Environmental Studies

Eric Baack (program director)

The interdisciplinary major in environmental studies is designed to provide students with fundamental resources for understanding the complex and dynamic relations between humans and the natural world. The major integrates perspectives from the social sciences, the natural sciences, and humanities to develop the conceptual and analytic skills required for a balanced approach to environmental issues. Students completing a major in environmental studies also gain depth of knowledge in one specific area of study through a concentration.

Required for a major: Twelve courses in approved environmental studies courses including five core courses, a four or five course concentration in one area, and two or three elective courses from an approved list. Students pursuing the major must choose one of the three options for a concentration listed below. Six of the 12 courses must be at the 200 level or above. No more than three courses counting for another major or minor may be applied to the environmental studies major. Writing requirement completed with ENVS 485.

Core Courses: ENVS 134, 485; PHIL 140, BIO 151, POLS 258.


  1. Environmental Policy: ECON 255; POLS 355; two of SOC 356, PHIL 230, HIST 291, REL 243, PAID 450: Ethics, Energy and Climate Policy, PAID 450: Food and the Environment.
  2. Environmental Science: BIO 256; one of the following: CHEM 151 and 152 or CHEM 201; two courses (8 hours) from a single discipline of which at least 4 hours must be at the 300-level from the following: ENVS 220, 230, 310, 320, 330, 389 (if completed through the Earth and Environment in Italy Semester), BIO 246, 250, 251, 252, 253, 258, 354, 365, CHEM 202, 241, 344, 345.
  3. Individualized: Students develop a proposed course of study for their concentration in consultation with an environmental studies faculty member. This proposal must explain the four courses to be taken for the concentration, how they link together, and the rationale behind the proposal. Such proposals are typically completed during the spring semester of the sophomore year and must be submitted to the Environmental Studies Steering Committee no later than Dec. 1 of the junior year.

Required for a minor: Five courses in approved environmental studies courses including ENVS 134 or BIO 151, PHIL 140 or POLS 258, and ENVS 485. No more than two courses counting for another major or minor may be applied to the environmental studies minor.

In addition to all environmental studies courses serving as electives for the major or minor, courses from other departments approved for use as major or minor electives for environmental studies include:

  • ANTH 101, 102, or ANTH 104 Cultural or Biological Anthropology or Archaeology
  • ANTH 203 Environmental Anthropology
  • ANTH 221/AFRS 221 Anthropology in East Africa: Culture Change Among the Maasai
  • ANTH 301 Experimental Archaeology
  • ANTH 302 Field Methods in Archaeology
  • ART 115 Scandinavian Fine Handcrafts
  • BIO 112 Insects, Humans, and the Environment
  • BIO 140 Introduction to Ecology of the Southwest
  • BIO 149 Introduction to Winter Biology
  • BIO 151 Principles of Biology: Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity
  • BIO 152 Principles of Biology: Molecules, Cells, and Genes
  • BIO 240 Ecology of the Southwest
  • BIO 243 Microbiology
  • BIO 245 Ecology of Ecuador
  • BIO 246 Ornithology
  • BIO 247 Subtropical and Marine Biology
  • BIO 248 Genetics
  • BIO 249 Winter Biology
  • BIO 250 Restoration and Conservation Biology
  • BIO 251 Entomology
  • BIO 252 General Botany
  • BIO 253 Invertebrate Zoology
  • BIO 255 Physiology
  • BIO 256 Biostatistics
  • BIO 258 Vertebrate Natural History
  • BIO 354 Evolutionary Biology
  • BIO 365 General Ecology
  • CHEM 114 The Environment: A Chemical Perspective
  • CHEM 151, 152 General Chemical Principles I & II
  • CHEM 201 Advanced Chemical Principles
  • CHEM 202 Analytical Chemistry
  • CHEM 241 Organic Chemistry I
  • CHEM 344 Instrumental Methods: Spectroscopic Techniques
  • CHEM 345 Instrumental Methods: Separations and Electrochemistry
  • DAN 105 Movements Fundamentals I: Practices of Alignment and Function
  • ECON 255 Environmental Economics
  • ENG 247: Literature and Ecology
  • HIST 291 Environmental History
  • INTS 302 The Challenge of Global Climate Change
  • PAID 450 Food and the Environment
  • PAID 450 Ethics, Energy and Climate Policy
  • PAID 450 Ethics and Technology
  • PAID 450 Green Germany: Advanced Models of Sustainability
  • PAID 450 Here on Earth: Vocation in a Sustainable Global Community
  • PAID 450 Impacts of Mining and Tourism on Indigenous Peoples and the Environment in N. Chile
  • PAID 450 People and Parks: Pastoralism and Conservation in East Africa
  • PHIL 120 Ethics
  • PHIL 140 Environmental Philosophy
  • PHIL 230 Philosophy of Science
  • POLS 258 Environmental Politics and Policy
  • POLS 355 Constitutional Law
  • REL 243 Environmental Ethics
  • SCI 123 Introduction to Meteorology
  • SCI 139 Belize: Impact of Eco-adventure
  • SOC 356 Environmental Sociology

Environmental Studies Courses

ENVS 112 Energy and the Physical World

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab

The unifying theme of energy molds the physical concepts of motion, gravitation, electromagnetism, heat, radiation, and nuclear physics. Solar, wind, nuclear, tidal, hydroelectric, and thermal electric energy conversion processes are also included. This course is intended for the general student with no special background in mathematics or science. (Same as PHYS 112 and SCI 112)

ENVS 130 Environmental Forays

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Nonlab

In this course students will explore the relationship between humans and the physical environment by 1) reading seminal texts that address this relationship, such as "A Sand County Almanac" and "Silent Spring", 2) studying basic ideas and concepts central to environmental studies and, 3) using the prairie-forest border region of Northeast Iowa as a laboratory for investigating how humans interact with the natural world.

ENVS 133 Environmental Conservation

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab

An introduction to conservation of the natural environment. Emphasizing ecological principles, the course covers the history of environmental conservation, the soil, air, and water components of the biosphere, and biological diversity. Laboratory/field trips emphasize the ecology of major habitats of northeastern Iowa and human efforts to solve environmental problems.

ENVS 134 Environmental Geology

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab

Just as the physical environment impacts human activities, so too do our actions influence our surroundings. In this course we will seek to understand geologic processes and the ways in which humans interact with them. We will also explore the unique geology and physical geography of northeast Iowa during labs and field trips.

ENVS 175 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems

  • 2 hours

This course is an applied practicum in geospatial technology that fosters effective use of Geographic Information Systems. Students who successfully complete the course will be able to create, manipulate, and manage geographic data to perform analysis tasks, to visualize geographic data, and to use geographic data analyses to support decision making.

ENVS 215 Environmental Education

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab
  • Prerequisites: Complete one natural world lab course.

An introduction to the theory and practice of environmental education while providing a foundation of basic environmental science content. Emphasis is placed on learning local and regional natural history as well as phenology and basic ecological processes. Students gain skills and learn methods necessary to effectively teach about the natural world. Focus is placed on planning and implementing environmental education programs, inquiry and interdisciplinary approaches, and place-based education. The course will include training for environmental curricula such as Project Wild and Project Wet.

ENVS 220 Environmental Geochemistry

  • 4 hours
  • Prerequisites: ENVS 134 and CHEM 152 or 201

In this course we will focus on chemical reactions in the environment in order to understand the properties and behavior of air, soil and water. We will apply this understanding to environmental issues such as resource extraction, energy production, toxic waste disposal and climate engineering while also exploring the ways in which chemistry can be used as a tool to increase our understanding of environmental processes, both in the present and in Earth's geologic past. Labs include both fieldwork and laboratory analyses. Offered alternate years.

ENVS 230 Earth Systems and the Environment (Italy Semester)

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab

This course focuses on 1) the operation of the biosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere within the context of the Earth system as a whole, 2) how the operation of these systems may change over time and 3) how human activities influence and are influenced by these systems. We will draw on the immense field laboratory of the Italian peninsula to explore Earth system processes from the deep geologic past to the present. Course work will be based primarily on field observations and analysis. Prerequisite: Admission into Earth and Environment in Italy study away program.

ENVS 240 Environmental Issues in the Pacific Northwest

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Human Behavior
  • Prerequisites: PAID 111, 112

This course examines environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest and the policies that are used or proposed to address them. Case studies - on issues such as wilderness, endangered species, mining, hydroelectric dams, water rights, public land management, logging, and outdoor recreation - will be used to better understand the political process in the United States, the role of economics in addressing environmental issues, and the particular challenges in human-nature relations within the intermountain west. The course will be taught at Holden Village, an ecumenical retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. Students who previously have taken one of the Envs 239 courses at Holden Village will not be permitted to enroll in this course.

ENVS 310 Earth: Evolution of a Habitable Planet

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab
  • Prerequisites: ENVS 134.

Among the planets of our solar system, the Earth alone has remained hospitable to life throughout its long history. What processes and feedbacks have consistently maintained conditions on the Earth's surface within the bounds required for survival of life? From the earliest Earth to the modern day, we will explore the intertwined histories of life, atmospheric chemistry, geologic processes, and the climate system. Additional emphasis on the scientific techniques used to reconstruct Earth history. Laboratory includes fieldtrips exploring regional geology.

ENVS 320 Soil Genesis, Morphology and Classification

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab
  • Prerequisites: ENVS 134.

Simply put, life depends on soil. Soils effectively link the physical, biological and chemical environments and the study of soils is paramount to understanding and integrating concepts in archaeology, biology, chemistry, geology, and environmental science. Students will gain a basic understanding of soil formation processes and the relationships between soils and other Earth systems as well as conducting basic field description of soils and interpreting the environmental history recorded in soil profiles. Offered alternate years.

ENVS 330 The Geology of Italy (Italy Semester)

  • 4 hours

Although Italy's geology, like much of the American Midwest, is characterized in large part by limestone bedrock, the landscape and geological history of Italy are unlike anything encountered in the central United States. In this course we will learn techniques for deciphering the sometimes complex geologic history recorded in the rocks of Italy, and will use these techniques to reconstruct events of mountain building, crustal deformation, igneous activity, metamorphism, erosion, extraterrestrial impacts, and climate and environmental change that have shaped the geology and landscape that we see today on the Italian peninsula. Requires admission into Earth and Environment in Italy study away program.

ENVS 485 Seminar

  • 4 hours
  • Prerequisites: BIO 151, ENVS 134, PHIL 140, POLS 258 or consent of instructor

This course will be an interdisciplinary seminar for students completing the environmnental studies major or minor. it will be topical in nature and will combine lecture and seminar approaches to the exploration of environmental issues and policies. Students may complete more than one seminar.

ENVS 490 Senior Project

  • 1, 2, or 4 hours