Karl Offen, Professor of Environmental Studies; Program chair
Paul Brehm, Assistant Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies
Janet Fiskio, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Comparative American Studies
Swapna Pathak, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
John E. Petersen, Paul Sears Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology
Chie Sakakibara, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Md Rumi Shammin, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies
The Environmental Studies (ES) Program provides an interdisciplinary approach to the study of human interactions with the environment. Faculty in Environmental Studies are engaged in research and teaching that span climate change, energy systems, systems ecology, natural resources and conflict, indigenous environmental issues, political ecology, environmental economics, environmental humanities, environmental justice, food and agriculture, urban sustainability, US environmental policy, and global environmental issues and politics. They collaborate with indigenous, African diaspora, and Asian communities, as well as with local, county, and “Rust Belt” communities in the Great Lakes bioregion.
The Environmental Studies program seeks to:
- Equip students with the knowledge, intellectual tools, and learning experiences necessary to understand the causes and consequences of our environmental challenges, and with ways to develop a more sustainable relationship between humankind, in all its diversity, and the rest of the natural world.
- Emphasize evidence-based critical thinking, community engagement, problem identification and solving, design of solutions, and skills building that rely on an interdisciplinary synthesis of the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, including the arts and expressive culture. It also emphasizes effective communication with diverse audiences through community-based learning.
- Provide both breadth, through its core requirements, and depth, through its pathway requirements, which includes a capstone.
- Prepare our majors for careers in a broad range of professional and academic fields.
Core courses in the program build a foundation in natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities; these provide the lateral rigor necessary to understand and analyze social, economic, and environmental issues from multiple perspectives. Students then select from a broad range of intermediate and advanced courses from many disciplines to develop a focused course of study or “curricular pathway.” Prospective majors are encouraged to take Environment and Society (ENVS 101) during their first year and Introduction to Environmental Humanities (ENVS 201) and most natural science core requirements by the end of their sophomore year. Students also need to take either Environmental Policy (ENVS 208) or Environmental Economics (ECON 231) as a core requirement of the major and are encouraged to complete this requirement in their sophomore or junior year. It is recommended that students planning to take ECON 231 complete ECON 101 as a prerequisite - ideally one or two semesters prior. Students are urged to consult as early as possible with faculty on the Environmental Studies Program Committee (ESPC) for guidance.
Many ES majors augment their experience at Oberlin by participating in study away programs, Winter Term experiences, and summer internships. Students also have the opportunity to gain valuable training by working with faculty as teaching and research assistants. ES majors regularly participate in various campus committees such as the Committee on Environmental Sustainability (CES) that focuses on the sustainability of the Oberlin campus at large and the Green Edge Fund that allow students the opportunity to fund and pursue sustainability projects on and off campus. They also engage with student environmental organizations on campus such as Oberlin Food Rescue, Students for Energy Justice, and Real Food Challenge.
The award winning Adam Joseph Lewis Center (AJLC), which houses Oberlin’s ES Program, is an internationally recognized facility that is designed to showcase environmentally responsible architecture, and to serve as an integral component of the curriculum as a pedagogical resource. ES faculty, staff, and students actively participate in the maintenance and development of AJLC. The AJLC Annex is an adjacent house that was renovated to serve as a natural science teaching and research lab in the Program. In contrast to the AJLC, this facility was renovated with the objective of showcasing adaptive reuse of an existing structure and to emphasize energy efficiency measures that could be employed in existing housing stock as opposed to new green design. Beyond the AJLC, the entire college facility and surrounding community of Oberlin function as laboratories for environmental problem solving. Oberlin College was the first of our peer institutions to sign the “American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment”, which commits the college to achieving climate neutrality. The college also partners with the City of Oberlin to develop this community as a model of a post-fossil fuel town. Located just one mile east from campus, the George Jones Memorial Farm is an innovative educational site focused on restoration ecology and sustainable agriculture.
Students who earn scores of 4 or 5 on the AP Environmental Sciences exam may receive a maximum of one full course towards graduation from the college. AP Environmental Science does not, however, satisfy any requirements for the ES major. Under certain circumstances, the AP courses in Chemistry and Economics may substitute for introductory courses in these departments, in which case these courses also count towards the CHEM 101 or ECON 101 required and elective courses in ES (see Chemistry, Economics departments for further explanation of their AP policies).
Declaring the Environmental Studies Major
The major should be declared by the end of a student’s sophomore year or earlier. 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 Requirements” sections below.
2) From the ES Program Office or Blackboard, obtain the “ES Major Flowchart,” “Checklist of ES Major Requirements,” and “Curricular Pathways for Environmental Studies Majors” documents. After reviewing these documents, contact a potential ES advisor, and schedule a time to discuss the major. The current list of advisors is available from the ES Program Office and the ES web and Blackboard sites. Please contact the Program Office for assistance with finding an advisor.
3) In consultation with your advisor, discuss your interests and identify an appropriate area of interest 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 advisor, 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.
Course Requirements for the Major
The Checklist of Environmental Studies Major Requirements, available on Blackboard and from the ES Program Office, contains the most up-to-date list of courses and major requirements. (See checklist on Blackboard at: https://tinyurl.com/OberlinESMajor).
The six required core courses include 1) Environment and Society (ENVS 101) and 2) Introduction to Environmental Humanities (ENVS 201), which should be taken by the end of the student’s second year; 3) Environmental Policy (ENVS 208) OR Environmental Economics (ECON 231); 4) Earth’s Environments (GEOL 120); 5) Environmental Biology (BIOL 103) OR Evolution and Ecology (BIOL 200); and 6) Chemistry and the Environment (CHEM 051), OR Structure and Reactivity (CHEM 101) OR Chemical Principles (CHEM 102) OR Topics in General Chemistry (CHEM 103).
Students must also take three additional full courses from the Social Science and Humanities electives Checklist of ES Major Requirements. One additional full Natural Science elective must be taken from the Checklist of ES Major Requirements OR courses that count toward the major in the Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Computer Science, or Physics Departments. Majors must take at least one Natural Science course that includes a regular lab. A second natural science course with a regular lab is strongly recommended, but not required. 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. Students interested in focusing on natural science are encouraged to take Chem 101 or Chem 103 rather than Chem 051.
Majors also must take one full credit course in research methods selected from the following: CAST 300, CHEM 211, ECON 255, ENGL 255, ENGL 299, ENVS 230, ENVS 316, ENVS 340, GEOL 235, GSFS 305, HIST 299, PHIL 201, POLT 205, PSYC 200, PSYC 308, SOCI 301, STAT 113 or 114, STAT 205. Please note that CHEM 211, ENGL 255, ENVS 316, ENVS 340, GEOL 235, and PSYC 308 may concurrently fulfill SS/HU, or NS elective requirements towards the ES major.
Finally, each ES major must take at least one of their SS/HU or NS elective courses at the 300/400 level. Ideally, this course will be directly related to the student’s pathway. Students should consult their advisor and include this on their course trajectory as part of their pathway proposal.
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 get approval from their advisor and the Program chair.
- Courses cross-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 towards the ES major.
- Courses in which a student has earned a letter grade lower than a C- cannot be used to fulfill the requirements of the major. Courses taken with a P/NP grade can be counted towards the major as long as the student receives a P grade.
- A maximum of one full course of combined private reading (ENVS 995) and independent research or honors (ENVS 501-4 Full) 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 electives.
- 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.
- Core courses cannot be double-counted for any other ES Major requirements. For example, if a student takes ENVS 208 or ECON 231, then it will only count toward their core requirement. However, if a student takes both courses, the ENVS 208 will count toward their core requirement, and ECON 231 will count toward the Social Science elective.
- Any course that fulfills the research methods elective AND is also approved as and SS/HU, or NS elective can be counted for both requirements. This double-counting only applies to courses listed on the ES Major Checklist under ‘Research Methods Elective’ and would allow completion of the ES major with 10 courses (instead of 11).
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 (“Alternate Checklist”) is available on Blackboard and in the ES Program Office.
Curricular Pathways Requirements
I. Objectives and Summary:
Environmental Studies (ES) majors are required to complete a “curricular pathway.” A curricular pathway is a course of study that equips an ES major with a depth of knowledge, analytical skills, and experiences related to understanding and addressing a topic or subject area of special interest to that student. Although certain pathways may emphasize tools from particular disciplinary perspectives, 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, agriculture and food studies, environmental justice, or urban sustainability, courses will necessarily be selected from multiple departments and disciplines. In contrast, students wishing to pursue pathways that necessitate strong background within one traditional discipline, (e.g. environmental biology, 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 pathway completed will not be reported on a student’s Oberlin transcript. Successful completion of a pathway is marked by the creation and approval of the four milestones described below.
II. Pathway Milestones and due dates:
1) Pathway Area of Interest selected: Due at the time the major is declared (on major’s checklist).
2) Pathway Proposal: Students are encouraged to complete a pathway proposal as early as possible during the major as it aids in advising. The Pathway Proposal must be approved by March 1 or October 1 of the semester after students declare, unless declaring in the second semester of sophomore year or later, in which case it will be due by the end of that semester.
3) Capstone Experience Proposal: Students will complete the capstone proposal by the end of the second semester of their junior year. Students studying away in that semester will have an extension until October 1st (or March 1st for December graduates) of the first semester of their senior year.
4) Pathway report: The pathway report must be approved by April 1 (or November 1) of the student’s final semester.
Students should plan to discuss drafts of their documents well ahead of the final deadlines. Once finalized, students must submit their documents on the ES Blackboard site and receive approval for each of these milestones from their advisor. This information will then be entered into the student’s academic record. The four milestones of the pathway are explained in greater detail below.
III. Pathway Milestones Explained:
1) Pathway Area of Interest Selection: At the time that students declare an ES major, they must discuss with their advisors and select an area of interest for their pathways from the list of those approved and record this on the Checklist of Environmental Studies Major Requirements.
2) Pathway Proposal: A complete pathway proposal is a single 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 described in the “Curricular Pathways for Environmental Studies Majors” document - available on Blackboard and from the ES Program Office. It 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. 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 advisor 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, their advisor, 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 of reviewing, requesting revisions, and approving each student’s pathway proposal rests with that student’s advisor. After a pathway proposal has been approved by a student’s advisor, course substitutions and other changes can occur with the approval of the advisor through the student’s senior year. If a student wishes to make substantial changes in the focus of their course of study, the pathway proposal must be revised, reviewed, and re-approved by that student’s advisor, and then resubmitted electronically to the ES Program.
3) Capstone Proposal: 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 that student defines 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. The capstone proposal articulates the way in which a proposed experience contributes to the pathway.The template for the capstone proposal is included in “Curricular Pathways for Environmental Studies Majors.”
4) Pathway Report: The pathway report provides each student with the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which the chosen pathway has (and has not) achieved the goals and intent specified in that student’s pathway proposal and to reflect on how the capstone experience contributed to the pathway. The report should address the specific questions and follow the format of the template provided in “Curricular Pathways for Environmental Studies Majors.” The ES Program will 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.
IV. Areas of Interest for Pathways:
Pathway areas of interests that are typically supported by the Oberlin curriculum are listed in the following paragraph. A variety of specific interests can be pursued within each of these areas of interests. There is substantial flexibility to allow students to choose what interests them most. It is the responsibility of a student to work with their advisor to discuss and then craft a pathway proposal that articulates the specific focus that the student will then pursue. Possible 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 advisor early on. It is important to recognize that the list of courses associated with each pathway are simply recommendations; it is up to the student, in consultation with their advisor, to choose a course trajectory that meets the student-defined objectives in their pathway proposal.
Pathway areas of interests include: Agriculture & Food Studies; Art & the Environment; Climate Change Studies; Energy & Society; Environmental Biology; Environmental Chemistry; Environmental & Ecological Design; Environmental Economics; Environmental Education; Environmental Geology; Environmental Justice; Environmental Literature & Media; Environmental Politics & Policy; Environmental Psychology; Global Environmental Issues and Politics; Indigenous Environmental Issues; Public Health; Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneurship; Systems Ecology; Urban Sustainability (or Sustainable Communities); Water & Society.
The current list of pathway areas of interest and a more detailed description of the range of options and relevant course possibilities associated with each area of interest are included in the “Curricular Pathways for Environmental Studies Majors” document that is available from the ES Program Office, ES website, and ES Blackboard site. This document also includes the templates that ES majors should use for their pathway proposals, capstone experience proposals, and pathway reports.
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 they 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 consists of a total of six courses that must include ENVS 101 (Environment and Society). The other five full courses must be taken from the list of 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. Please note that courses that only count for the research methods requirement cannot be counted towards the ES minor.
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. Most 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 permaculture 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: In the spring of every year, third-year students with strong academic records can propose honors research projects to be undertaken during their Senior year (applications due in April). Acceptance into the Honors Program is based on a student’s academic achievements, the suitability of the proposed project, and their potential to do independent work. With the guidance of at least two faculty advisors, 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, collaboration with faculty, 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 or collaborate with them in research and other projects. Each spring the ESPC 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, Watson Fellowship 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.
Comparative American Studies (CAST)
Environmental Studies (ENVS)
- HIST 283 - Environmental Histories of South Asia
- SOCI 241 - American Urbanism
East Asian Studies (EAST)
EAST - Pine, Bamboo, Plum: Nature in Japan’s Arts & Literature
Environmental Studies (ENVS)
Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (GSFS)
RUSS 240 - Wild Russia
Plus any additional course that counts towards the Biology major.
CHEM 208 - Environmental Chemistry
Plus any additional course that counts towards the Chemistry major.
Environmental Studies (ENVS)
Plus any course that counts towards the Geology major.
Plus any course that counts towards the Physics major.
Private Readings and Research
Other resource faculty listed below are individuals in various departments at Oberlin College who have significant teaching and/or research interests related to the environment and are resources for students interested in their areas of expertise. Those marked with an asterisk (*) serve as advisers for ES majors.
Africana Studies: Charles Peterson
Anthropology: Baron Pineda
Art: Julia Christensen, Nanette Yannuzzi-Macias
Biology: Mary Garvin, Roger Laushman*, Keith Tarvin
Chemistry: Matthew Elrod*
Comparative American Studies: Evangeline Heiliger
East Asian Studies: Ann Sherif*
Economics: Evan Kresch
English: T.S. McMillin*
Geology: Amanda Schmidt*, Karla Parsons-Hubbard
History: Matthew Bahar
Math: Robert Bosch
Physics: John Scofield, Dan Stinebring
Politics: Sarah El-Kazaz
Psychology: Cindy Frantz*, Stephan Mayer
Religion: Cheryl Cottine*
Russian: Thomas Newlin*
Sociology: Greggor Mattson, Christie Parris*
TIMARA/Conservatory: Tom Lopez, Peter Swendsen*