Middlebury School of the Environment

Our Curriculum

General Overview

We offer two tracks of study in the School of the Environment: introductory and intermediate/advanced.  Each track involves three courses: two core courses that every student in a track takes and one elective.  The curriculum as a whole involves courses that are both intensive and interdisciplinary, and 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.”

Summary of workshops and practitioner discussions in 2014Summary of workshops and practitioner discussions in 2014


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. 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. 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.  Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

Syllabus for Sustainability Practicum in 2014Syllabus for Sustainability Practicum in 2014

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.  Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours). 

<p>Syllabus for Understanding Place 2014</p>Syllabus for Understanding Place in 2014

Global Perspectives Electives (available to students in both tracks)

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 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.

Electives for 2015 will be based on the faculty hired.  However, to give a sense of the kinds of electives we seek to provide, the following were the electives offered in 2014.

  • 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. Credit: 1 Unit (3 semester-hours).

Syllabus for International Environmental Negotiation for 2014Syllabus for International Environmental Negotiation for 2014

  • 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).

Syylabus for Environmentalism and the Poor for 2014Syllabus for Environmentalism and the Poor for 2014


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.