The Middlebury School of the Environment curriculum prepares students to effectively promote positive environmental change. Students participate in leadership training workshops and topics are integrated into the courses.

Students will take three credit-bearing courses while on the program. All students will take either Understanding Place or Sustainability Practicum, plus two elective courses.

Please see the descriptions below, keeping in mind that courses may change slightly between now and the start of the program.

Understanding Place

Instructor: Liou Xie

What is a place? How does one experience and interpret a place? How are places co-constructed by social, economic and environmental factors? How do you make sense and fit into a place? How do places make you? And finally, how are local places shaped by global forces and how do local places interact to create a planetary experience for all? This course will explore these questions by connecting theories of place with the methods of observation in central California. Topics include the food industry, the fishing industry, urban development and mobility, renewable energy and climate change, economic and social inequality, and more. We hope that you come away from this course with an appreciation for respectfully and courageously learning about a place as an outsider. 

Sustainability Practicum

Instructor: Liou Xie

This class builds upon the Understanding Place class and dives deeper into the practical sustainability implications considering both the local contexts and wider regional impacts. This course will explore central California by connecting theories of place with methods of observation, and exploration of solutions for a more sustainable future. Topics include the food industry, the tourism industry, urban development and mobility, renewable energy and climate change, and economic and social inequality. Besides developing an appreciation for respectfully and courageously learning about a place as an outsider, we hope you come away from this course with deeper thinking about creative practices for sustainable development.

Wicked Problems in Environmental Policy

Instructor: Curt Gervich

This course will explore wicked environmental problems along California’s Central Coast, and seek to understand the policy and management approaches underway to address these dilemmas. Examples include over-fishing in Monterey Bay and the northern Pacific; water resource management in California’s Central Valley; marine mammal conservation; and agricultural food systems and labor practices. These challenges are characterized by complex webs of cause and effect relationships and feedback loops that defy technical solutions and foster intractable conflicts among stakeholders. These problem characteristics place these issues in a special class of problems, termed “wicked problems” by Rittell and Weber (1973). This class will take an explicit policy lens to these local/regional environmental challenges by investigating and critiquing the policy approaches undertaken to address these issues.

Environmental Media

Instructor: Joan Grossman

Photography, audio, and video can be powerful tools for research and creative expression, and have the potential to deeply enhance how we perceive and understand the environment. In this course students will develop creative and technical skills, and produce short media works - photojournalism, podcasts, and video productions - that draw on research, interviews, personal perspectives, and experiences related to the environment in and around Monterey. The course will explore aesthetic and philosophical approaches to media production, and will delve into creative techniques for storytelling, communicating information, and producing artistic works. The aim of this course is to build knowledge in both the practice and critique of media, and to strengthen an understanding of how creative storytelling can provoke profound discourses on environmental issues and ideas. The course will open exciting opportunities for students to explore cultural and natural environments through media with the goal of creating meaningful and compelling work that sheds light on this remarkable place. Students may participate in the course with or without prior experience in media production. Participants in the course may bring their own camera and audio recording equipment, and are encouraged to bring their own headphones.

Introduction to Marine Ecosystems

Instructor: Megan McKenna

In this course we will explore the diversity of our ocean’s ecosystems with a focus on Monterey Bay. The waters of Monterey Bay, off California’s central coast, include a two-mile-deep submarine canyon, kelp forests, intertidal habitats, and coastal estuaries. The productive ecosystems of Monterey Bay support abundant wildlife, from nudibranchs to migratory whales. The course will cover aspects of the physical environment, biological communities, ecological interactions, and human communities dependent on these rich waters. In the course we will discuss historical, current, and future conservation efforts. The course will include a survey of the different approaches used by scientists to study different marine ecosystems (remotely operated vehicles, acoustics, bio-logging). The course will include field excursions to explore the local biodiversity and guest lectures from local experts on research and conservation in Monterey Bay.

Environmental Analysis

Instructors: Joan Grossman and Megan McKenna

Environmental problem-solving is a complex process that is shaped by many factors: ecology, economy, and culture, to name a few. This course encourages creative interpretations of current environmental issues in and around Monterey. Through an interdisciplinary lens that integrates media arts and scientific strategies, we will explore some of the environmental challenges of this unique place. The course will explore ways in which quantitative and qualitative data can be used to tell compelling stories about environmental transformations that are impacting the Monterey environment. The course is aimed at developing skills in methods of analysis, creative interpretations of data, and science communication. The course will be co-taught by Joan Grossman (filmmaker and artist) and Megan McKenna (marine biologist). 

Game Design for Environmental Progress

Instructor: Curt Gervich

Science, economics and policy are struggling to meet the urgent need for environmental progress. All disciplines, ways of knowing and means of communication are needed if we’re to slow global environmental decline and maintain a livable planet for future generations. The time for enacting the theories of transformative play and transformative gaming are upon us! As a class we will play games, deconstruct their mechanics, and consider how game theory can be used as a strategy for raising awareness, altering attitudes and motivating behavior changes among the public, decision makers and professionals. We will explore several varieties of serious games and design our own games for advancing our environmental agenda. 

Student with teacher

Courses embrace complexity, emphasize hands-on practice, and embody interdisciplinarity. Our curriculum takes a systems lens to exploring the social-ecological relationships, environmental problems and sustainability initiatives. Within and alongside classes are a series of leadership development trainings that build applied skill in communication, collaboration, conflict management, effective decision making and multicultural competencies, among other topics. Electives offer in-depth training in specific skills and viewpoints that are central to the study of the environment.