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

Energy flow is a unifying principle across a range of living systems, from cells to ecosystems. With energy flow as a major theme, this course covers macromolecules, cells, respiration and photosynthesis, physiology and homeostasis, population and community interactions, and ecosystems. Throughout the course, the diversity of life is explored. The course also introduces students to the process of scientific thinking through discussion of research methodology and approaches. This course is required for the major and as such, Biology majors should take this class prior to the junior year. No prerequisite. Offered every year. Required for the major although AP or IB credit can be applied against this course.

This course will examine the ecological theory and practice of restoration ecology through lectures, class discussion, field trips and a class project on restoration design. The science of ecosystem restoration has grown dramatically over the past decades, emerging as an active subdiscipline of biology. The challenges of restoration are many and include our incomplete understanding of the complexity of ecosystems and the limits this places on our ability to predict ecosystem response to restoration efforts. Restoration ecology spans a range of activities and scales, ranging from the systematic, long-term restoration of major ecosystems such as the Everglades or the Colorado River watershed, to small-scale restoration projects such as the prairie and wetland restoration projects at Kenyon's Brown Family Environmental Center. This course we will focus on the causes of ecosystem degradation, methods to quantify ecosystem response, the application of concepts such as ecological integrity, ecosystem resilience and alternative stable states. This counts toward the upper-level environmental biology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: BIOL 115 and a 200-level Biology course or permission of instructor.

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.

This course offers an in-depth research experience. Prior to enrollment in this course, students are expected to complete at least one semester of BIOL 385 and participate in the Summer Science Scholars program. Two semesters of BIOL 385 are recommended. Emphasis is on completion of the research project. Students also are instructed in poster production and produce one or more posters of their honors work for presentation at Kenyon and possibly at outside meetings. There will be oral progress reports, and students draft the Introduction and Methods section of the honors thesis. The letter grade is determined by the instructor and project advisor in consultation with the department. Students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.33 and a GPA of 3.33 in biology. Permission of instructor and department chair required. Prerequisite: BIOL 385 and permission of project advisor and department chair.

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 purpose of the course is to introduce students to the principles of sustainable agriculture through hands-on experience on local farms and through readings of current literature. The course thus combines fieldwork and seminar-style discussion. Work on the farm will be varied, determined by the seasons and farm projects under way. In addition, students may be taken to the local Producers Livestock Auction and other off-farm sites as the time and season allow. Students can expect to handle and feed animals, clean barns, harvest and plant crops, prepare farm products for market, build and repair fences, bale hay and work with, repair or clean equipment and buildings. Readings will be drawn from relevant books, current environmental literature and the news media. Discussions will be student-led and combine readings and their experiences in the field. Also, students must have available in their academic schedule four continuous hours one day per week to spend working at a local organic farm (travel time will be in addition to these four hours). In addition, students will participate in a weekly seminar discussion of assigned readings, lasting from an hour and a half to two hours. Participation is limited to eight to 10 students and permission of instructor is required. Preference will be given to juniors and seniors. Completion of ENVS 112 is highly recommended. This interdisciplinary course does not count toward the completion of any diversification requirement. No prerequisite. Offered every fall.

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.