Environmental Studies Major

Overview of the Department

Environmental Studies combines the strengths of disciplinary work in the contributing departments together with interdisciplinary studies, giving both broad and focused perspectives on environmental problems and issues. The Environmental Studies Department offers a Major in Environmental Studies with three tracks in which students may choose to focus their work: Natural SciencesSocial Sciences, and Arts and Humanities. In many cases work in these tracks overlaps with traditional departmental curricula, and students may choose to complete a second major there.

All students majoring in Environmental Studies will take a common introductory course in environmental studies, complete an experiential component during their studies, and take a capstone course. Additional coursework provides both breadth and depth within a track and emphasizes the multidimensionality of environmental study. Students wishing to count courses not specifically designated as satisfying requirements for the major may petition the Chair prior to enrollment.

Requirements for the Major

  2. SENIOR CAPSTONE (ENVST 399)  All students majoring in Environmental Studies take the senior seminar in their final semester on campus.  The course generally focuses on local or regional environmental themes and issues.
  3. COURSES IN OTHER TRACKS  All students majoring in Environmental Studies take two courses from each of the other major tracks.  This provides opportunities to explore the breadth of thought and experience through which others approach environmental issues and seek solutions.
  4. AREA STUDY  Each track of the major requires students to develop proficiency with the way a given area approaches study of the environment.
  5. EXPERIENTIAL COMPONENT  All students majoring in Environmental Studies will participate in an experience that applies basic knowledge in a setting beyond the classroom. This may be one of the off-campus environmental studies courses/programs, or an internship, or a research project approved by the Chair. Guidelines and a planning document are available from the chair.

Together the Environmental Studies Department and The Harry C. Piper Center for Vocation and Career has resources to assist you with your exploration of experiential learning throughout your work at St. Olaf.

Worksheets for the Major Tracks:


The Environmental Studies Faculty awards Distinction at graduation to senior majors and concentrators who have demonstrated outstanding scholarship and creativity in ES courses during their years at St. Olaf and who have participated in a significant project outside the required curriculum.  A description of the college’s understanding of distinction can be found in the college catalog.

As criteria for Distinction, the EnvSt faculty will consider a student’s record of academic achievement from courses within the program together with work from a significant project done beyond the required curriculum. The latter may take a variety of forms from a scientific research project to a work of art. The project should demonstrate both excellence and creativity and will involve public presentation or publication. Because scholarship is also a primary criterion, students seeking Distinction are advised not to take any of their EnvSt coursework pass no-credit (S/U). Those who wish to be considered for Distinction by the
Department should consult with any member of the EnvSt faculty early in their senior year and notify the EnvSt Chair by mid-February of their Senior Year.

Click on the department’s intended learning outcomes for ES majors to discover more about them.

In addition to the major the department offers a Concentration in Environmental Studies for students wishing to complement a disciplinary major with a smaller core of courses and electives focused on the environment.