In 2008, Washington and Lee University developed the Chesapeake Bay Program through funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Since its creation, the program has focused on place-based teaching which integrates students into local watershed issues of land use and how they can impact the local watershed and the Bay's health. This interdisciplinary program is tailored to immerse students into the social, economic and cultural realities of the watershed. The program also adds a domestic component to the program's already strong international program in the Brazilian Amazon, providing students with an opportunity to engage in comparative analysis of two critically important watersheds.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed (CBW), which covers more than 64,000 square miles, is the largest watershed on the eastern seaboard of North America. Its boundaries include six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia and the entire District of Columbia. It includes more than 100,000 water sources which drain into five major rivers and then empty into the Bay. The James River, listed as one of the biggest, is part of the watershed address for Washington and Lee University.
As with the Amazonian rainforest, the CBW's ecosystem is an interconnection between plant and animal species, and people. The watershed is not just water, or food, but an interrelated system working together to maintain a healthy ecological balance in the bay ecosystem. The ecosystem's health is an indicator of society's treatment of the Bay. CBW's importance is directly related to environmental and economic issues, as well as to recreation and natural beauty.
In the United States, the CBW is still one of the most valuable resources, being the connection of a complex relationship between humans and nature. It is seriously affected by human activities. "Growing commercial, industrial, recreational and urban activities continue to threaten the Bay and its living resources" (Reshetiloff). The excess of nutrients, toxic substances, and the decline in submerged aquatic vegetation are the three most studied areas concerning the Bay's future and sustainable activities in the watershed.