History

From the nation’s first foresters to today’s environmental leaders, this is the story of how we became the Yale School of the Environment.

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    The School was established in 1900 as The Yale Forest School with a founding gift from the family of Gifford Pinchot B.A. 1889, LL.D. 1925, a pioneer in the conservation movement who would later become the first head of the U.S. Forest Service. Through Pinchot’s vision and the work of the Forest School, Yale led the way in creating a new model of forest management and natural resource conservation, educating many of the nation’s first foresters — a vanguard of professionals who shaped our modern understanding of conservation, environmental education, and public lands. In fact, during its first four decades, the School would produce the first four U.S. Forest Service chiefs.

    Over the past century, however, the School has grown from a more narrowly focused forestry program to an international institution with a diverse array of students from across the world graduating each year. In 1972, in recognition of its increased scope, the School changed its name to the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. New areas of focus included ecology, ecosystems, and biodiversity; environmental management and social ecology in developing societies; global change science and policy; health and environment; industrial environmental management; policy, economics, and law; urban science, environmental planning, design, and values; coastal watershed systems; and environmental justice.

    During the 1990s, the School established and invested in a range of new centers and programs to expand its work beyond faculty research and classroom learning. The nearly 20 centers, programs, and emerging initiatives have created space for collaborative scholarship, research, student learning, and outreach to alumni and the wider professional communities on critical issues, such as tropical forestry, environmental communication, and industrial ecology, among many others. The School has also strengthened its connections within the wider Yale community and with external partners, introducing joint degree programs with Yale’s schools of law, management, public health, and architecture, as well as Pace Law School, Vermont Law School, and Tsinghua University in China.

    In 2017, the School unveiled an ambitious new Strategic Plan. Among the plan’s critical goals was the development of new curricula that track the School’s current and evolving strengths; increased programs and hiring to address environmental equity and diversity issues; a new emphasis on research and training in environmental communication; and expanded interdisciplinary research. In the time since, the School has adopted a new curriculum for the Master of Environmental Management program, which places more emphasis on subject specialization while maintaining its signature flexibility; introduced the Yale Center for Environmental Communication; and created the Yale Environmental Dialogue, an initiative that has engaged environmental leaders from a wide range of disciplines and sectors to inject new ideas and fresh energy into the national conversation on environmental policy. YSE is also continuing to develop and strengthen strategic initiatives focused on environmental data, urban science, and environmental health and justice.

    To reflect these numerous changes and our established role as a leader in environmental scholarship and practice, the School became the Yale School of the Environment in 2020. At the same time, the School established the Forest School at the Yale School of the Environment in recognition of its founding mission and of the continued importance of forestry. The teaching and study of forestry and forest science remains a core strength of the School. YSE students learn the principles of natural resource management through the innovative research and sustainable practice occurring at the School’s nearly 11,000 acres of actively managed forests, and YSE is committed to providing students multiple opportunities to study these forests and those around the world.

    History continues to be made each day. We are becoming more diverse, with the hires of faculty Dorceta Taylor and Gerald Torres, two of the country’s preeminent scholars in the field of environmental justice, and Yuan Yao, an up-and-coming star in the field of industrial ecology. We’ve created new faculty positions in wildlife and land conservation, filled by Nyeema Harris, and environmental policy, filled by Luke Sanford. A $100 million gift to Yale from FedEx is helping to support a new Center for Natural Carbon Capture, which will focus on developing natural solutions for reducing atmospheric carbon. The center, a key aspect of Yale’s broader Planetary Solutions Project, will support and accelerate research across academic disciplines. The FedEx funding will also help support the creation of two new professorships as well as doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships at YSE.


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