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 areas of emphasis in which students may choose to focus their work: Natural Science, Social Science and Arts and Humanities. In many cases work in these areas of emphasis 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 AREAS OF EMPHASIS  All students majoring in Environmental Studies take two courses from each of the other major areas of emphasis.  This provides opportunities to explore the breadth of thought and experience through which others approach environmental issues and seek solutions.
  4. AREA STUDY  Each major area of emphasis 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 Areas of Emphasis:


A description of the college’s understanding of distinction can be found in the college catalog.  Distinction is an academic honor awarded to a limited number of students (up to 10%) in Environmental Studies who have demonstrated high academic achievement and the ability to produce an independent work of excellence in their area of study. The Environmental Studies Department invites senior majors to apply and each spring will review their record of academic achievement in Environmental Studies and their independent project. The project may take a variety of forms from a scientific research project to a work of art.

Guidelines  A candidate for Distinction must have an overall grade point average (GPA) of 3.50 in the department. Initially the grade point average will be calculated based on work through the student’s junior year. Candidacy for Distinction will be continued if the minimum GPA is maintained through Interim of the senior year. Students seeking Distinction are advised not to take any of their EnvSt coursework pass no-credit (S/U).  Eligible students will be notified by the Distinction Committee Chair at the beginning of the fall of their senior year and asked to apply for Distinction by November 15.

Criteria  Candidates for Distinction will prepare a substantial piece of original academic work that is beyond normal classroom assignments. Types of projects may include a scholarly paper, artistic endeavor, or musical composition. The work may originate in summer research projects, independent study/research, the Environmental Studies experiential component, or directed undergraduate research groups if the student has a part of the project that is their own. A public presentation in the form of a poster presentation, talk, or exhibit of the project is expected. If the candidate is being considered for Distinction in more than one department, they must have a separate project for each department.

Timetable  Seniors applying for distinction will inform the chair of the Environmental Studies Department, in writing, by November 15 and select a faculty advisor from the Environmental Studies faculty. The faculty advisor will work with the student on the presentation of the project documentation/distinction application due to the Distinction Committee by April 7. The Chair will notify candidates of the decision in writing by early May.  (revised & adopted by EnvSt 17 Apr 2014)

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.