through experience to be balanced and productive citizens, skilled and agile professionals, and champions and stewards of natural and cultural resources.


The Center for Environment & Society at Washington College was created in 1999 to promote interdisciplinary learning, research and exemplary stewardship of natural and cultural resources. Its primary objective is to support the integration of ecological and social values.

Under its inaugural director, the Center focused primarily upon issues of sustainable agriculture on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, along with educational programs to enhance the College’s environmental studies curriculum. In cooperation with the Department of Sociology & Anthropology, critical new data management and analytical technologies such as Geographic Information Systems were brought to campus.

The Center’s current director, Dr. John L. Seidel, served as interim director in 2006 and after a national search was named director in 2007. While the mission of CES has remained the same since its inception, its capabilities have expanded significantly since 2006. Recognizing that the Center acts as a portal to one of the world’s greatest estuaries - the Chesapeake Bay - the Center acquired remote sensing equipment including a side-scan sonar, marine magnetometers, acoustic seabed classification systems and hydrographic survey software, giving the Center the ability to expand its focus from the land into the water. As a result, programs have grown from regional agricultural sustainability and environmental education to include estuarine studies and marine habitat assessment, the latter focus drawing the attention and interest of the National Park Service. A more formal incorporation of archaeology into the Center allows a vision of the future that profits from lessons of the past.

Augmented significantly through the grant-supported internship and research associate programs, the Center’s modest endowment has allowed staffing to expand and solidify. In 2011, the Center acquired the Chester River Field Research Station, including the Foreman’s Branch Bird Observatory and access to the 5,000 acres of Grasslands Plantation (Chino Farms), on the Chester River in Queen Anne’s County. This greatly expands the opportunities for teaching, research, and outreach related to sustainable agriculture, habitat restoration, and conservation biology.

The Center continues to give Washington College students the opportunity to understand fully the relationship between human and natural environments and provide them with the technical knowledge, practical experience, and aesthetic perspective needed to advance that relationship for the benefit of future generations.

What We Do

The Center for Environment & Society serves as a bridge between Washington College and the rich natural and human resources of the region. Lecture series, workshops, films and seminars provide new perspectives and professional development opportunities for the campus and the larger community. Competitively awarded student fellowships put students to work on real-world problems, allowing them to build a resume and establish connections in the professional world. In the innovative Chesapeake Semester, students range throughout the watershed, exploring the people, places and issues of the Chesapeake Bay in all of their complexity. The Center supports faculty teaching and research through collaboration and by providing access to a variety of resources. It also has led the College in meeting its obligations under the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, while acting as a catalyst in campus recycling, energy savings and the search for alternative energy.

The Center’s Public Archaeology Laboratory puts students, staff, faculty and volunteers to work exploring the region’s past, bringing a range of past human experiences to bear on the problems of today. The Center’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory utilizes cutting edge spatial analysis technology to work on a wide range of problems, including analysis of urban tree canopies and green infrastructure, biodiversity and land-use, crime mapping, habitat and ecosystem mapping, and community visioning. The GIS Lab and resources such as a 46 ft research vessel offer research and training opportunities not only for Washington College, but for local school children and their teachers.

Through these various programs, the Center reaches out to communities, providing expertise to solve local problems. The emphasis, however, is on engaging communities, giving them the tools and information they need to resolve these problems on their own. Projects include: community visioning, in which communities come together to reach consensus on local values and take charge of their future; analysis of land-use policies and comprehensive planning; tree planting and shoreline restoration projects; oyster gardening and fisheries restoration; professional development and training; habitat restoration and conservation biology at Grasslands Plantation; and a wide variety of technical support. Washington College students, the primary constituents of the Center for Environment & Society, are involved in all of these projects, putting their academic training to work while learning by doing.

Find out more about what the Center has to offer on our resources page.