Apr 16, 2024  
Course Catalog 2018-2019 
Course Catalog 2018-2019 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Environmental Studies

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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
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
Md Rumi Shammin, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies; Program Director

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.

Learning Goals
The Environmental Studies program seeks to:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Provide both breadth, through its core requirements, and depth, through the pathway and capstone requirements.
  4. 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 begin the social science component of the major with Environment and Society (ENVS 101) during their first year, and to take Introduction to  Environmental Humanities (ENVS 201) and most natural science 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. 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.

Co-curricular Opportunities

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.

Physical Facilities

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.” 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.

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 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 “Checklist of Environmental Studies Major Requirements” and “Curricular Pathways” document.” 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. 3) 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. 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. 5) As described below, a draft pathway proposal approved by your advisor is due to your advisor 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 advisor, 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.

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).

Three additional full courses in either Social Science or Humanities must be taken from the set of elective courses listed on the Checklist of Environmental Studies Major Requirements. One additional full course in Natural Science must be taken from the set of courses listed on the checklist OR count toward the major in the Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and/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. 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 215. CHEM 211, ENGL 255, ENVS 316, ENVS 340, GEOL 235, and PSYC 308 may also count as SS/HU, or NS electives.

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.
  • Students must earn minimum grades of C- or P for all courses that apply toward 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 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 is only allowed for courses listed under the ‘Research Methods Elective.’ These include ENGL 255 and PSYC 308 (can be counted as SS/HU elective), and CHEM 211, ENVS 316, ENVS 340, and GEOL 235(can be counted as NS elective). Students who double-count these courses will be able to complete their ES major with 10 courses (instead of 11).

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 on Blackboard and in the ES Program Office.

Curricular Pathways 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, 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., in 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 Focus Area 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. 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 Experience Proposal: Due no later than fall or spring break the semester prior to undertaking the capstone experience.
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. The four milestones of the pathway are explained in greater detail below.

     III.     Pathway Milestones Explained:

1) Pathway Focus Area Selection: At the time that students declare an ES major, they must discuss with their advisers and select a focus 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 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 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, their 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 their 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.     Focus Areas for Pathways:

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

Pathway focus 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.

The current list of pathway focus areas and a more detailed description of the range of options and relevant course possibilities associated with each focus area are included in a “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 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: 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 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, 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.

Social Science Courses

Comparative American Studies (CAST)

History (HIST)

  • HIST 283 - Environmental Histories of South Asia

Politics (POLT)

Sociology (SOCI)

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

Humanities Courses

Natural Science Courses

Biology (BIOL)

Plus any additional course that counts towards the Biology major.

Geology (GEOL)

Plus any course that counts towards the Geology major.

Physics (PHYS)

Plus any course that counts towards the Physics major.

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

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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