Apr 19, 2024  
Course Catalog 2022-2023 
Course Catalog 2022-2023 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Environmental Studies Major

The major consists of a minimum of 10 full courses (or the equivalent) and the curricular pathway requirement.
Most students complete 11 full courses.

Note: Students must earn minimum grades of C- or P for all courses that apply toward the major.

arrow View the catalog page for the Environmental Studies program.  

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 ENVS 101  during their first year and ENVS 201  and most natural science core requirements by the end of their sophomore year. Students also need to take either ENVS 208  or ENVS 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 ENVS 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.

Summary of Requirements


  • At least one ARHU and SSCI or NSMA elective course must be taken at the 300- or 400-level. Ideally, this course will be directly related to the student’s pathway.
  • Courses used to fulfill core requirements may not be used to fulfill elective requirements.
  • Courses that fulfill the NSMA Laboratory and the Research Methods requirements may concurrently count as an elective of the corresponding category.
  • A maximum of one full course of combined private reading (ENVS 995H  or ENVS 995F ) and independent research or honors (ENVS 501F , ENVS 502F , ENVS 503F ENVS 504F ) can be counted towards the major. The faculty sponsor, in consultation with the program director, will determine whether a given private reading may count as credit towards an elective category.

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 ENVS 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.

Transfer of Credit

At least five full courses completed for the ENVS major must be taken at Oberlin; no more than three study away or transfer courses will count towards the ENVS major. Students planning to study away for more than a single semester must get approval from their advisor and the program chair.

Environmental Studies Course Lists

Environmental Studies Major Core Courses

Return to the summary of requirements.

Environmental Studies Core Courses

Both courses are required. ENVS 201  should be taken by the end of the student’s second year.

Biology Core Courses

Students select one of the following courses.

Economics and Politics Core Courses

Students select one of the following courses.

Arts and Humanities (ARHU) and Social Sciences (SSCI) Elective Courses

Return to the summary of requirements.

Curricular Pathway Requirement

I. Objectives and Summary

Environmental Studies (ENVS) majors are required to complete a “curricular pathway.”  A curricular pathway is a course of study that equips an ENVS 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 ENVS 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 ENVS 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. 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 ENVS 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 ENVS 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 ENVS 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 ENVS 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 ENVS 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 ENVS 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 ENVS Program will notify the registrar of successful completion of the report as a requirement for completion of the ENVS major. In addition to its function as a reflective document, the pathway report will also serve as a portfolio document for the ENVS 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
  • Political Ecology
  • 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 ENVS Program Office, ENVS website, and ENVS Blackboard site. This document also includes the templates that ENVS majors should use for their pathway proposals, capstone experience proposals, and pathway reports.