Skip to main content

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 ten credits in the program, including Introduction to Environmental Studies; one Environmental Science and Technology credit, one Environmental Social Science credit; one Environmental Arts and Humanities credit; five elective ENVS courses; and the Environmental Studies Capstone or a thesis. Students are expected to articulate a topical or disciplinary focus (4-course minimum) for their ENVS major in conversation with the faculty coordinator and their academic advisor.

Course Minor

Students minoring in Environmental Studies shall take at least six credits in the program, consisting of Introduction to Environmental Studies; one Environmental Science and Technology credit; one Environmental Social Science credit; one Environmental Arts and Humanities credit;  and two elective ENVS courses. Students are expected to articulate a topical or disciplinary focus for their ENVS minor in conversation with the faculty coordinator and their academic advisor.

Honors Major

Honors majors will complete all of the requirements for the course major, and will also designate three two-credit preparations on which they will be examined.  These preparations may either be two-credit seminars that count toward ENVS (e.g. ECON 176, Environmental Economics, BIOL 137, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning) or combinations of two one-credit courses that have been approved by the ENVS program as suitable combinations for honors preparations.  Students writing their sophomore plans should consult with the Faculty Coordinator and their advisor for the current list of approved preparations.

Honors Minor

Honors minors in Environmental Studies must complete all of the requirements for the course minor while also proposing one honors preparation as outlined above.

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.

Environmental Studies courses at Bryn Mawr and Haverford can also be applied to the major or minor, as can study-abroad and domestic programs authorized by Swarthmore’s Office of Off-Campus Study and the Faculty Coordinator of Environmental Studies. 

CR/NC Policy

Courses taken during the first semester of the first year are taken CR/NC for all students.  After that semester, only two courses with a recorded grade of CR can be used to fulfill the requirements of an Environmental Studies major and only one course with a recorded grade of CR can be used to fulfill the requirements of an Environmental Studies minor. These limits do not include courses which are required to be taken as CR/NC.

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

You can transfer credits in for both the major and minor. Go through the regular Swat process. 

Capstone Seminars

"The capstone seminar did a fantastic job of allowing us to apply the knowledge we have gained at Swarthmore and the passion we all feel about the environment. The course provided a nice transition from the academic world to practical life beyond Swarthmore by encouraging us to use our knowledge to achieve concrete goals."

Martha Hoffman '07
Economics major, Environmental Studies and Psychology double minor
Capstone Seminars

Our Own Shade of Green

The March 2008 issue of the College Bulletin focused on the environment featuring stories on the Environmental Studies Program and sustainability efforts on campus.