Environmental Studies

Barbara Majchrzak, Holland Hall 327


Environmental studies explores the relationships between the earth's natural and physical systems, political, economic, and social systems, and human understanding of the environment as informed by ethics, philosophy, art, history, religion, and literature. The Department of Environmental Studies seeks to create a diverse and inclusive learning community that promotes an integrated understanding of humankind's relationship to the environment. It does this by encouraging rigorous study of the biological and physical processes that characterize the physical environment; critical examination of the political, economic, and social institutions that frame human interaction with the environment; and scholarly engagement with those philosophical, spiritual, literary, and artistic traditions that inform and reflect our understanding of the environment and our relationship to it.

Overview of the Major

Interdisciplinary inquiry and creative practice enable both broad and focused perspectives on environmental issues, problems, and possible solutions. This program offers a major with three areas of emphasis through which students choose to focus their work: the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the arts and humanities. In many cases work in these areas of emphasis overlaps with traditional departmental curricula, and students choose to complete a second major there. Recognizing the global and local dimensions of numerous environmental challenges and the need for learning outside of the classroom, the program provides a number of opportunities for studies abroad and in the field.

All students majoring in environmental studies take twelve required courses.  Three of those courses emphasize interdisciplinary approaches, including an introductory course that explores the interdisciplinary nature of environmental questions and lays the groundwork for the major, an intermediate level course attending to the nature of environmental inquiry and how to integrate and apply one’s knowledge and skills for personal, civic and work-related roles, and a senior seminar course that challenges students to reflect on what they have learned throughout their studies and to generate a project proposal for future work.  The department strongly encourages students to consider how study abroad and away experiences, internships, research, creative practice, and learning communities will contribute to knowledge of environmental systems, the relationships between humans and the environment, and to personal/professional growth.

The department offers a concentration in environmental studies for students wishing to complement another major with a suite of courses focused on the environment.


See Academic Honors

In August 2021, the faculty of the Department of Environmental Studies voted to stop granting of Distinction in Environmental Studies. The Department will offer Department Distinction through the Class of 2025 according to the criteria and guidelines listed in the Academic Honors section link above. 

Intended Learning Outcomes for the Concentration

Special Programs

A number of semester long study abroad and away programs include an internship or independent study component in which students may elect to focus on environmental issues. Students must consult with the environmental studies chair in planning their programs and must receive approval before counting work from study abroad and away programs toward an environmental studies major or concentration. The programs listed below have a substantial focus in environmental studies and will generally contribute to the satisfaction of environmental studies major requirements:

  • Environmental Science in Australia and New Zealand (faculty-led semester St. Olaf College)

  • CAPA Global Cities Internship Program (Sydney, Australia) 

  • CAPA Program at University of Technology Sydney (Sydney, Australia)

  • DIS Study Abroad in Scandinavia (Copenhagen, Denmark)

  • LSE General Course (full year, social science focus; London, UK)

  • Oregon Extension

  • Washington Semester (American University)

  • Wilderness Field Station (Coe College)