Dec 06, 2021  
Course Catalog 2010-2011 
Course Catalog 2010-2011 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Environmental Studies

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John E. Petersen*, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology; Program Director
Subhra Bhattacharjee, Visiting Assistant Professor
Beth Blissman, Lecturer in Environmental Studies
Janet Fiskio*, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Carl McDaniel, Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies
David W. Orr*, Paul Sears Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics
Md Rumi Shammin*, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Jordan Suter*, Assistant Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies
Camille Washington-Ottombre, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Cheryl Wolfe-Cragin*, Lecturer in 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 that are 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 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 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 four hours of college credit in Natural Sciences and Mathematics. This credit does not 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 Biology, Chemistry and Economics may substitute for introductory courses in these departments, in which case these courses also count towards BIO 102, CHEM 101 or ECON 101 required and elective courses in ES (see Biology, Chemistry, Economics departments for further explanation of AP policies.)


Declaring the Environmental Studies Major


Oberlin students must declare a major by the end of their sophomore year.   If Environmental Studies is a second major, it may be declared by the end of the student’s junior year. Students interested in declaring an ES major should proceed according to the following sequence: 1) From the ES Program Office, 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 advisers are noted here in the catalog. The most current list is also available from the ES Program Office. 2) In consultation with your advisor, 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. 3) Submit these forms, signed by your advisor, to the ES Program Office. These documents, when approved by the Program Director, constitute an agreement between a student and the ES Program as to the content of that student’s major. 4) As described below, within a semester of declaring the ES major, students must submit a curricular “pathway proposal”, review this document with their advisor and receive approval to proceed with the major. Students must consult with their advisor 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 requirements. Course requirements for the ES major include a minimum of 18 hours of approved courses in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Environment and Society (ENVS 101) is 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). Twelve additional credit hours in either Social Science or Arts and Humanities must be taken.   At least one Humanities course is highly recommended. 


In the natural sciences, course requirements include a minimum of 15 hours of approved courses. Genetics, Evolution and Ecology (BIO 102) and Earth’s Environments (GEO 120) are required of all majors. In Chemistry, ES majors must take either Structure and Reactivity (CHEM 101 or CHEM 102), Chemical Principles (CHEM 103) or Environmental Chemistry (CHEM 051). Students interested in a curricular pathway involving intensive science are encouraged to take CHEM 101, 102 or 103.   The balance of the 15 hours in natural science must be selected from courses in the Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and/or Physics Departments that EITHER count towards one of those four majors OR are included on the Checklist of ES Major Requirements.


Majors must take one course in research methods selected from the following: CHEM 211, MATH 085 or 113, SOCI  211, POLT 205 or PSYC 200. (Note: of these courses, only Chemistry can also be counted as part of the 15 hours in natural science).


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

  • “6 and 6” rule. At least 6 credits used to satisfy course requirements must be Environmental Studies courses (i.e. ENVS XXX) taken at Oberlin. At least 6 credits used to satisfy the social science, humanities or natural science requirements taken beyond the introductory courses must be courses taken outside of the Program (i.e. approved courses without the ENVS prefix) at Oberlin. 
  • At least 20 hours of course work for the ES major must be taken at Oberlin; no more than 9 upper-level credit hours may be transferred. 
  • Courses listed in two departments (e.g., ENVS 208 and POLT 208) can be taken in either department.
  • First year seminar program courses do not count toward the ES major unless specifically listed here.
  • Students seeking majors or minors in ES must earn minimum grades of C- (or CR or P, as may be appropriate) for all courses that apply to the ES major.
  • If ES is a student’s 1st major, it must be approved by the time the student achieve 2nd semester sophomore status (normally the 4th semester at Oberlin). If ES is a 2nd major, it must be approved by the time the student achieve 2nd semester junior status (normally 6th semester).
  • 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 for Environmental Studies Majors

Objectives and Summary:


Students who declare an Environmental Studies (ES) major during or after the fall semester of 2010 are required to complete a “curricular pathway”.  Students who have declared the ES major prior to this date have the option of pursuing a pathway by completing the four requirements described below. 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 science, environmental policy, environmental psychology, environmental economics, etc.) are encouraged to consider an appropriate double major in association with their pathway.  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.  A required group advising session takes place each spring for all students wishing to declare the ES major.  During this session, the requirements associated with curricular pathways are explained and discussed. 

Successful completion of a pathway is marked by several requirements and documents that include: 1) selection of a pathway focal area at the time 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”; 3) completion of a capstone experience and a “capstone experience report” related to the pathway; and 4) a “pathway report”.   Students must submit, discuss and receive approval for each of these components from their adviser.  The adviser will notify the Administrative Assistant at the time when the pathway proposal, the capstone experience report and the pathway report are complete and this information will then be entered into the student’s academic record; students declaring the major after spring ’09 will not graduate with an ES major without the registrar’s record that these milestones were completed.  The four components of the pathway are explained below.  Forms associated with these requirements are available on the ES Program web site and in the ES Program office.

1) Pathway Focal Area Selection: At the time that students declare an ES major they must discuss with their adviser and select a focal area for their pathway from the list of those approved (see below).  A student seeking to work in an area beyond the scope of these focal areas or declaring after the sophomore year must submit a pathway proposal concurrent with their major declaration. 

2) Pathway Proposal: Within a semester of declaring the ES major, students must submit a curricular pathway proposal, discuss this proposal with their adviser and receive their adviser’s approval to proceed.  Typically this will occur no later than the first semester of a student’s junior year and must occur before registration for the subsequent semester.  For example, a student who declares an ES major in the spring semester 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. The proposal should address the specific questions and follow the format of the template provided by the ES Program.  Following this template, a complete pathway proposal 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 rational for the importance of that theme and describes the specific goals with respect to knowledge, skills and expertise and the intended outcomes.  The course trajectory is a semester-by-semester sequence of courses that the student intends to take to complete the selected pathway.  This course sequence must also fulfill all requirements described in the “Checklist of ES Major Requirements”.  During each subsequent advising session, 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 semester’s indicated in their course trajectory and that they will have the necessary prerequisites to take them (the student 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 adviser.  An electronic text copy of the approved pathway proposal should be given the file name “Firstname.Lastname.PathwayProposal.doc” and posted to the Environmental Studies Blackboard Site and emailed to the 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 Experience Report: As part of the pathway, each student will be required to fulfill a capstone requirement.  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, approved capstone courses 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 one page document, submitted after the capstone experience is completed, describing the work completed and reflecting on how the work contributes to the student’s pathway.  The report must be discussed with and approved by the student’s adviser.  An electronic text copy of the approved capstone experience report should be given the file name “Firstname.LastnameCapstoneReport.doc” and posted to the appropriate location on Environmental Studies Blackboard Site.

4) Pathway Report: By mid-semester of the second semester senior year, 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. An electronic text copy of the approved pathway proposal should be given the file name “Firstname.Lastname.PathwayReport.doc” and posted to the appropriate location on the Environmental Studies Blackboard Site. 

Focal Areas for Pathways:


Focal areas that are supported by the Oberlin curriculum are listed below.  A more detailed description of the range of options and relevant courses is included in documents available from the ES Program Office and web site.  It is important to recognize that a variety of pathways are possible within each of these focal areas and that it is the responsibility of the student to work with his/her adviser to discuss and then craft pathway proposal that articulates the specific focus that the student will then pursue. 


-Environmental Chemistry

-Environmental Biology

-Environmental Geology

-Systems Ecology

-Environmental Psychology

-Environmental Economics (including natural resource economics, environmental economics, ecological economics, etc.)

-Environmental Politics and Policy

-Environmental History

-Public Health

-Art and the Environment

-Environmental Literature and Media (environmental literature, environmental journalism, film and the environment, etc.)

-Environmental Thought (environmental values, ethics, philosophy, religion, etc.)

-Sustainable Communities, Enterprise, and Education (Campus/organizational ecology, environmental entrepreneurship, environmental education, bioregionalism)

-Urban Analysis and Design

-Environmental Design (ecology of the built environment, ecological engineering, sustainable agriculture)

-Climate Change Studies

-Energy and Society

-Water and Society

-Regional Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development (Local U.S., Africa, China, L. America, Middle East, etc.)

-Environmental Justice




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 clearly explain the goals that s/he hopes to achieve by pursuing the minor and should describe how courses taken and planned provide a cohesive focus that contributes to fulfilling these goals. A minor must include a minimum of 15 hours in at least five courses from the “Checklist of ES Major Requirements”. These must include two or more courses at the non-introductory level and at least seven hours of work in the natural sciences and at least seven in social sciences and/or humanities. At least ten of these credit hours 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 their Winter Term (WT) experiences 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 can be undertaken for credit through certain existing courses, private readings or research projects supervised by faculty. Many students also 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, Lucid Design Group and many others.

 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 successfully elected 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. Private readings and research that are not associated with an honors project are not counted as fulfilling ES major 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 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. For students who complete honors research, a maximum of three credits can be counted towards ES major requirements. 

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 Barron 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. For example, students have received prestigious grants and awards from the U.S. EPA’s “People Prosperity and the Planet” competition and from National Wildlife Federations “Chill Out: Campus Solutions to Climate Change” competition. ES students receive competitive scholarships from a variety of organizations including the Udall Scholarship, Compton Foundation and others.

Environmental Studies:Social Science, Humanities, Natural Science Courses

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

Social Science Courses

Economics (ECON)

Environmental Studies (ENVS)

History (HIST)

           • HIST 239 - Animals in Human History Semester Offered:

           • HIST 252 American Environmental History  Semester Offered:

           •HIST 324 Food and Drink in World History   Semester Offered:

Politics (POLT)

•POLT 223 International Environmental Politics

Psychology (PSYC)


         • PSYC 440 – Seminar in Environmental Psychology

Sociology (SOCI

Humanities Courses

Art (ARTS)

•ARTS 093 - Land Arts in an Electronic Age

English (ENGL)

Enviromental Studies (ENVS)

Philosophy (PHIL)

Russian (RUSS)

Natural Science Courses

Biology (BIOL)

BIOL 102 plus any additional upper level course that counts towards the Biology major.

Chemistry (CHEM)

Any additional upper level course that counts towards the Chemistry major.

Computer Science (CSCI)

•CSCI 190–How to Model It

•CSCI 390–Seminar in Modeling for the Natural and Social Sciences

Environmental Studies (ENVS)

Geology (GEOL)

GEOL 111, 115 and 120 plus any upper level course that counts towards the Geology major.

Physics (PHYS)

Any upper level course that counts towards the Physics major.

Extra Divisional Courses

Private Readings and Research

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 as 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, Sam White*
Math: Robert Bosch
Philosophy: Timothy Hall
Physics: John Scofield, Dan Stinebring
Politics: Ben Schiff, Harlan Wilson*
Psychology: Cindy Frantz*, Stephan Mayer
Rhetoric and Composition: Laurie McMillin
Russian: Thomas Newlin*
Sociology: Greggor Mattson

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