Environmental Studies

Department Chair: Derek Larson

The environmental studies department takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the environment and sustainability issues, integrating perspectives from the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and fine arts, and applies these perspectives to issues ranging from global warming to the environmental impacts of our own lifestyle choices. Because environmental problems and their potential solutions do not stop at disciplinary boundaries, our curriculum teaches students to approach a particular topic not simply as a question of biology, politics, or theology, but rather to combine these (and many more) perspectives to better understand environmental and sustainability issues in all their complexity. Particularly important to this process is the inclusion of social science and humanities viewpoints, as even the most technical solutions to environmental problems must be implemented by individuals working within cultural, political, and economic contexts. Five environmental studies faculty and fifteen supporting faculty from over a dozen different academic departments contribute courses to the program; students also have access to professional staff from the College of St. Benedict Sustainability Office, Saint John's Arboretum, St. John's Abbey Land Management, Environmental Health and Safety, and other related offices. The unique ecological resources of our two campuses include nearly 3,000 acres of deciduous and coniferous forests, restored oak savanna, tall grass prairie, wetlands, and a diversity of large and small lakes. This setting, which is carefully managed in the tradition of Benedictine stewardship, provides a wealth of opportunities for the hands-on exploration of environmental issues as well as venues for outdoor recreation and reflection.

Students majoring or minoring in environmental studies come from a wide range of backgrounds and areas of interest, but all share an essential curiosity about and concern for the environment and a sustainable future. The interdisciplinary nature of the program requires students to hone their skills in reading, writing, critical thinking, quantitative analysis, and argumentation to become well-rounded thinkers adept at developing and expressing reasoned opinions not only about environmental and sustainability issues, but in all aspects of their intellectual lives. Undergraduate research is central to the major curriculum; all graduates must complete a senior thesis and competitive summer research fellowships are regularly available. Experiential learning components are incorporated into many courses, including service learning projects, field studies, and a required internship for majors. A variety of co-curricular and volunteer activities offer students interested in environmental education, outdoor recreation, environmental activism, campus sustainability practices, and other related topics frequent opportunities to directly connect with others who share their environmental interests, often alongside faculty and staff affiliated with the program. Majors and minors in environmental studies pursue a wide range of careers, not only in environmental and sustainability fields but in many other professions for which a traditional liberal arts education serves as preparation. Many also go on to advanced study in related fields such as environmental law, public policy, natural resource management, journalism, landscape architecture, and environmental education. Complete information on the environmental studies program is available on-line at http://www.csbsju.edu/environmentalstudies.


The Environmental Studies Department's curriculum emphasizes research, writing, and problem-solving skills in an environmental/sustainability context. The departmental assessment program thus focuses on evaluating student outcomes via problem-solving and skill-building exercises embedded in required courses and a variety of research activities. The assessment program culminates with the senior research theses, all of which are evaluated as a group annually by the department faculty.


Environmental Studies Major - 53 credits
The Environmental Studies major is an interdisciplinary program of study that explores questions of environment and sustainability via methods and materials drawn from the natural sciences, humanities and fine arts, and social sciences. The curriculum is designed around an interdisciplinary core, upon which rest specialized courses with topical or disciplinary emphases. The major requires a total of 53 credits, divided into five groups. The exact distribution will vary depending on each student's choice of electives; the number of credits listed for each group is a minimum requirement.


Group One: Interdisciplinary Core - 17 credits required
The Interdisciplinary Core includes the introductory, methodological, applied, and capstone courses that give shape to environmental studies as a field of inquiry.  These include the topical Introduction to Environmental Studies, the applied Sustainability Workshop, and the Environmental Methods & Measurement skills course at the lower division level.  Junior majors are introduced to research projects in the Research Colloquium, and seniors complete an individual thesis in the capstone Research Seminar. The Internship requirement offers an opportunity for majors to explore a potential career field by working alongside practitioners for an extended period, typically after completing the junior year. 


Group Two: Natural Science - 12 credits required
The Natural Science group offers students a lab-based, scientific perspective on environmental and sustainability issues.  The required foundation courses, Environmental Science I and II, take a systems approach to understanding the form and function of the natural world, and incorporate case studies to provide depth of inquiry in specific areas such as climate, water, air quality, energy, and agriculture. A third natural science course, chosen from Group Two, allows students to pursue more advanced study in a focused subfield of environmental science such as ecology or climate science.


Group Three: Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies - 12-20 credits required
The Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies group includes courses that are focused topically, rather than by discipline, and typically bring the methods of multiple disciplines to bear on contemporary issues in environment and sustainability. Students will select at least three courses from group three, according to their interests and in consultation with their faculty advisor. 


Group Four: Disciplinary Humanities & Fine Arts - 4-12 credits required
The Disciplinary Humanities/Fine Arts group brings the perspectives of art, literature, history, philosophy, and theology to issues of environment and sustainability. Students will select at least one course from group four, according to their interests and in consultation with their faculty advisor.


Group Five: Disciplinary Social Science  - 0-8 credits required
The Disciplinary Social Science Electives group offers elective courses for students interested in social science approaches to issues of environment and sustainability, including such fields as political science, anthropology, economics, and sociology. Students may select up to two courses from Group Five, according to their interests and in consultation with their faculty advisor, in fulfilling the elective requirements. 

NOTE: Courses listed in BOLD TYPE are required for all majors.

GROUP ONE: Interdisciplinary Core - 17 credits required 

  • ENVR 150: Introduction to Environmental Studies (4 credits)
  • ENVR 215: Learning Community/Sustainability Workshop (2 credits)
  • ENVR 220: Environmental Methods & Measurement (2 credits)
  • ENVR 320: Research Colloquium (4 credits)
  • ENVR 395: Research Seminar (4 credits)
  • ENVR 397: Internship (1 credit)

GROUP TWO: Natural Science - 12 credits required (ENVR 175/275 plus one elective) 

  • ENVR 175: Environmental Science I (4 credits)
  • ENVR 275: Environmental Science II (4 credits)
  • ENVR 300: Topics in Environmental Studies - Natural Science (4 credits)
  • ENVR 300G: Science of Global Climate Change (4 credits)
  • BIOL 334: General Ecology (4 credits)
  • BIOL 337: Aquatic Ecology (4 credits)

MAJOR ELECTIVES - 24 credits required
All majors must complete at least 3 courses from Group Three, 1 course from Group Four,  plus 2 additional courses from either Group Three, Four, or Five.

GROUP THREE: Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Electives - 12 -20 credits required (chose 3-5 courses) 

  • ENVR 225: Food, Gender, and the Environment (4 credits)
  • ENVR 300: Topics in Environmental Studies - Interdisciplinary (4 credits)
  • ENVR 310: Environmental Geography (4 credits)
  • ENVR 311: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (4 credits)
  • ENVR 321: Sustainable Agriculture (4 credits)
  • ENVR 335: Environmental Education Pedagogy (4 credits) 

GROUP FOUR: Disciplinary Humanities/Fine Arts Electives - 4-12 credits required (choose 1-3 courses)

  • COMM 309: Environmental Rhetoric (4 credits)
  • ENVR 200A: Environmental Art/Architecture (4 credits)
  • ENVR 300: Topics in Environmental Studies - Humanities/Fine Arts (4 credits)
  • ENVR 300E: Envisioning Nature (4 credits)
  • PHIL 322: Environmental Ethics (4 credits)
  • THEO 343: Theology and the Environment (4 credits)
  • HIST 360: U.S. Environmental History (4 credits)

GROUP FIVE: Disciplinary Social Science Electives - 0-8 credits required (chose 0-2 courses)

  • ENVR 300: Topics in Environmental Studies - Social Science (4 credits)
  • ENVR 300I: Environmental Anthropology (4 credits)
  • ECON 318: Natural Resource/Environmental Economics (4 credits)
  • POLS 330: Environmental Politics/Policy (4 credits)
  • SOCI 338: World Populations (4 credits)
  • PCST 354: Global Environmental Politics (4 credits)





  1. Students cannot take more than TWO 200-level courses in Groups Three through Five for credit toward the major.
  2. ENVR 200 and ENVR 300 Topics courses may be offered in any group (Two - Five). Please contact the Department Chair with questions about specific courses.
  3. Additional courses not listed here may qualify for inclusion in any group as courses are developed. See your academic adviser or the Department Chair with questions about specific courses.
  4. AP Environmental Science scores of 4 or 5 may be accepted for credit in ENVR 175. IB test scores and AP scores for other natural science courses are not accepted by the department for credit in the major/minor.


Environmental Studies Minor Requirements-24 credits

Required courses: 
        ENVR 150: Intro to Environmental Studies (4 credits)
        ENVR 175: Environmental Science I (4 credits)
        ENVR 275: Environmental Science II (4 credits)
        Plus 12 additional credits in ENVR courses. At least 8 credits must be at the 300 level.
Note: The elective courses must be listed as ENVR; environmental courses taught in other departments will not be accepted toward the minor (unless cross-listed with ENVR). 

Courses (ENVR)

100 Topics in Environmental Studies (1-4)
In-depth study of an environmental issue, perspective, or methodology at the lower-division level. Course may be repeated for credit when topics vary and with consent of the Department Chair. Varies.

150 Introduction to Environmental Studies. (4)
Interdisciplinary introduction to environmental studies. Case-based investigation of environmental issues combining perspectives from the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. Topics will vary but may include such subjects as endangered species, air/water pollution, environmental justice/racism, animal rights, global warming, ecotourism, agriculture, nature writing, campus ecology, and others. Both semesters.

175 Environmental Science I. (4)
ENVR 175 (Integrated Environmental Science I) - An interdisciplinary introduction to the science underlying environmental issues. This course will focus on earth systems science, providing a basic understanding of how the earth's hydrosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere and biosphere work and how they interact. Prerequisite: math prerequisite. Both semesters.

200 Topics in Environmental Studies. (4)
In-depth study of an environmental issue, perspective, or methodology at the lower-division level. Course may be repeated for credit when topics vary with approval of the Department Chair. Varies.

215 Sustainability Workshop. (2)
Workshop focusing on current environmental issues in application, intended for students new to the major or minor. Course may be repeated for credit when topics vary with approval of the Department Chair. Both semesters.

220 Environmental Methods & Measurement (2 )
This course serves as an introduction to the analytical tools and metrics of environmental studies, providing students with quantitative and methodological skills germane to environmental problem solving that can be applied in upper division courses and in their own research projects. Topics covered will include basic statistical analysis, environmental footprinting, cost-benefit and other economic metrics, energy auditing, green building standards, greenhouse gas emissions auditing, green certification programs, field- and laboratory-based measurement tools, and other common standards. Students will learn to apply these methods and to critique the use of similar methods by the media, in marketing campaigns, and by other researchers. Prerequisite: math prerequisite. Both semesters.

225 Food, Gender, and the Global Environment (4)
In this course, we examine the environmental, economical, and social equity issues of food, production, processing, distribution and consumption. We explore the journey of food from the field to our table. To map successfully this journey we analyze women's and men's roles, historically and currently, in food production; examine different approaches to food sustainability and environmental sustainability; and delve into politics of food regulation.  Both semesters.

275 Environmental Science II. (4)
An interdisciplinary scientific exploration of environmental issues through case studies.  Specific case studies will be chosen by the instructor, but will typically center around the broad topics of population, climate change, food and agriculture, biodiversity, pollution and energy. Prerequisite: ENVR 175. Both semesters.
271 Individual Learning Project. (1-4)
Supervised reading or research at the lower-division level. Approval of Department Chair required. Consult department for applicability towards major requirements. Not available to first-year students.

300 Topics in Environmental Studies. (1-4)
In-depth study of an environmental issue, perspective, or methodology at the upper-division level. Course may be repeated for credit when topics vary with approval of Department Chair. Varies.

310 Environmental Geography (4)
This course is an upper level, reading intensive course focusing on global environmental issues from the perspective of geography. Using water as a topical focus, the course will consider human modifications of and responses to the environment; the sometimes unintended consequences of such actions; and water as a key resource and potential source of conflict in the 21st century. As an environmental studies course, the subject matter is interdisciplinary and will include physical geography. Annually.

311 Intro to Geographical Information Systems (4)
This is an introductory course in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is designed to collect, store, and us spatial and geographical information, such as land use, property ownership, roads, rivers, lakes, forest cover type, elevation, versus tract boundaries and data, and political boundaries. In this course, students will learn to use ESRI's ArcGIS software within a larger context that also includes a history of cartography, the uses and abuses of maps, elements of map design, mental maps, participatory GIS, and a range of ethical issues that must be considered in learning how to use this powerful technology responsibly. Annually.

312 Georgraphy of Asia (4)
Asia is a complex and diverse part of the world that contains more than half of the world's population, some of the world's fastest growing economies, and countries and cultures that are fundamentally linked to our everyday lives in North America. In this upper-division, reading-intensive course, students will be introduced to the natural environments, political developments, demographic trends, gender issues, religious and cultural frameworks, and past and present relationships between the United States and Asian countries, The course will emphasize current events, problem, and trends across sub-regions and in individual countries, and will draw on diverse sources of information including books, academic and popular articles, films and novels.  Offered infrequently.

320 Research Colloquium. (4)
In depth, interdisciplinary study of a single topic in environmental studies. By design the course will provide both depth of exposure in a topic and methodological instruction and application of research skills in the field, as preparation for the research requirements of other upper division ENVR courses and for the application in post-collegiate career settings. Topics will vary each semester, but skills covered will include group discussion, formal oral presentation, poster design and presentation, secondary literature analysis, research design, collaborative project design and implementation, and written presentation of research results. This course is intended for junior/senior Environmental Studies majors and must be taken before enrolling in the ENVR 395: Research Seminar capstone.  Prerequisite: ENVR 220: Environmental Methods and Measurement. Both semesters.

321 Sustainable Agriculture (4)
How do we sustain the environment and provide food security to 9 billion people in 2042? This course examines the causes of food insecurity; investigates the environmental, human and cultural costs of industrial agricultural food production; identifies the environmental consequences of producing protein-rich foods, e.g. fish farming, meat, and soybeans; considers the effect of climate change on food production; and explores the potential and the risks of agricultural biotechnology to increase the global food supply. In addition, we explore emerging agricultural practices as possible solutions to the problem of balancing human needs and the environment. Alternate years.

335 Environmental Education Pedagogy (4)
This course is designed for individuals that are planning on teaching in the field of environmental education in formal classroom settings and/or interpretive settings, such as environmental learning centers. Some of the issues that will be explored are the incorporation of environmental education in standards based settings, the dichotomy of advocacy versus education, and the history, trends and best practices of environmental education. The relationship between the two types of environmental education settings will also be explored, including collaboration, and students will be designing and teaching environmental education curriculum base on the North American Association for Environmental Education's "Excellence in Environmental Education-Guidelines for Learning." This course will include a practicum experience. Prerequisite: EDUC/ENVR Studies majors/minors, or permission from instructor. Annually.

341 Natural History of Tropical Carbonates
This course provides students with an introduction to the unique ecology and geology of tropical marine carbonate ecosystems, with an emphasis on those of the Bahamas. Topics covered include the evolution of reefs and reef-building organisms, geological history of the Bahamas, and the natural history of modern reef, mangal, and seagrass ecosystems. Environmental challenges facing these ecosystems will also be considered. The course requires participation in a field trip to San Salvador Island, Bahamas, or another tropical carbonate system. As part of the field trip, students will participate in a research project that involves monitoring of the ecological status of a tropical carbonate ecosystem. Prerequisite: BIOL 222, GEOL 212, or ENVR 175/275. Spring semester. Cross-listed with BIOL 341 & GEOL 341. Varies.

371 Individual Learning Project. (1-4)
Supervised reading or research at the upper-division level. Approval of Department Chair required. Consult department for applicability towards major requirements. Not available to first-year students.

395 Research Seminar. (4)
Capstone seminar for majors/minors; intensive research project and formal presentation in collaborative setting. Prerequisite: senior standing or permission of instructor. Both semesters.

397 Internship in Environmental Studies. (1-8)
Supervised career exploration which promotes the integration of theory with practice. An opportunity to apply skills under direct supervision in an approved setting. Prerequisites: approval of the department chair and a faculty moderator; completion of the pre-internship seminar.

398 Honors Senior Essay, Research or Creative Project. (4)
Required for graduation with "Distinction in Environmental Studies." Prerequisite: HONR 396 and approval of the program chair and director of the Honors Thesis program. For further information see HONR 398.