An aerial photo of Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies.
Program Overview

Environmental Studies

Building a sustainable, just, and resilient future.

Photo credit: Bryan Rubin ’18

Interconnected Problems, Interdisciplinary Solutions

The next generation faces an unprecedented environmental crisis: remediating and adapting to climate change while developing sustainable systems to produce food, fuel, shelter, and fiber. These challenges, while daunting, also present tremendous opportunities to construct a world that is more socially just and more resilient. At Oberlin, we seek an understanding of the causes and consequences of our environmental predicaments, as well as the creative problem-solving skills to design a more sustainable relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world.

An Individual Pathway through the Major

Oberlin’s Environmental Studies program promotes dialogue and community engagement. Majors design their own curricular pathway: a course of study that equips them with a depth of knowledge, analytical skills, and experiences related to understanding and addressing a topic or subject area of interest to that student. The process calls on students to identify their own commitments and trajectory through the major rather than following a pre-established path, preparing them for careers in a range of sectors, from sustainable business and nonprofit work to advocacy, education, and beyond.

100% of majors work on community projects, most more than once

Ecological Design

The emerging field of ecological design was an inspiration behind the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies and provides one theme for our program. Drawing on natural science, social science, arts and the humanities this field considers how we remake the human presence in the world in ways that are socially just, environmentally sustainable and resilient in the face of a rapidly changing world.

A man working in a greenhouse.
12 Academic Units Student pathways through the major can draw on courses from over

Undergraduate Research

Sunniva Sheffield

I love seeing how my ideas or hypotheses change. I love watching a research idea blossom and turn into hours of work and analysis and real results.

Featured Courses

ENVS 302

American Agricultures

This course examines agrarian thinking and food justice movements in the United States through literature, essays, film, and field trips. We learn about the political philosophy of democratic agrarianism and the contributions of Indigenous, enslaved, and immigrant peoples to American agricultural practices and foodways. Throughout the course we pay close attention to the Rust Belt as a location of contemporary work for food justice.

Taught by
Jay Fiskio
ENVS 316

Ecosystem Ecology

The ecosystem concept provides a framework for understanding complex interactions between life and the physical environment and the role of humans as dominant agents of biogeochemical change. In this course we apply systems concepts to understand the flows of energy and the cycles of matter and control mechanisms that operate in ecosystems. Through primary sources and group projects, students compare the structure and function of a variety of natural and human-dominated ecosystems.

Taught by
John Petersen ’88
ENVS 385

Indigenous Nations, Treaty Rights, and the Great Lakes

This course examines the environmental history and contemporary environmental issues of the Great Lakes region in the context of Indigenous treaty rights, nationhood, and ecological knowledge. Students focus on the legal and political contests over land and resources such as water, fish and game, timber, and rice, along with the implications of environmental degradation and climate crisis.

Taught by
Jess Arnett
ENVS 390

Sustainable Cities

Humans are now an urban species with more people living in cities than in rural areas. This course examines the economic, social and environmental causes and implications of this transition. We consider the opportunities and design challenges of urban sustainability, concepts and techniques of urban and regional analysis, and contemporary approaches to sustainable urban planning and design.

Taught by
Md Rumi Shammin

Student Profiles

Part of the team at the Times

At Oberlin, Hyacinth Parker ’17 embraced the liberal arts. Since graduation, she taught in Indonesia and is now a sales planning coordinator at the New York Times.

Hyacinth Parker.

A Fulbright-MITACS Globalink Fellow

Amelia Lewis ’21, a geology and environmental studies major from New Haven, Connecticut, has been awarded a Fulbright-MITACS Globalink to conduct advanced research in Canada.

Amelia Lewis.

Writing Science for Radio

As an environmental studies and creative writing major at Oberlin, Angus Chen ’13 edited Headwaters, a campus environmental magazine, ate in a co-op for four years, and worked for the Oberlin Project. He is now a science reporter at NPR.

Angus Chen.

What does Environmental Studies at Oberlin look like?

Two students working in a hazelnut orchard.

Students in “Ecosystems Ecology” measuring rates of carbon sequestration in woody biomass in Oberlin’s experimental hazelnut orchard.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College
Three students sitting at a table with an older man.

Community partnership for climate justice includes reciprocal engagement. Here, students discuss their work at KBRW, in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, the northernmost radio station of the United States.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College
Major Joe Womack and Oberlin College students.

Major Joe Womack of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition leads Oberlin students on a tour of Africatown.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Chie Sakakibara
Professor Chie Sakakibara and students at an art museum.

Professor Chie Sakakibara explores environmental humanities through the lenses of expressive culture, art history, and Indigenous studies.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College
Students in canoes.

Field trip to Old Woman Creek research reserve to study Lake Erie watersheds and their impact on Lake Erie water quality.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College
Three students presenting their work.

Community-engaged work at Oberlin often involves presentation within the larger community. Here members of the “Practicum in Environmental Communication” class present their work promoting community climate action in Cleveland.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.

Hallock Auditorium in Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies.