The academic catalog is currently being updated for the 2018-19 year. View the Catalog Archive to access the 2017-18 catalog as well as catalogs from previous years.

Environmental Studies

Laura Peterson (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 including six core courses and a six course concentration area. 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, 250, 485; PHIL 140, BIO 151, POLS 258.

Concentration Areas

Plan I: Environmental Policy: ECON 130, 255; POLS 355, 360; one of POLS 247, 340; one of ENVS 240, 248; PAID 450: Ethics, Energy and Climate Policy, PAID 450: Food and the Environment; POLS 362.

Plan II: Environmental Science: one of the following: CHEM 141, CHEM 151 and 152, or CHEM 201; BIO 152 or MATH 140 (or higher); ENVS 220; ENVS 210 or BIO 256; one of ENVS 225, BIO 250, 251, 252, 253, 258; one of ENVS 320, 330 (The Geology of Italy), BIO 354, 365.

Plan III: Environment, Culture and Society: ANTH 101 or SOC 101; ANTH 203 and HIST 291; SOC 301 or ANTH 210; two courses from ANTH 303, POLS 340, SOC 356, 358, 472 or 475.

Plan IV: Individualized: Students develop a proposed course of study for their concentration in consultation with an environmental studies faculty member. This proposal must explain the six courses to be taken for the concentration, how they link together, and the rationale behind the proposal. This course plan must include two 300 level courses and no more than one 100 level course. 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 an Environmental Studies minor: ENVS 134 or BIO 151; PHIL 140, ENVS 250, POLS 258, and ENVS 485. No more than two courses counting for another major or minor may be applied to the environmental studies minor.

Required for an Environmental Science minor: BIO 151, ENVS 134; CHEM 141 or, CHEM 151 and 152, or CHEM 201; two courses (one must be from ENVS) from ENVS 210, 220, 225, BIO 250, 251, 252, 253, 258; one course from ENVS 320, 330, BIO 354, 365. No more than two courses counting for another major or minor may be applied to the environmental science minor.

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 The Earth System

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab

This course is an introduction to the natural and human-influenced processes that govern the interactions among the components of the Earth system: the solid earth, water, the atmosphere, and life. We will covers topics such as geologic hazards, sedimentary processes, mineral and energy resources, and global climate change, all with an emphasis on the ways in which Earth system processes both impact and are impacted by human activities. Laboratories include field-based investigations of Earth system processes in northeast Iowa.

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 210 Climate Dynamics and Modeling

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Nonlab
  • Prerequisites: MATH 140

This course will explore the earth's climate in the context of earth systems such as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere. A primary focus will be to develop an understanding of the complex dynamical characteristics and feedback mechanisms between these components through the implementation of basic mathematical and statistical modeling methods incorporating salient physical, chemical and biological principles. An understanding of climate variability and sensitivity due to perturbations, either internal (e.g. el Nino and the southern oscillation (ENSO) and greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration) or external (e.g. solar input variability) will be explored. Long-term model projections of the earth's climate response to perturbations or trends (e.g. increasing GHG emissions or land-use practices), and the confidence therein, will be examined.

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 Earth System Biogeochemistry

  • 4 hours
  • Prerequisites: ENVS 134 and CHEM 141, 152 or 201

In this course we will focus on the interacting biological, chemical, and geologic processes that combine to control the properties and behavior of the atmosphere, ocean, and terrestrial environments. Students will apply chemical principles to understand both natural and anthropogenic influences on surface environmental conditions such as nutrient availability, soil and water quality, chemical pollution, ocean chemistry, and global climate. Students will also learn how chemical tracers can be used as tools for understanding environmental processes both now and in the Earth's geologic past. Labs emphasize techniques for chemical analysis and environmental problem solving.

ENVS 225 Earth's Climate: Past, Present, and Future

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab

What are natural and anthropogenic controls on the climate system, how has the Earth's climate varied in the past, and how will the climate system respond to anthropogenic influences? This course includes an introduction to the climate system, an exploration of the Earth's climate history, and a consideration of how the study of past climates informs our understanding of future climate change. Additional emphasis will be placed on the tools used by climate scientists to understand both past and future climate change. Labs include a combination of field exploration of the local geologic record, laboratory analyses, and computer-based data and modeling exercises.

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 and 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 250 Sustainability, Systems and Solutions

  • 4 hours
  • Prerequisites: PHIL 140, POLS 258 and BIO 151 or ENVS 134

This course will draw upon concepts in systems thinking to cultivate skills for sustainability and problem solving. Through applied case studies grounded in NE Iowa, students will analyze and practice the ways that communities can work to create more sustainable solutions and systems. Students will work in teams on key sustainability issues such as water, energy and climate, food systems, and social sustainability in order to hone skills in systems thinking, communication, research, data analysis and information literacy. This course serves as an integrative experience that will build common capacities and skills for students in upper level environmental studies coursework, such as the junior/senior seminar. This course is a prerequisite for ENVS 485.

ENVS 320 Soils, the Earth System, and the Environment

  • 4 hours
  • Fulfills: Natural World—Lab
  • Prerequisites: ENVS 220

Soils form an interface between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and anthrosphere, making them critical to Earth system and environmental processes ranging from plant growth to groundwater recharge to the flux of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Students will gain a basic understanding of soil formation processes and of the relationship between soils and other components of the Earth system, including key biogeochemical cycles (the carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles), the climate system, and hydrologic processes. During labs, students will conduct field description of soils, interpret the environmental history recorded in soil profiles, and design and complete an original research project. 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