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)