Nov 15, 2019  
Course Catalog 2014-2015 
Course Catalog 2014-2015 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Environmental Studies

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John E. Petersen*, Paul Sears Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology; Program Director
Beth Blissman, Lecturer in Environmental Studies
Janet Fiskio*, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Carl McDaniel, Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies
David W. Orr,  Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies and Politics

Swapna Pathak, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Md Rumi Shammin*, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies
Marco Wilkinson, Visiting Instructor of Environmental Studies

(Those marked with an asterisk currently serve as advisers for ES majors.  For other faculty advisers see list of resource faculty after courses below)

The Environmental Studies (ES) Program provides an interdisciplinary approach to the study of human interactions with the environment. The goal of the major is to equip students with the knowledge, intellectual tools and learning experiences necessary to understand the causes and consequences of our environmental challenges. The Program seeks to develop in students the creative problem solving skills necessary to design and develop a more sustainable relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world. Core courses in the program build a foundation in natural and social sciences and the humanities; these provide the lateral rigor necessary to understand and analyze issues from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Students then select from a broad range of intermediate and advanced courses to develop a focused course of study or “curricular pathway”. Many ES majors augment their experience at Oberlin by participating in study away programs and summer internships. The ES major at Oberlin prepares students for graduate work and careers in a broad range of professional and academic fields. The award winning Adam Joseph Lewis Center, which houses Oberlin’s ES Program, is an internationally recognized facility that is designed to showcase environmentally responsible architecture, and to serve as an integrated component of the curriculum.  

Those interested in the major are encouraged to begin the social science component of the major with Environment and Society (ENVS 101) during their freshman year and to complete Nature, Culture and Interpretation (ENVS 201) and core introductory science requirements during their first two years.  Because careful course selection is necessary to achieve appropriate depth and breadth, students are urged to consult as early as possible with members of the Environmental Studies Program Committee.

Advanced Placement

Students who earn scores of 4 or 5 on the AP Environmental Sciences exam will earn a full course credit. This course does not, however, exempt them from the ENVS 101 requirement, nor does it count as natural science credit towards the ES major. Under certain circumstances, AP courses in Chemistry and Economics may substitute for introductory courses in these departments, in which case these courses also count towards CHEM 101 or ECON 101 required and elective courses in ES (see Chemistry, Economics departments for further explanation of AP policies.)


Declaring the Environmental Studies Major

The major should be declared by the end of a student’s sophomore year. Students interested in declaring an ES major should proceed according to the following sequence: 1) carefully read through the “Course Requirements for the Major” and the “Curricular Pathways and Requirements” sections below.   2) From the ES Program Office or website obtain the “Checklist of Environmental Studies Major Requirements” and “Curricular Pathways for Environmental Studies Majors”. After reviewing these documents, contact a potential ES major adviser and schedule a time to discuss the major. Faculty members who are currently serving as ES advisers are marked with an asterisk at the start and end of this section of the course catalog. The current list is also available from the ES Program Office. 3) In consultation with your adviser, discuss your interests and identify an appropriate curricular pathway within the major. Complete the Registrar’s Declaration of Major form along with the Checklist of ES Major Requirements. 4) Submit these forms, signed by your adviser, to the ES Program Office. These documents, when approved by the Program Director, constitute an agreement between you and the ES Program as to the content of your major. 5) As described below, within one semester of declaring the ES major, you must submit a curricular “pathway proposal”, review this document with your advisor and receive approval to proceed with the major. Students must consult with their adviser for approval before making significant modifications in their planned course of study to ensure that they are fulfilling necessary course requirements and that their selections are consistent with their chosen curricular pathway.

Course Requirements for the Major

The Checklist of Environmental Studies Major Requirements, available from the ES Program Office, always contains the most up-to date list of course and major requirements. Course requirements for the ES major include a minimum of three full courses in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Environment and Society (ENVS 101) and Nature, Culture and Interpretation (ENVS 201) are required of all majors and should be taken during a student’s first or second year.   Majors must also take either Environmental Policy (ENVS 208) or Environmental Economics (ECON 231). Three additional full courses in either Social Science or Arts and Humanities must be taken from the set of courses listed on the Checklist of Environmental Studies Major Requirements. 

In the natural sciences, course requirements include a minimum of four approved full credit courses with at least two of these including a regular lab. Either Environmental Biology (BIOL 103) or Evolution and Ecology (BIOL 200) and Earth’s Environments (GEOL 120) are required of all majors. Students who are interested in a double major in Biology and/or in the Environmental Biology pathway are encouraged to take BIOL 200 rather than BIOL 103.  In Chemistry, ES majors must take either Structure and Reactivity (CHEM 101), Chemical Principles (CHEM 103) or Environmental Chemistry (CHEM 051). Students interested in a curricular pathway emphasizing strength in natural science are encouraged to take CHEM 101 or 103.   An additional full credit natural science course must be selected from courses in the Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and/or Physics Departments that EITHER count towards one of those four majors OR is included on the Checklist of ES Major Requirements.  Students who take both Environmental Chemistry and Environmental Biology to fulfill requirements will need the additional course to include a regular lab.

Majors must take one full credit course in research methods selected from the following: CAST 300, CAST 305, CAST 400, ENGL 255, ENGL 299, ENVS 340, ENVS 220, STAT 113 or 114, PHIL 201, POLT 205, PSYC 200, SOCI 211. 

In addition to the distribution and credit hour requirements described above, the following rules apply to all students completing the ES major:

  • At least five full courses completed for the ES major must be taken at Oberlin; no more than three study away or transfer courses will count towards the ES major.  Students planning to study away for more than a single semester must consult with their advisor and the Program chair.
  • Courses listed in two departments (e.g., ENVS 208 and POLT 208) can be taken in either department.
  • First year seminar program (FYSP) courses do not count toward the ES major unless specifically listed here.
  • Courses in which a student has earned a letter grade lower than a C- or P cannot be used to fulfill the requirements of the major.
  • A maximum one full course of combined private reading (ENVS 995) and independent research or honors (ENVS 501-504) can be counted towards the ES major.  The faculty sponsor, in consultation with the ES program director, will determine whether a given private reading may count as credit towards NS or SS/HU requirements. 
  • If ES is a student’s 1st major, it must be approved by the time the student achieves 2nd semester sophomore status (normally the 4th semester at Oberlin).
  • If ES requirements change after the major is declared, students can choose to comply with either the requirements in place at the time of their declaration of major or the revised requirements. 

As indicated above, many course requirements and elective courses that count for credit towards the ES major originate in other departments. Certain courses that count towards the ES major have prerequisites that do not themselves count (for example Introductory Economics, which does not count, is a prerequisite for Environmental Economics which does). Not all courses listed in the catalog are offered every year. Frequently special topical courses that may be counted towards the ES major are offered on a one-time basis by either regular or visiting faculty. A list of these courses is available in the ES Program Office.

Curricular Pathways and Requirements

Students are required to complete a “curricular pathway”.  Curricular pathways are intended to equip ES majors with a depth of knowledge, analytical skills and experiences in a particular topic or subject area of special interest to them.  A curricular pathway is a course of study that emphasizes either a topical area or the application of particular disciplinary approaches to understanding and addressing environmental issues. The Program recognizes that many of the most pressing contemporary issues in ES are highly interdisciplinary and can be most successfully understood through a curricular plan that focuses course work across disciplines.  For students interested in pursuing highly interdisciplinary topics, such as climate change, urban agriculture, or water resource management, courses will necessarily be selected from multiple different departments and disciplines.  In contrast, students wishing to pursue pathways that necessitate strong background within one traditional discipline, (e.g., in environmental chemistry, environmental policy, environmental economics, etc.) are encouraged to consider an appropriate double major in association with their pathways.  We anticipate that students who successfully complete the ES major will report their pathways to graduate schools and potential employers.  However, the particular pathways completed will not be reported on a student’s Oberlin transcript.  An overview of pathways requirements is included as part of a required group advising session that takes place each spring for all students wishing to declare the ES major. 

 Successful completion of a pathway is marked by several requirements and documents that include: 1) selection of a pathway focal area when the ES major is declared; 2) development and approval of a “pathway proposal” that incorporates both a “statement of goals and intent” and a “course trajectory” (within one semester of ES major declaration or first semester junior year–whichever comes first.  This must be approved by adviser before fall or spring break); 3) completion of a capstone experience and a “capstone experience report” related to the pathway; and 4) a “pathway report” (by second semester senior year).   Students must submit, discuss and receive approval for each of these components from their advisers.  The adviser will notify the ES Administrative Assistant at the time when the pathway proposal, the capstone experience report, and the pathway report are complete.  This information will then be entered into the student’s academic record; students will not graduate with an ES major without the registrar’s record that these milestones have been completed.  The four components of the pathway are explained in greater detail below.  Students should submit their Pathway Proposal and Pathway Report using forms for this purpose that are contained within the “Curricular Pathways for ES Majors” document that is available on the ES Program Blackboard site.

 1) Pathway Focal Area Selection: At the time that students declare an ES major, they must discuss with their advisers and select a focal area for their pathways from the list of those approved (see below) and record this on the Checklist of Environmental Studies Major Requirements.  Students seeking to work in an area beyond the scope of these focal areas, or declaring after the sophomore year, must submit a pathway proposal at the same time that they declare the major.  

2) Pathway Proposal: Within a semester of declaring the ES major, students must submit a curricular pathway proposal, discuss this proposal with their advisers, and receive their advisers’ approval to proceed.  Typically, this will occur no later than the first semester of a student’s junior year.  A draft proposal is due no later than start of fall break (Spring declaration) or start of spring break (Fall declaration).  The proposal must be approved at least two weeks prior to the official start of registration period.  For example, a student who declares an ES major in the spring semester sophomore year must submit, discuss, and receive pathway proposal approval during the subsequent fall semester before the adviser approves registration (i.e. provides a RAP number) for the subsequent spring courses. A complete pathway proposal is a single MS Word document that includes a “statement of goals and intent” and a proposed “course trajectory”.  The statement of goals and intent describes the theme that the student intends to pursue, provides a rationale for the importance of that theme and describes the specific goals with respect to knowledge, skills and expertise and the intended outcomes.  This statement must use the template contained within the “Curricular Pathways for ES Majors” document that is available on the ES Program Blackboard site and should include the questions and directly and sequentially address each of the questions on that template. The course trajectory is a semester-by-semester sequence of courses that the student has taken and intends to take to complete the proposed pathway.  The course trajectory should also follow the format of the template provided.  Note that courses listed in this sequence should fulfill all requirements described in the “Checklist of ES Major Requirements”.  During each advising session after the first, the adviser will review the course trajectory with the advisee and appropriate adjustments will be made based on changes in focus and course availability. 

The pathway proposal is an agreement between a student, his/her adviser and the ES program.  The responsibility of proposing, revising, and executing a focused pathway is the student’s.  Students are also responsible for ascertaining that proposed courses are, in fact, scheduled to be offered during the semesters indicated in their course trajectory and that they will have the necessary prerequisites to take them (students may need to consult with instructors and departments to determine this).  The responsibility for reviewing, requesting revisions, and approving each student’s pathway proposal rests with that student’s adviser.   After a pathway proposal has been approved by a student’s adviser, course substitutions and other changes can occur with the approval of the adviser through the student’s senior year.  If a student wishes to make substantial changes in the focus of his/her course of study, the pathway proposal must be revised, reviewed and re-approved by that student’s adviser, and then resubmitted electronically to the ES Program. 

 3) Capstone Report: As part of the pathway, each student will be required to fulfill a capstone experience.  The capstone experience provides students with a concrete opportunity to apply, integrate, and further develop knowledge and skills from multiple courses in order to achieve the goals described in the pathway proposal.   The capstone experience can be fulfilled in a variety of ways including study away, summer fellowships, honors projects, private reading, independent research, certain courses (which must be approved by the student’s advisor), and Winter Term experiences.  Students must discuss proposed capstone experiences with their advisers prior to pursuing the experience so that advisers can assess whether proposed experiences are likely to fulfill the requirement.  This review may occur at any point after the declaration of the major, but no later than spring of a student’s Junior year.  The Capstone Experience Report is a brief document, submitted after the capstone experience is completed and following a template provided from the ES Program office.  This report describes the work completed and reflects on how the work contributes to the student’s pathway.  The report must be discussed with and approved by the student’s adviser within the semester that it was completed. 

4) Pathway Report: No later than mid-way through the final semester at Oberlin, each ES major is required to submit a one to two page pathway report  in which the student reflects on the ways in which the chosen pathway has (and has not) achieved the goals and intent specified in that student’s pathway proposal.  The report should address the specific questions and follow the format of the template provided by the ES Program. The student’s adviser will discuss the pathway report with the student and must notify the registrar of successful completion of the report as a requirement for completion of the ES major.  In addition to its function as a reflective document, the pathway report will also serve as a portfolio document for the ES Program in its ongoing curricular assessment process. 

 Focal Areas for Pathways:

Focal areas that are supported by the Oberlin curriculum are listed in the following paragraph. A variety of pathways are possible within each of these focal areas.  It is the responsibility of a student to work with his/her adviser to discuss and then craft a pathway proposal that articulates the specific focus that the student will then pursue.  The particular types of capstone experiences, including study away options, research experiences, internships, and other learning opportunities differ for different pathways and should be explored with a student’s adviser early on.

Focal areas: Agriculture and Food Studies; Art and the Environment; Climate Change Studies; Energy and Society; Environmental Biology; Environmental Chemistry; Environmental Design; Environmental Economics; Environmental Geology; Environmental History; Environmental Justice; Environmental Literature and Media; Environmental Politics and Policy; Environmental Psychology; Environmental Thought; Public Health; Regional Environmental Studies & Sustainable Development; Sustainable Communities, Enterprise, & Education; Systems Ecology; Urban Analysis and Design; Water and Society.

A more detailed description of the range of options and relevant course possibilities associated with each focal area are described in the “Curricular Pathways for ES Majors” document that is available on the ES Program Blackboard site or in the ES Program Office.



A student interested in a focused, but less extensive, study of the environment may pursue a minor in Environmental Studies by submitting a one-page rationale to the program director along with a completed “Declare Initial Minor” form obtained from the registrar. An applicant’s rationale statement should 1) clearly explain the goals that s/he hopes to achieve by pursuing the minor and 2) should describe how courses taken and planned provide a cohesive focus that contributes to fulfilling these goals. A minor must include ENVS 101 (Environment and Society) and in addition a minimum of five full courses that count towards the ES major requirements as described in the “Checklist of ES Major Requirements”. These must include two or more courses at the non-introductory level; at least two in the natural sciences, and at least two in social sciences or humanities.  At least one of the science classes must incorporate a lab.  At least three of these courses must be taken at Oberlin.



In addition to coursework, the following opportunities are available to students interested in Environmental Studies related experiences.

Winter Term: Environmental studies students often choose to use  Winter Term (WT)  as an opportunity to gain hands on experience in research or in developing and applying skills towards addressing real-world problems. The majority of ES majors choose to study off campus, but many also choose to study on campus.  Individual ES faculty agree to sponsor a broad range of projects. The ES Program periodically sponsors on-campus group projects and in recent years these have focused on topics such as understanding and managing ecological wastewater treatment systems, on permacultural practices in sustainable agriculture and on developing resource-use monitoring and display technology.

Internships: Internships with government, business and non-profit organizations are a popular mechanism by which ES students apply classroom learning in real-world settings and gain critical experience that shapes decisions regarding careers and advanced academic work. Internships with local organizations may take place during the semester and can be undertaken for credit through certain existing courses, private readings or research projects supervised by faculty. The Program encourages students to pursue internships during Winter Term, during summers or as part of study away experiences or during personal academic leaves. The ES Program and the College maintain relationships with a wide variety of public and private organizations that host internship experiences. As examples, in recent years students have conducted internships with organizations ranging from public schools, the U.S. Forest Service, EPA, the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, The National Science Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, Foresight Design, and a range of companies.

Activism: Many ES students engage in political and cultural activism through a broad range of environmentally focused organizations within the college and the local community of Oberlin. On Campus students have been intimately involved in efforts to develop and implement the College’s Comprehensive Environmental Policy, including successful efforts to adopt a policy of “carbon neutrality” and green building standards. Within the community, in recent years, ES majors have served as campaign managers for Oberlin City Council members and have worked to advocate renewable sources of energy. Many students engage in national political movements related to the environment.

Independent Study and Research: Members of the Environmental Studies Program Committee can sponsor interested students who wish to pursue private readings (ENVS 995) and research projects (ENVS 50X) for academic credit. Research is typically undertaken following advanced coursework. Research focuses on posing and answering questions for which answers are not yet known. In contrast, private readings provide an opportunity for students to explore topics that are not covered within the existing curriculum.   A maximum one full course of combined private reading (ENVS 995) and independent research or honors (ENVS 50X) can be counted towards the ES major.  The faculty sponsor, in consultation with the ES program director, will determine whether a given private reading may count as credit towards NS or SS/HU requirements.  

Honors Program: At the end of their Junior year, students with strong academic records are invited to propose honors research projects to be undertaken during their Senior year (applications due April 15). Acceptance into the Honors Program is based on a student’s academic achievements, the suitability of the proposed project, and his or her potential to do independent work. With the guidance of at least two faculty advisers, students propose and execute a substantial project. Based on a written thesis and oral examination successful students may be awarded honors, high honors or highest honors. Detailed guidelines for the Environmental Studies Honors Program are available in the ES program office. Students engaged in the honors program register for independent research for both semesters during their senior year. Students completing honors research can count an additional full credit of ENVS 50X credit towards their major.

Funds and Awards: Several special funds are available to support students for research and/or Winter Term projects. The Anne Schaening Memorial Fund assists students with Winter Term projects in Environmental Studies. The Doris Baron Student Research Fund supports student initiated research projects that occur over Winter Term and during the summer. Interested students should contact the Environmental Studies Program for details regarding applications and deadlines for these two funds. Faculty in Environmental Studies are awarded Arthur Blank Fellowships and use these to support students who assist them in research and other projects. Each spring the ES Program Committee awards the Joyce Gorn Memorial Prize to one or more students for outstanding work on an extracurricular or off-campus environmental project. ES students often receive external funding and awards for their work.   ES students receive competitive scholarships from a variety of organizations including the Udall Scholarship, Compton Foundation and others.

Environmental Studies:Social Science, Humanities and Natural Science Courses

The following is a list of regularly scheduled courses that can count toward the Environmental Studies Major.

Students should see the Checklist of Environmental Studies Major Requirements for availability.

Social Science Courses

Humanities Courses

Natural Science Courses

Biology (BIOL)

Plus any additional upper level course that counts towards the Biology major.

Chemistry (CHEM)

Plus any additional upper level course that counts towards the Chemistry major.

Environmental Studies (ENVS)

Geology (GEOL)

Plus any upper level course that counts towards the Geology major.

Physics (PHYS)

Plus any upper level course that counts towards the Physics major.

Resource Faculty


“Core faculty”, with full time appointments in the ES program, are listed in the front section directly under Environmental Studies. Certain faculty in other departments are appointed to the Environmental Studies Program Committee which governs decision making within the ES Program. Faculty on this committee can serve as advisers for ES majors (marked with an asterisk below). Other resource faculty listed below teach courses that are offered for credit towards the ES major and/or provide assistance to ES majors. 

Anthropology: Jack Glazier
Art: Julia Christensen, Sarah Schuster, Nanette Yannuzzi-Macias
Biology: Mary Garvin, Roger Laushman*, Keith Tarvin
Chemistry: Matthew Elrod*
Computer Science: Richard Salter
English: John Hobbs, Scott McMillin*
Geology: Dennis Hubbard*, Karla Parsons-Hubbard, Bruce Simonson
History: Michael Fisher
Math: Robert Bosch
Philosophy: Timothy Hall
Physics: John Scofield, Dan Stinebring
Politics: Ben Schiff
Psychology: Cindy Frantz*, Stephan Mayer
Russian: Thomas Newlin*
Sociology: Greggor Mattson

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