Siobhan Fennessy is the Philip and Sheila Jordan Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology whose research focuses on how wetland plant species diversity and biogeochemical cycles respond to  human disturbance, and how that can be mitigated with ecological restoration. Fennessy won a Fulbright Fellowship to work in Spain on carbon dynamics in Mediterranean wetlands, recently served as an author on the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Assessment of the global environment and is serving on the U.S. National Academies of Science’s panel to review progress on the Everglades Restoration. Fennessy previously served on the faculty of the Geography Department of University College London with a research position at la Tour du Valat biological station (France). She is currently working with Kenyon’s science and nature writing program.

Areas of Expertise

Wetland ecosystem ecology, plant community response to disturbance, climate change and wetland carbon cycles


1991 — Doctor of Philosophy from The Ohio State University

1986 — Bachelor of Science from The Ohio State University

Courses Recently Taught

This course is designed to introduce students to the study of freshwater ecosystems, including lakes, streams and wetlands. Human activities have had profound impacts on freshwater life and an understanding of the dynamics of freshwater systems is instrumental in determining how to protect and restore these habitats. We will examine the physical, chemical and biological factors influencing biological diversity and productivity and will emphasize the application of ecological principles to study these systems. Possible topics include the effects of agricultural run-off and eutrophication; erosion resulting from human development; the introduction of non-native species; toxic contaminants; and restoration techniques. Standard texts as well as primary literature will be used. This counts toward the upper-level environmental biology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: BIOL 115 or equivalent and at least one 200- or 300-level biology lecture course. Generally offered every other year.

In this laboratory course, students will employ methods used in the study of freshwater ecosystems. It is designed to complement either BIOL 251 or BIOL 352. Students will learn to identify freshwater organisms, quantify biological, chemical and physical parameters that affect these organisms, and design ecological experiments. Throughout the course, laboratories will emphasize hypothesis testing, quantitative methods and experimental design. Field trips will be taken to local natural habitats and many lab periods will be spent doing fieldwork. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y-110Y. Prerequisite or corequisite: BIOL 251 or 352 or permission of instructor. Generally offered every other year. This counts toward the upper-level laboratory requirement.

In recent years, there has been a renaissance of science writing for the common reader that combines literary and scientific merit: from Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" to Oliver Sacks' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat", from Dava Sobel's "Longitude" to Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," a series of books that explore scientific questions in a style that transcends the conventions of academic science writing or popular history have brought important questions from physics, biology, chemistry, neuroscience, and mathematics to wider public attention. Short form science journalism has become one of the most important areas of literary nonfiction, recognized both by annual awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and two different series of Best of American Science Writing anthologies. This interdisciplinary science writing course will combine literary analysis of exemplary essays on scientific topics with a writing workshop that requires students to do close observation of scientific processes, conduct independent research and interviews, interpret data, and present scientific information in highly readable form. Weekly readings will be selected from prize-winning science essays and the Best of American Science and Nature Writing series. We may also read one book-length work of science writing. Weekly writing assignments will include journals, observational accounts of science experiments, exercises in interpreting scientific data, interviews, narratives and a substantial research essay. This counts toward the approaches to literary study or post-1900 requirements for the major. No prerequisite.

This course examines contemporary environmental problems, introducing the major concepts pertaining to human interactions with the biosphere. We will explore this interaction at 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 will 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 format of the course will be three-quarters discussion and lecture and one-quarter workshop. The workshops will 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.

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 will be on case studies of natural-resource management, with specific topic areas to be determined. In this strongly interdisciplinary effort, we will explore ecological, economic, social and legal issues that influence how people exploit natural resources, and whether that exploitation is sustainable. Students will be 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 environmental studies major or concentrator. Offered every spring.

Because environmental studies is a broad interdisciplinary field, the nature of an individual study will necessarily vary 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 will be 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, the student must 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 preferably the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval before the registrar’s deadline. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement.