May 26, 2024  
Course Catalog 2017-2018 
Course Catalog 2017-2018 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Environmental Studies

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Md Rumi Shammin*, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies; Program Director
Paul Brehm, Assistant Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies
Janet Fiskio*, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Comparative American Studies
Carl McDaniel, Visiting Professor of Environmental Studies
Brad Melzer, Visiting Instructor of Environmental Studies
Karl Offen*, Professor of Environmental Studies
David W. Orr,  Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies and Politics
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

(Those marked with an asterisk 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 and to develop a more sustainable relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world. The program emphasizes critical thinking, community engagement, and skill building across a range of disciplines. 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 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.

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.” 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.  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 (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. 

Those interested in the major are encouraged to begin the social science component of the major with Environment and Society (ENVS 101) during their first year, and to complete the introductions to the environmental humanities with Nature, Culture and Interpretation (ENVS 201) and most introductory science requirements by the end of their sophomore year. Students also need to take either Environmental Policy or Environmental Economics as a core requirement of the major. Because careful course selection is necessary to achieve appropriate depth and breadth, students are urged to consult as early as possible with faculty on the Environmental Studies Program Committee (ESPC) for guidance.

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 serve as ES advisers are marked with an asterisk at the start and end of this section of the course catalog. The most 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, a draft proposal is due to the adviser no later than two weeks before fall break in the first semester of your junior year (if declaring in the second semester of second year or earlier). A final draft, reviewed and accepted by adviser, must be turned in no later than one week after break. If a student is declaring the ES major in the first semester of junior year or later, then the pathway proposal must be submitted by the end of the semester when the student declares. 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. 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 (see the folders listed in Blackboard at:

In the natural sciences, course requirements include a minimum of four approved full credit courses with at least one of these including a regular lab. A second natural science course with a regular lab is strongly recommended, but not required. 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 102), Topics in General Chemistry (CHEM 103) or Chemistry and the Environment (CHEM 051). 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. 

Majors must take one full credit course in research methods selected from the following: CAST 300, CHEM 211, ECON 255, ENGL 255, ENGL 299, ENVS 316, ENVS 340, GEOL 235, GSFS 305, PHIL 201, PSYC 200, SOCI 301, STAT 113 or 114, STAT215.

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 toward 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 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 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 (“Alternative Courses”) is available in the ES Program Office.

Curricular Pathways and Requirements

  1.      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, 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 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 Focal Area selected: Due at the time the major is declared (on majors checklist).
2) Pathway Proposal: Students are encouraged to complete a pathway proposal as early as possible during the major as it aids in advising. A draft proposal is due to the adviser no later than two weeks before fall break in the first semester of junior year or by the end of the semester when the student declares (if declaring in the first semester of Junior year or later). A final draft, reviewed and accepted by adviser, must be turned in no later than one week after break.
3) Capstone Proposal: Due no later than fall or spring break the semester prior to undertaking the capstone project.
4) Pathway report: A draft of the report is due to the adviser no later than two weeks before spring break senior year (fall break for December graduates). A final draft, reviewed and accepted by adviser, must be turned in no later than one week after break.

Students must submit, discuss and receive approval for each of these milestones from their adviser. 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 milestones of the pathway are explained in greater detail below.

     III.     Pathway Milestones Explained:

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. 

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 “Curricular Pathways for Environmental Studies Majors” - available 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 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 of 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 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 adviser), and Winter Term experiences. The capstone proposal articulates the way in which a proposed experience contributes to the pathway and must follow the template provided in this document. The template for the capstone proposal is included in “Curricular Pathways for Environmental Studies Majors.” Students must discuss and receive approval from their adviser no later than two weeks before fall or spring break of the semester/summer/winter prior to completing their capstone experience. Ideally, students will complete the capstone proposal by the second semester of their junior year, but no later than the first semester of their senior year. 

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.” A draft of the report is due to the adviser no later than two weeks before spring break of the senior year (fall break for December graduates). A final draft, reviewed and accepted by adviser, must be turned in no later than one week after break. The student’s adviser 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.     Focal Areas for Pathways:

Pathway focal areas that are supported by the Oberlin curriculum are listed below. A variety of specific interests can be pursued within each of these focal areas. There is substantial flexibility to allow students to choose what interests them most. 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 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. 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 his/her adviser, to choose a course trajectory that meets the particular objectives that a student defines in the pathway proposal.

Pathway focal areas 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 History; Environmental Justice; Environmental Literature & Media; Environmental Politics & Policy; Environmental Psychology; Environmental Thought; Global Environmental Issues and Politics; Indigenous Environmental Issues; Public Health; Sustainable Enterprise & Entrepreneurship; Systems Ecology; Urban Sustainability (or Sustainable Communities); Water & Society.

A more detailed description of the range of options and relevant course possibilities associated with each focal area is included in a “Curricular Pathways for Environmental Studies Majors” document that is available from the ES Program Office. 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 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” (excluding courses that only count for the research methods requirement). 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. 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: 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 21. 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 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 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

Economics (ECON)

History (HIST)

  • HIST 180 - Global Environmental History
  • HIST 283 - Environmental Histories of South Asia

Politics (POLT)

Sociology (SOCI)

  • SOCI 241 - American Urbanism
  • SOCI 284 - Environmental Sociology

Humanities Courses

English (ENGL)


  • RELG 248 - Religion, Ethics, and the Environment

Natural Science Courses

Resource Faculty

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, Sarah Schuster, 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: Dennis Hubbard*, Karla Parsons-Hubbard

History: Matthew Bahar

Math: Robert Bosch

Philosophy: Timothy Hall

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*

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