Core Courses

"This course had a huge impact on my education and beyond.  It's hard to put into words exactly how, and I'm sure that as the months and years progress, I'll understand even more fully that this course has taught me more than I know."                             -- Middlebury School of the Environment alumnus

We offer two tracks of study to accommodate students with different levels of experience in environmental studies. Each track includes two core courses, one that is a project-based practicum and one that provides an interdisciplinary approach to complex issues. Full description of courses can be found below.

The Systems Thinking track is designed for students who have completed little or no previous college coursework in environmental studies. The core courses are:

  1. Systems Thinking Practicum, a comprehensive introduction to environmental systems through readings, analysis, computer modeling, and field work.
  2. Environmental Analysis: Energy Futures, a course that explores and analyzes renewable energy production through readings, case studies, discussions, in-class exercises, and field visits to solar, wind, biomass, and hydropower sites.

The Sustainability track is designed for students who have completed foundational and higher level college coursework in environmental studies. The core courses are:

  1. Sustainability Practicum, a course in which students learn methodologies that are applied to the design of a sustainability project that is presented to a panel of experts.
  2. Understanding Place, which explores theories and ideas related to the notion of "place".

Each student enrolls in one of these two tracks plus one elective, for a total of three courses.



Course descriptions

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).

Environmental Analysis: Energy Futures

Using a case study method, students in this course will explore deeply the critical environmental issue of society’s energy future through science, policy, and the humanities.  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).

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).

Understanding Place

Understanding Place core course environmental studies

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 best understood by focusing first on a single place, and then examining that place in its global context. This course will explore a specific place through both ecological and cultural narratives (in other words, through geography, history, biology, literature, geology, and political science) to understand how this place came to be in the condition it is today; its global connections on multiple temporal and spatial scales; 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).