Environmental Science in Australia & New Zealand – Info

specibTypically this program is offered in spring semester during alternate years, operating spring 2020, spring 2022, spring 2024, etc. It is open to ALL qualified students interested in environmental studies. A combination of lectures, extensive field experiences and brief research projects enable students to learn about the interconnected human-nature system and appreciate this fascinating continent. All courses are taken concurrently and are highly integrated to provide a strong interdisciplinary focus.

Students are free to travel independently after the program as well as during spring break.

To see blogs and videos from prior groups, click the blog and video page.


The prerequisite course requirement for this program is Biology 150 (Evolutionary Foundations of Biodiversity) OR Environmental Studies 137 (Introduction to Environmental Studies) OR Biology/Enviromental Studies 226 (Conservation Biology). Group size is limited to 26 students and is open to qualified sophomores, juniors and seniors. In other words, interested students should be in their first, sophomore, or junior year when applying. The program is also open to qualified students from other institutions. Selection is made on the basis of each applicant’s professional interest, scholastic standing, aptitude for rigorous travel conditions, class in college, faculty recommendations, and an interview.

2022 program
Application Due: Mar 1, 2021 – see IOS How to Apply page
International and Off-Campus Studies Office
Interviews for program: Mar 4-15, 2021
Selection & notification:  March 18, 2021
Orientation Retreats: late April 2021, fall 2021


Except during spring break, participants are required to remain with the group at all times and take part in all curricular and co-curricular activities, and to travel with the group in accordance with the planned program.


Please see the IOS budget sheet on the costs tab of the Environmental Science IOS web page for an estimate of program costs.

Itinerary/Proposed Locations

Auckland Phillip Island Nature Parks
Rotorua Sydney
Wellington Brisbane
Mt Cook Lamington National Park (rain forest)
Queenstown North Stradbroke Island (MBRS)
Melbourne Carnarvon Gorge National Park
Queenscliff (Marine Discovery Centre) Heron Island Research Station (Great Barrier Reef)
Otway Ranges & Great Ocean Road Brisbane


Courses of Study

Four courses are offered (two biology, one sociology/anthropology, one political science).

Biology 226: Terrestrial Ecologya
This course examines organism-environment interactions and the study of populations and biological communities across New Zealand and Eastern Australia’s diverse terrestrial ecosystems.  Special consideration is given to the use of ecological studies in ecosystem management and its influence on policy and practice.  The island characteristics, long geologic isolation of Australia from other land masses, and climatic change makes the assemblages of organisms across the landscapes unique relative to other parts of the world.  Counts toward Biology major (biology majors see note below for information on core requirements), and Environmental Studies major and concentration (natural science or elective). GE: Oral Communications (ORC), Scientific Exploration & Discovery (SED).

Biology 224: Marine Biology
A focus on marine organisms and the dynamics of the marine system grounds the course topics in a variety of places, including mud flats and coral reefs.  Students are challenged to forge connections between the biological and environmental realms as well as to policy and practice.  Specific examples and field excursions occur at several marine research facilities located throughout New Zealand and Eastern Australia. Seven days are spent studying part of the Great Barrier Reef at the Heron Island Research Station. Counts toward Biology major (biology majors see note below for information on core requirements), and Environmental Studies major and concentration (natural science or elective).
Special Note for Biology MajorsBiology majors may choose to fulfill EITHER the comparative organismal biology core course OR the ecology core course of the major (not both). The other biology course counts as an elective in the major.  Example 1:  You count Bio 224 as the comparative organismal core course.  The Bio 226 course then serves as a level II elective and you would need to take Bio 261 (ecology) on-campus.   Example 2: You count Bio 226 as the ecology core course.  The Bio 224 course then serves as a level II elective and you would need to take a comparative organismal course on-campus.

Sociology/Anthropology 222: Cultural Anthropology
This course asks how culture influences every aspect of human life and society with an eye toward environmental decision-making and social justice.  Ethnography provides insight into the ways of life and culture structures in New Zealand and Australia as well as provides an introduction to the diverse traditional and contemporary cultures of Māori and Aboriginal Australians.  Special attention is given to the European impact on the Māori and Aborigines and the influence of cultural meanings on the Australian environment over the last 200 years.  Counts toward major. GE: Multicultural Studies (MCG). Counts toward Environmental Studies major and concentration (social science or elective).

Political Science 221: Environmental Policy
Course studies the New Zealand and Australia governmental system, political parties, and civic expectations about the role of government as it relates to the making and enforcement of environmental policy and practice.  Comparisons and contrasts between governmental structures, policy and environmental law between the USA and NZ and Australia provide opportunities to gain insight between various approaches to environmental challenges and solutions.  The historic contexts of European colonization, immigration and displacement of the First Nation peoples expose continuing cultural challenges in both environmental and social domains.  Highlights of the experience include:  visits to Parliament, and excursions associated with water resources, mining, and the Great Barrier Reef.  Counts toward major. GE: Studies in Human Behavior and Society (HBS). Counts toward Environmental Studies major and concentration (social science or elective).


Letter grades are recorded on the student’s transcript but only the course in which the Field Supervisor makes the most contributions count in the St. Olaf computed grade point average. Students have the option of taking the terrestrial ecology course for a grade or for S/U (if S/U, no course credit is given where the grade earned is below C).

Field Supervisors – 2022

Jay Demas and Laura Listenberger
RNS 262, demas@stolaf.edu; RNS 380, listenbe@stolaf.edu

Jay Demas is an Associate Professor in the Biology and Physics Departments as well as the Director of the Neuroscience Program. His research examines neural circuits underlying the detection and processing of environmental cues that guide circadian and navigational behaviors. Through this research, Jay has become invested in efforts to measure and mitigate the ecological and environmental health impacts of light pollution.

Laura Listenberger is an Associate Professor in Biology and Chemistry and the Director of the Biomolecular Sciences Program. Her research interests include energy metabolism and mechanisms of fat storage. Laura is a founding director of the Northfield Science Cafe where she shares her passion for science literacy and exploration of a wide range of scientific disciplines with the Northfield Community.

Jay and Laura are married and live in Northfield with their two daughters, Annie (13) and Corrie (15). The entire family enjoys being outdoors year-round, most often while hiking, camping and skiing.


For further information, please contact:
Program Advisor: Paul Jackson, Regents 422, x3404, Email: jackson@stolaf.edu


2024 …to be named
2022 Laura Listenberger and Jay Demas
2020 Michon Weeks and David Weeks (20)
2018 Gary Muir and Sian Christie (23)
2016 David Nitz and Debby Nitz (20)
2014 Steve Freedberg and Kelly Wolford Freedberg (21)
2013 Dave Van Wylen and Pat Van Wylen (17)
2012 Paul Jackson and Ann Marie Boyle (26)
2010 Kim Kandl and Nathan Soland (26)
2008 Paul Jackson and Ann Marie Boyle (24)
2006 Anne Walter and Mike Swift (26)
2004 Ted and Michelle Johnson (24)
2002 Gene and Lois Bakko (24)
2000 Bob and Pam Jacobel (24)
1998 Kathy Shea and Mike Farris (24)
1996 Gene and Lois Bakko (24)

International and Off-Campus Studies, Tomson Hall 380, X3069; Email: ios@stolaf.edu

Persons interested in leading this off-campus program in 2024, 2026, and beyond should contact the Program Advisor