Academic Program

field trip

Students in the first-year seminar, The Earth and its Climate, on a field trip the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge.

Why Environmental Studies? Why now?

Profound anthropogenic changes are occurring in the land, water, and air around us, with the result that human societies face greater changes and environmental challenges than we have ever known. Global population is expected to exceed nine billion by 2040; global energy consumption is rising sharply while even present-day carbon emissions intensify global warming. Along with global warming, trends such as deforestation, mass extinctions, and eutrophication threaten the finely-balanced marine and terrestrial ecosystems on which we rely for food, water, shelter, and more. Sea-water rise along with increasing heat and drought will create climate refugees and resource conflicts on unprecedented scales. Responding to these crises requires all the creativity and rigor and compassion we can gather-including the cultivation of intellectual skills that until recently were housed in discrete and disparate disciplines.

Environmental studies brings together the natural sciences and engineering, the humanities, and the social sciences to tackle environmental issues of great complexity and socio-political importance. In relation to climate change, for instance, natural scientists provide data to understand the scope of the problem and the processes that result in global warming, social scientists help to understand and craft policies around human behaviors that cause climate change, and humanists provide the moral and historical framework to understand our obligation to action and the tools to communicate environmental values. Only an integrated, interdisciplinary approach can address the extremity and complexity of the challenges we face: students must learn to think across and through disciplines in order to become the kinds of problem-solvers our societies so urgently need.

Course Major

Students majoring in Environmental Studies will complete twelve credits in the program, including Introduction to Environmental Studies; 2 Environmental Science and Technology credits, including at least 1 lab course; 2 Environmental Social Science credits; 2 Environmental Arts and Humanities credits; a 4-credit topical or disciplinary focus designed by the student in conversation with the faculty coordinator; the Environmental Studies Capstone or a thesis.

Course Minor

Students minoring in Environmental Studies take at least six credits in the program, consisting of the Introduction to Environmental Studies; 2 Environmental Science courses; 2 Environmental Social Science or Humanities courses; and the Environmental Studies capstone. Environmental Studies courses at Bryn Mawr and Haverford can also be applied to the minor.

Special Honors Major

Honors special majors complete four related preparations (constituting at least 8 units of credit).  These may include seminars, course combinations, a course plus attachment, a thesis, etc.  The rubric for relating these preparations has been devised by the student and approved by the ENVS faculty. One of the preparations may be used toward a cognate major or minor if the other departmental requirements have been met.  Honors special majors must either write a thesis examined by examiners from at least two departments or be examined orally by a panel of their four examiners (or both).  

Honors Minor

Honors minors in Environmental Studies must complete all requirements of the course minor while also proposing an honors preparation which will normally be either a seminar or a combination of the capstone and an earlier ENVS course.

Course Plan

Students must submit their plan of study to the coordinator, usually when they apply for a major, and should inform the coordinator about any changes in their academic programs. Students may petition the Faculty Committee on Environmental Studies to have courses taken at other institutions fulfill some of these requirements. One of the courses may be independent work or a field study (in the United States or abroad) supervised by a member of the committee.

Foundations Course

This course will be co-taught by one faculty member from a science or engineering field and by one faculty member from the social sciences or humanities.  Focusing on one or two case studies, the interdisciplinary course will emphasize basic concepts in Environmental Studies and explore how environmental challenges in the modern world are best approached by drawing upon the contributions of more than one academic discipline.  ENVS 001 is usually offered at Swarthmore in the spring semester; it is also offered as ENVS 101 at Bryn Mawr and Haverford.

Capstone Seminar

In addition to the introductory course and four courses, each student pursuing a major or minor will participate in the capstone seminar in environmental studies, offered as ENVS 091 at Swarthmore during the spring semester of the senior year. The capstone seminar will involve advanced work on one or more issues or problems in environmental studies. Leadership of the capstone seminar rotates among the members of the Faculty Committee on Environmental Studies. The Bryn Mawr and Haverford Environmental Studies Senior Seminar (ENVS 397) also counts in fulfillment of the capstone requirement, but before students consider enrolling in the capstone seminar at another campus, they must consult with the Swarthmore Environmental Studies coordinator and recognize that the senior seminars all require major time commitments apart from scheduled seminar meeting times.

Transfer Credit

Any student may request credit [pdf] in environmental studies for interdisciplinary environmental courses taken at other institutions (domestic and foreign).

Study Abroad

Swarthmore College sponsors environmental foreign study programs in Cape Town, South Africa and Central Europe (Krakow, Poland and Brno, Czech Republic).