Middlebury School of the Environment

Our Curriculum

General Overview

You'll take three intensive and interdisciplinary courses, which together will engage you in real environmental issues at the local level and in a global context. As part of these courses you will also train in many of the 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 leadership skills. The School of the Environment will not only expand your knowledge of environmental 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.”

Two of the courses are shared by all of the students enrolled at the School, providing for a common experience that reinforces the School's primary educational and practical goals. Each student also enrolls in one of several different electives, selected based on interest, previous coursework, and discussion with the School's director.

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.

All students enrolled in the School for the Environment will take this course, although much of your work will take place within small (3-5 students) research teams.  Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

Course 2: Interdisciplinary Understanding of Place: Lake Champlain

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. In the School of the Environment, this place is Lake Champlain, a large (440 square mile) freshwater lake that borders Vermont, New York, and Quebec. Like virtually all lakes in the world, it is confronted by a range of pressing environmental challenges such as declining water quality from land-use practices in the watershed, invasive species, and sustainable management of recreational fisheries. As such, it provides a lens with which to explore the ways in which the integration of many different disciplines—ranging across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities—can lead to a better understanding of the solutions to multiple environmental challenges. This course will explore Lake Champlain through history, biology, literature, geology, and political science, to understand how it came to be in the condition it is today and how to improve conditions for both its own waters and the human communities associated with it. This course will use the R/V David Folger (the College’s research vessel), GIS technology, and interviews with numerous people involved in the management of the Lake in both the U.S. and Canada.

All students enrolled in the School of the Environment will take this course. Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

Course 3: Global Perspectives Elective

Environmental issues and solutions also need to be viewed in a global context. The faculty of the School will each teach an elective course in their area of specialization that takes a global 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 Sustainability Practicum and Understanding of Place, but will be characterized by small class size and an emphasis on intimate discussion of key case studies.

Electives offered in 2014 are the following:

  • Systematic Conservation Planning

This course will examine how conservation initiatives in many different regions around the world have been implemented in ways that incorporate both social and ecological needs and perspectives. Outcomes of this course will include an ability to interpret and evaluate conservation plans, as well as appreciate the cultural contexts that must be considered in trying to implement conservation on the ground.  We will also gain familiarity with GIS-based decision support tools that are currently used by governments and non-governmental organizations to develop conservation plans across large landscapes.

  • International Environmental Negotiation

This course will introduce students to the exciting world of negotiations to address environmental issues that cross international borders. Negotiated agreements are the primary approach to managing complex, transboundary environmental issues and are becoming increasingly important as countries, intergovernmental organizations and non-state actors engage with issues as far-ranging as climate change, land use change, wildlife conservation, food insecurity, water management and marine pollution. There is still a lot of work to be done! Some of these negotiations are ongoing, while other treaties that have been concluded are being renegotiated. This course will integrate general concepts and cases related to negotiation and multilateral treaty-making and negotiation simulations to develop students’ own negotiation and leadership skills.

  • Environmentalism and the Poor: Class-Conscious Histories of Globalization

Environmentalism used to be understood as the privilege of affluent “first worlders,” an exercise in protecting nature from those too uncivilized or too ignorant to care for it by themselves. But this is no longer the case. In the past several decades, environmentalists — and environmental historians who study the history of human-nature relationships—have begun to acknowledge and account for the diverse “environmentalisms” that are practiced by both “first worlders” and “third worlders,” by both rich and poor, by both workers and capitalists, between the global north and the global south as well as within small-town communities, villages, and cities across the world. That class is one of the key determinants in how different people experience and care for the environment is gaining acceptance among social scientists and is inspiring exciting new research in the field of environmental history. This course will explore the relationships among environmentalism, class, and power in human history, as well as the consequences of these relationships for poor and working class peoples. A class-conscious history of globalization—in which “globalization” is understood as the rise of a globally interwoven capitalist economy over the past two centuries—reveals the various ways in which “environmentalism” has served the powerful while impacting the less powerful. At the same time, we will examine the resistance strategies of working class peoples the world over, to see how environments can be reclaimed by and for the poor. We will work collectively in this class towards developing a “poor people's environmentalism”: a blueprint for thinking about global nature and the responsibilities of the powerful and privileged in alleviating poverty and supporting poor people's rights to, and in, the environment.

Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).  The details associated with all of these courses -- including reading lists, assignments, and means of assessment -- will be added in the weeks to come, so please check back regularly.