Learning Goals for the Environmental Studies Major


Our students graduate with knowledge of the diverse human relationships to the environment, achieved through: breadth, depth, integration, commonality, creativity.

  1. Our students share a common base of knowledge across the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.
  2. Through coursework in their ES focus, students gain in-depth disciplinary knowledge, as well as the skills and practices necessary to the practice of their particular discipline.
  3. Disciplinary depth of knowledge is balanced by breadth of knowledge across disciplines.  Students integrate knowledge and methodologies across disciplines.
  4. Our students gain a broad and deep knowledge of the American story of human-environment interaction.  They also have the opportunity to compare these social and ecological relationships cross-culturally and globally.

As they gain mastery of the skills listed below, our students learn to apply those skills to formulate original questions within and across academic disciplines, and to pursue answers through creative research and problem-solving.

  1. Our students observe, explore, research, gather data, and listen; they analyze, question, interpret, and listen; they engage, debate, discuss, and present.  These skills develop over time through critical reading, writing, discussion, laboratory work, and data and spatial analysis.
  2. Engagement across disciplines comes through listening to students and faculty in disciplines other than their own, and through consideration of other points of view and other sources of knowledge.  This engagement fosters the integration of different types of knowledge and different ways of knowing.
Capstone: Integration, Research, Independence, Service, Presentation.
  1. In their capstone senior seminar, students integrate these skills, and their breadth and depth of knowledge through community-connected learning and presentation of their research and community projects to their fellow students, professors, and community partners.  Through connections with local partners, students apply their knowledge with creative problem-solving, and have the opportunity to carefully consider the implications for local communities of their own research and ideas.
Curricular Map:
  1. Three required core courses, Natural Science and the Environment (ENVS 112), Conservation and Environmental Policy (ENVS 211), and Nature's Meanings:  The American Experience (ENVS 215) together provide all majors and minors with a common, interdisciplinary base of knowledge.  Students integrate knowledge across those disciplines by studying common topics and themes in all three courses (for example groundwater contamination, Superfund policy, and the gendered dimensions of the Love Canal crisis).  The weekly Environmental Studies colloquium also provides students with the chance to hear current environmental topics addressed by speakers from a wide range of disciplines.
  2. All majors choose from 14 possible foci (Conservation Biology; Environmental Chemistry; Environmental Geology; Conservation Psychology; Environmental Economics; Environmental Policy; Geography; Human Ecology; Architecture and the Environment; Creative Arts; Environmental History; Environmental Nonfiction; Literature; Religion, Philosophy, and the Environment).

    The foci offered reflect three principles:  1) grounding in at least one traditional liberal arts discipline; 2) the current faculty's range of expertise and course offerings; 3) balanced offerings across the sciences, social sciences, humanities and arts.

    Each focus meets five criteria:  1) at least 6 required courses 2) at least 2 courses with explicit environmental content 3) a required methodology course 4) opportunity for advanced work in either a seminar or independent research project/thesis 5) sufficient faculty resources for advising within the focus.  Students in six foci receive automatic joint majors with their focus discipline.

  3. All majors in natural science foci take two approved environmental studies cognates (as listed on the web) outside the natural sciences.  All majors in humanities, arts, and social science foci take two approved environmental studies cognates (as listed on the web) in the natural sciences.
  4. Course choices among approved cognates and within many foci include a wide range of courses on human relations with the environment around the globe.  Although Environmental Studies Majors are not required to study abroad, over 60 percent study abroad for one semester in their junior year.  Many majors complete independent research and senior essays or theses on international topics.
  5. In addition to the skills developed in the three introductory courses and through focus courses and cognates, all majors are required to master Geographic Information Systems (GIS) through a required course (GEOG 120).
  6. Core and cognate courses and the senior seminar together expose students to points of view outside their own academic discipline (their focus).   Faculty from a range of disciplines teach the senior seminar, and invite mid-semester and final evaluations from that same range of faculty. Students are thus questioned and challenged throughout their careers, and particularly in the capstone seminar, by teachers and fellow students who approach environmental topics from across the curriculum.
  7. The senior capstone seminar (ENVS 401) pairs small groups of senior majors (4-6 per group) with community partners to investigate a particular environmental issue or problem.  The course demands that students trained in multiple disciplines collaborate to address that problem, develop their project, overcome obstacles, and present their results to a public audience.  These group projects require integration of knowledge across disciplines, independent work, oral and written communication, group leadership, and collaboration with faculty, staff, community members, and fellow students.

Program in Environmental Studies

Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest
531 College Street
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753