Our Curriculum

General Overview

Professors teach environmental science courses to beginners and advanced students.We offer two tracks of environmental science courses in the School of the Environment: introductory and intermediate/advanced.  Each track involves three courses: two core courses and one elective.  The curriculum as a whole involves courses that are both intensive and interdisciplinary, and together will engage you in real environmental science issues at the local level and in a global context. As part of these courses you will also train in many of the environmental leadership skills necessary to translate your knowledge and awareness into effective social and environmental change. Each course earns three semester-hour credits from Middlebury College.

In keeping with Middlebury’s liberal arts tradition, courses will look at the environment through the lenses of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Visiting “practitioners in residence” will bring into the coursework case studies and ideas from their own fields of expertise.

A prominent feature of the program is the attention to understanding and building environmental leadership skills. The School of the Environment will not only expand your knowledge of environmental science issues and techniques, but will train you how to use that knowledge to change society’s environmental trajectory.

  • Can you persuade others that your ideas have merit?
  • Can you empathize and work with others’ priorities and concerns?
  • Can you lead people and manage projects to further your ideas?

After an intense six weeks, you’ll be able to answer, “Yes.”


Introductory Track (No previous environmental coursework required)

Core course 1: Introduction to Environmental Analysis

Using a case study method, students in this course will explore deeply a number of key environmental issues through science, policy, and the humanities with the goal of learning how our understanding of the roots, consequences, and solutions to environmental problems require integration of multiple perspectives.  Cases will include those related to agriculture and food systems; energy and climate change; conservation of endangered species; and water pollution.  Students will come away from this course with a solid background in both how to approach a holistic understanding of environmental issues and the importance of interdisciplinary thinking in shaping environmental solutions. Instructor: Steve Trombulak and Joan Grossman. Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

Core course 2: Systems Thinking Practicum

The world can be thought of as a set of inter-related systems, or collections of parts that interact with one another to create a larger pattern of behavior.  A farm is a system, as are the cars in a parking lot, a nation's energy grid, or the factors that influence global climate.  Being able to describe how systems work is the first step to identifying how to influence their behavior, either to improve their performance (such as increase food production) or minimize their failures (such as decrease water pollution).  In this practicum, students will learn the fundamentals of systems thinking and apply their skills in analyzing specific problems, and both proposing and promoting solutions. Instructor: Curt Gervich. Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).


Intermediate/Advanced Track (Previous college-level environmental coursework required)

Core course 1: Sustainability Practicum

This course will explore, through reading, discussion, and direct engagement, an issue associated with sustainability, such as energy, food production, land management, and environmental justice. Using a case study approach to analyzing sustainability initiatives in the local area, students will explore—and eventually practice—the process of advancing a project from inception to launch. This class will involve team-based research projects focused on identifying and analyzing solutions to real sustainability challenges confronted by government, business, or individuals. The course will emphasize training in critical leadership skills, including project management, team building and team leading, persuasive communication, networking, fundraising, conflict resolution, understanding diverse communication styles, human-centered design, and emotional intelligence.  Much of your work in this course will take place within small (3-5 students) research teams. Instructor: Steve Trombulak. Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).


Core Course 2: Understanding Place

Manifesting solutions to environmental challenges requires a deep understanding of "place," by which we mean a sense of the history, culture, economy, and ecology of a location. Facing environmental challenges cannot be divorced from understanding either the people or the ecological realities of the location where the challenge is situated or from where the solution is to emerge. This is true everywhere, but it is best understood by focusing on a single place. This course will explore a specific place through both ecological and cultural narratives (in other words, through history, biology, literature, geology, and political science) to understand how this place came to be in the condition it is today and how to improve conditions for both itself and the human communities associated with it. This course will involve use of the college's science research facilities, GIS technology, and interviews with numerous people involved in the use and management of the selected location.  Instructors: Holly Peterson and Joseph Witt. Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours). 


Global Perspectives Electives (available to students in both tracks)

Environmental issues and solutions also need to be viewed in a global context. In addition to the core environmental science courses, the faculty of the School will each teach an elective course in their area of specialization that takes an expansive view on a particular topic, tool, or concept. You will enroll in one of these electives based on your interest, previous coursework, and discussion with the School's director. Each elective will incorporate the skills and knowledge presented in the core courses and the co-curricular skills workshops, but will be characterized by small class size and an emphasis on intimate discussion of key case studies.


  • Wicked Environment Problems

Wicked problems are those that have no clear “right” or “wrong” solutions, or technical fixes. Rather, finding the single best solution to these dilemmas is a matter of perspective and the interconnectedness among scientific and social elements means that any resolution carries advantages and disadvantages for stakeholders.  As a consequence, wicked problems often include intractable forces that make “solving” these problems all but impossible. Therefore, “management” becomes the default objective for stakeholders involved in environmental governance of wicked problems. This course explores the environmental governance of wicked problems in environmental policy and politics.  We will use the lenses of systems theory, policy networks, and adaptive governance and management among others to explore the emergence of wicked problems as well as the current management approaches used by governance institutions to cope with these challenges. Instructor: Curt Gervich. Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

  • Religion, Nature, and Justice

Religions have often been understood by academics as belief systems about the sacred or communities and institutions oriented around sacred things.  More recently, scholars have turned to examine how religions are “lived,” engaged and embodied in the world and interacting with other social, cultural, political, and environmental factors.  Looking broadly, it becomes evident that religious values and practices have greatly influenced diverse conceptions of nature (what constitutes the “natural” and what obligations, if any, do humans have toward it?) and justice (what defines a just society and what laws, rules, behaviors or beliefs are needed to bring it about?).  This course examines how distinct religious communities as well as more diffuse religious values and worldviews have influenced perceptions of and behavior toward the natural world and visions of and work toward just societies.  Along with engaging interdisciplinary theories related to religions, nature, and justice, we will explore several case studies of specific religious communities encountering environmental problems and struggles for justice (recognizing, of course, that these regional examples are inevitably tied to global factors), including Hindu and Buddhist responses to pollution and deforestation in South and Southeast Asia; the struggles of American Indian and other indigenous communities for sacred land rights; Muslim, Christian, and traditional religious responses to development and international conservation efforts in Africa; and finally, religion in North American visions of issues such as climate change and environmental policy, including evangelical debates on environmentalism.  We will also evaluate the debate on the “greening of religion.”  Will religions really be needed to remediate and bring just solutions to ecological crises, and if so, what would such work look like in an increasingly globalized and pluralistic world? Instructor: Joseph Witt.  Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

  • Environmental Pollution

An unfortunate reality of our time is that society has been unable to fully mitigate or understand the consequences of pollution in our air, soil, water, ecosystems, and bodies. We have made significant progress in reducing certain pollutants, but nevertheless the types, complexities, and quantities of pollutants released to the environment continue to expand. This field- and lab-based course explores the sources, transport, fate, and remediation of specific environmental pollutants.  The course will focus on air, soil, and water pollution in the field and lab in addition to classroom discussions and computer simulations.  We will use Middlebury's research-grade instruments and boat facilities to conduct a water quality analysis of Lake Champlain, and study stream water quality by comparing chemical water analyses to macroinvertibrate populations.  Air quality will be evaluated in light of historical and current practices in motor vehicle fuel combustion, industrial manufacturing, and energy production.  And computer simulations will help predict and visualize the fate and transport of pesticides under various meteorological conditions.  Although this is primarily a science course, the study of pollution is inherently interdisciplinary. Thus, global and local environmental justice, economic, and political issues will also be explored.  Specifically, we will discuss the broad, interconnected factors that have led to the current pollution conditions we face, including climate change and major oceanic issues.  We will also discuss specific local issues, such as Vermont's 2012 moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Most importantly, we will develop interdisciplinary solutions for the prevention of future pollution by analyzing past social movements and political regulations related to pollution prevention.  These solutions, in conjunction with the leadership skills developed in Middlebury’s School of the Environment, will allow students to make a shift from talking about pollution to making beneficial changes across multiple societal levels. Instructor: Holly Peterson. Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

  • Environmental Video Production

In this course students will gain hands-on experience in video production and create short video works that draw on other aspects of the environmental studies curriculum. Video can be a powerful tool for research and creative expression, and has the potential to deeply enhance how we perceive and understand the environment. The course will explore aesthetic and philosophical approaches to video production, and creative techniques for communicating information and producing artistic works. The aim of this course is to develop skills and perspectives that demonstrate how video can provoke profound discourses on issues and ideas. Instructor: Joan Grossman. Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

The details associated with all of these environmental science courses -- including reading lists, assignments, and means of assessment -- will be added in the weeks to come, so please check back regularly.

About School of the Environment
Middlebury College’s School of the Environment is a 6-week summer environmental studies program. The School combines one of the best environmental studies programs in the United States with our renowned intensive summer methodology. Students take three rigorous environmental science courses taught by top rated faculty.  The defining feature of the program is environmental leadership training. Guided by national environmental leaders, students build a tool kit of career skills preparing them for environmental internships and environmental science jobs. Contact Us! schoolofenvironment@middlebury.edu | 802.443.3100