Ruth Heindel is the Dorothy and Thomas Jegla Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Kenyon College. Heindel is an interdisciplinary biogeochemist and has conducted field research in Greenland, the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica and the Colorado Front Range. Her field-based approach combines methods from ecology, geomorphology and geochemistry to answer questions about the impact of changing climate and land use on sensitive alpine and polar ecosystems. Locally, Heindel’s research focuses on the atmospheric deposition of nutrients and particulate matter to Ohio ecosystems.

Heindel teaches courses on earth systems science, climate change and environmental field methods, and frequently incorporates her local field research into her courses.


Areas of Expertise

Polar environmental change, global dust cycle, soil science


2017 — Doctor of Philosophy from Dartmouth College

2010 — Bachelor of Science from Brown University

Courses Recently Taught

Kenyon’s campus sits on glacial sediments marking the farthest extent of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, with glaciated till plains to our west and unglaciated Appalachian foothills to our east. Below these glacial sediments lies the Black Hand Sandstone, formed 350 million years ago from the erosion of the young and massive Appalachian Mountains. Through literary readings, local field trips and hands-on activities, this course explores the geologic forces that have shaped Ohio’s landscape. Students develop a connection to place through repeated field observations – including sketching, photography, and writing – of a location on Kenyon property. In addition, we discuss topics such as the intersection between science and Indigenous knowledge, diversity and representation in outdoor spaces, and science communication. This counts toward the cultures, societies and environments requirement for the major. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. No prerequisite. Offered every other fall.

This course examines contemporary environmental problems, introducing the major concepts pertaining to human interactions with the biosphere. We explore this interaction on both local and global scales. Course topics include basic principles of ecology (flows of energy, cycling of matter and the role of feedback), the impacts of human technology, the roots of our perceptions about and reactions to nature, the social and legal framework for responding to problems, and economic issues surrounding environmental issues. We discuss methods for answering questions regarding the consequences of our actions and, using a systems approach, focus on methods for organizing information to evaluate complex issues. The course is three-quarters discussion and lecture and one-quarter workshop. The workshops include field trips, experience with collecting data, and application of systems thinking. This course taken at Kenyon, paired with any biology course, counts toward the natural science diversification requirement. This course is required for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every year.

This course is an introduction to the field and laboratory techniques used in environmental science. Students receive an overview of scientific and research methods, data handling and field techniques to assess water quality, soil characteristics and ecosystem composition and health. This is a community-engaged learning course: Students will travel to a local farm (transportation provided by instructor) to assess the long-term environmental effects of switching from conventional to sustainable agricultural practices. This course counts toward the lab skills major requirement. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. Prerequisite: ENVS 112. Offered every fall semester.

Earth systems science is an integrated approach to studying the world in which we live. At the highest level, the four most basic interacting subsystems are air (atmosphere), water (hydrosphere), land (geosphere) and life (biosphere). This course introduces students to the physical, chemical and biological processes of these major subsystems (and the interactions among them) by examining past and present states of the Earth system. Humans, as relatively late-coming members of the biosphere, are part of the overall Earth system, and we examine our interactions within and among the subsystems at the level of the individual and of society. Lectures and laboratories on these broad topics are supplemented by field trips to witness Earth's systems in context and by conversations with community members whose work is at the forefront of human interactions within the system. This course is required for the major. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. Prerequisite: ENVS 112. Offered every spring semester.

Climate change is the defining environmental issue for our time, permeating conversations about economics, human rights and international relations. In order to engage in these conversations, it is critical to have a solid understanding of Earth’s climate system and how humans are altering it. We begin by examining the natural state of Earth’s climate system and the factors that have caused past climate variability. We investigate how humans have altered the climate system as well as some of the most significant impacts of anthropogenic warming. We end with a discussion of some proposed science-based approaches to mitigating climate change. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. This counts toward the living systems requirement for the major. Prerequisite: ENVS 112 and either ENVS 220 or MATH 258. Offered every other year.

This course is intended to reward students with academic credit for their research activities, provide opportunities to develop skills related to communicating science, and encourage students to gain exposure to ongoing environmental science research. Students select their own research problems in consultation with an ENVS faculty member and/or a mentor at one of the Green Centers. Instead of frequent class meetings, students are expected to spend 6-10 hours per week working on their research project in close collaboration with their mentor. To develop communication skills, students present their work to their colleagues and compose a final manuscript that describes their research progress during the semester. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. This course is repeatable for credit. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y-110Y or ENVS 210.

The intention of this capstone seminar is to draw together and apply the concepts learned in earlier courses in the Environmental Studies Concentration. The focus of the course is on case studies of natural-resource management, with specific topic areas to be determined. In this strongly interdisciplinary effort, we explore ecological, economic, social and legal issues that influence how people exploit natural resources, and whether that exploitation is sustainable. Students are expected to develop and communicate their understanding of the complex and inseparable relationships of human well-being, ecosystem services and environmental management. This course is required for the major. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. Prerequisite: senior standing and declared environmental studies major or concentrator. Offered every spring.

Because environmental studies is a broad interdisciplinary field, the nature of an individual study necessarily varies depending on the home discipline of the faculty member guiding the course. Details regarding the expected number of contact hours per week, workload and assessment are left to the discretion of the faculty member guiding the individual study. There are no formal restrictions on who can pursue an individual study in environmental studies. Individual studies may, upon consultation with an environmental studies co-chair, serve as an elective course in fulfilling the requirements for environmental studies, up to 0.5 units. To enroll in an individual study, a student must identify a member of the ENVS faculty willing to mentor the project and, in consultation with him or her, draft a syllabus, including readings, schedule and assignments, which must be approved by a co-chair of the program. At a minimum, it is expected that the student meet regularly with his or her instructor, at least once per week or the equivalent, at the discretion of the instructor. At a minimum, the amount of work submitted for a grade in an IS should approximate that required, on average, for courses of equivalent units in the home department of the faculty mentor. In the case of a group individual study, a single course syllabus may be submitted, assuming that all group members will follow the same syllabus. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study by the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement.