Environmental Studies

Environmental Studies Curriculum

Our faculty, facilities, and the unique learning experiences we provide have earned Oberlin a national reputation for excellence in environmental studies.

Program Requirements

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Ours is an interdisciplinary program that investigates and considers solutions for various environmental challenges facing our world through critical thinking, community engagement, and skill development.

Learning goals of the ES Major

The Environmental Studies program seeks to:

  1. Equip students with the knowledge, intellectual tools, and learning experiences necessary to understand the causes and consequences of our environmental challenges, and with ways to develop a more sustainable relationship between humankind, in all its diversity, and the rest of the natural world.

  2. Emphasize evidence-based critical thinking, community engagement, problem identification and solving, design of solutions, and skills building that rely on an interdisciplinary synthesis of the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, including the arts and expressive culture. It also emphasizes effective communication with diverse audiences through community-based learning.

  3. Provide both breadth, through its core requirements, and depth, through the pathway and capstone requirements.

  4. Prepare our majors for careers in a broad range of professional and academic fields.

Core courses build a solid foundation in natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities; these provide the lateral rigor necessary to understand and analyze social, economic, and environmental issues from multiple perspectives. To develop a focused course of study, students then select from a broad range of intermediate and advanced environmental studies courses including:

  • Systems Ecology
  • Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change
  • Environmental Justice and Local Knowledge

Independent projects, internships, and senior honors projects further develop students’ ability to synthesize information and to apply their knowledge and skills to better understand topics of their choosing. We also maintain an active speaker series that brings in prominent thinkers and researchers on the environment.

For detailed requirements, see the Environmental Studies section of the course catalog.

Program Resources

On campus, our program is housed in the internationally acclaimed Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies (AJLC). The New York Times described this state-of-the-art facility as “the most remarkable” of a new generation of environmentally responsible buildings. It's launch almost 20 years ago made it among the first advanced green buildings in the country. Together with the teaching and research laboratory next door, the building and landscape provide an exceptional educational environment.

The Lewis Center exemplifies our teaching philosophy, which recognizes that real world experience and practical engagement complement traditional coursework. We encourage students to use their creativity and initiative to analyze and address local, regional, and global challenges. In many cases, work begun in the context of classes and independent studies has developed into fellowships, organizations, policy change, and even careers.

Beyond the Lewis Center, the entire college facility and the Oberlin community function as laboratories for environmental problem solving. In fall 2006, for example, Oberlin College became the first of its peer institutions to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Since 2009, Oberlin continues to rank in the top 20 in the Sierra Club’s magazine “coolest schools” in America for eco-literacy and environmental awareness.

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