Environmental Studies Major

Overview of the Department

Environmental Studies combines the strengths of work in contributing departments together with interdisciplinary studies, giving both broad and focused perspectives on environmental problems and issues. The 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 take a common introductory course, an integrative topics course with experiential learning, and a capstone course. Additional coursework provides both breadth and depth within a study area 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

  1. INTEGRATIVE COURSES (ENVST 137, 237, 399)  All students majoring in Environmental Studies take the integration and applications course (237) in the sophomore or junior year and take the senior seminar (399) in the fall semester of their senior year. Students planning to be abroad during the fall semester may register for the 399 course as juniors, provided they have taken at least one course in each of the areas of emphasis.
  2. AREA STUDY  Each area of emphasis requires students to develop proficiency with the way a given area approaches study of the environment.
  3. COURSES IN OTHER AREAS OF EMPHASIS  All students majoring in Environmental Studies take at least one course from each of the other areas of emphasis and take a total of three courses in this category.  This provides opportunities to explore the breadth of thought and experience through which others approach environmental issues and seek solutions.

EXPERIENTIAL COMPONENT  The integration and applications course (237) builds community engagement with environmental questions and solution making into its course structure.  There is no external experiential requirement with the new version of the major.  The department continues to encourage students to pursue off-campus studies, internships, collaborative undergraduate research, and other forms of practice.

For those students pursuing the requirements of the older major, you must participate in an experience that applies basic knowledge in a setting beyond the classroom. The context for this component may be provided by (1) completion of ES 237: Integration and Application – the preferred option; or by the following:  (2) participation in one of the approved off-campus environmental studies courses and programs; (3) an internship, or a faculty-mentored research project approved by the Chair. Students electing to fulfill the requirement by participating in an approved off-campus program, or through an internship or research project must obtain departmental approval before commencing on the project. In addition they must submit for departmental approval a summative project at the completion of their experience. Guidelines and a planning document are available.

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

Worksheets for the Major Areas of Emphasis:

Class of 2021- (available to 2020 as well)


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)

Intended Learning Outcomes

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.

For those students, class of 2020 and earlier, using the old version of the major, see the links below for those worksheets.   Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Arts & Humanities