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 required for the major (AP or IB credit can be applied), therefore, biology majors should take this class prior to the junior year. 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. No prerequisite. Offered every year.

This course examines 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. We 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.

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 examine the physical, chemical and biological factors influencing biological diversity and productivity, and emphasize the application of ecological principles to study these systems. Possible topics include the effects of agricultural runoff 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 are 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 employ methods used in the study of freshwater ecosystems. It is designed to complement either BIOL 251 or BIOL 352. Students learn to identify freshwater organisms; quantify biological, chemical and physical parameters that affect these organisms; and design ecological experiments. Throughout the course, laboratories emphasize hypothesis testing, quantitative methods and experimental design. Field trips are taken to local natural habitats, and many lab periods are spent doing fieldwork. This counts toward the upper-level laboratory requirement. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y-110Y. Prerequisite or corequisite: BIOL 251 or 352. Generally offered every other year.

This combined discussion and laboratory course aims to develop abilities for asking sound research questions, designing reasonable scientific approaches to answer such questions, and performing experiments to test both the design and the question. We consider how to assess difficulties and limitations in experimental strategies due to design, equipment, organism selected and so on. The course provides a detailed understanding of selected modern research equipment. Students select their own research problems in consultation with one or more biology faculty members. This course is designed both for those who plan to undertake honors research in their senior year and for those who are not pursuing honors but want practical research experience. A student can begin the course in either semester. If a year of credit is earned, it may be applied toward one laboratory requirement for the major in biology. This course is repeatable for credit. Prerequisite: BIOL 109Y–110Y and 116 and permission of instructor.

In this capstone seminar, students explore current research topics in biology by writing a mini-review on a topic of their choice. In doing so, students analyze and integrate information from research articles that connect specific studies to broader biological questions and propose future work that refines and extends prior studies. Students communicate their insights in both oral and written formats. Assignments include short essays, student presentations, a general-audience piece and peer review. This course counts toward the upper-level lecture course requirement for the biology major. Senior standing and biology or molecular biology major.

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," and from Dava Sobel's "Longitude" to Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." Such book explore scientific questions in a style that transcends the conventions of academic science writing or popular history, bringing 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 combines literary analysis of exemplary essays on scientific topics with a writing workshop that requires students to closely observe scientific processes, conduct independent research and interviews, interpret data, and present scientific information in highly readable form. Weekly readings are 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 include journals, observational accounts of science experiments, exercises in interpreting scientific data, interviews, narratives and a substantial research essay. This counts toward the creative practice and post-1900 requirement for the major. No prerequisite.

Students in this workshop undertake an extended creative project in prose (30-40 pages), which counts as their Senior Capstone project for the English major with an emphasis in creative writing. Projects in fiction, nonfiction, science and nature writing, and hybrid narrative forms are welcome. Students have the opportunity to workshop this project over the course of the semester, and study critical and creative readings chosen by the instructor. Prerequisite: ENGL 300 or ENGL 302, , senior English majors only.

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 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.