College Bulletin 2016-2017 
    Apr 16, 2024  
College Bulletin 2016-2017 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Environmental Studies




ELIZABETH BOLTON (English Literature)*
Cassy Burnett (Administrative Coordinator)


Timothy Burke (History)2

Peter Collings (Physics and Astronomy)*1

Giovanna Di Chiro (Environmental Studies)

Erich Carr Everbach (Engineering)

Christopher R. Graves (Chemistry and Biochemistry)

Eric Jensen (Physics and Astronomy)3

José-Luis Machado (Biology)

Arthur Mcgarity (Engineering)*

Rachel Merz (Biology)

Carol Nackenoff (Political Science)

Jennifer Peck (Economics and Environmental Studies)1

Christine Schuetze (Anthropology)

Mark Wallace (Religion)

1 Absent on leave, fall 2016
2 Absent on leave, spring 2017
3 Absent on leave, 2016-2017
*Member, 2015-2016 Tri-College Environmental Studies Steering Committee.

Profound anthropogenic changes are occurring in the land, water, and air around us, and education needs to respond to these changes. Swarthmore’s heritage of social concern compels us to educate students so that they are well informed about vital,current issues and capable of full political participation. The College has a responsibility to provide means for the study of environmental problems and to encourage students to develop their own perspectives on these problems. The interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Program is one way the College meets these responsibilities.

The Environmental studies program offers numerous opportunities for rigorous interdisciplinary work, addressing the scientific, engineering, social, political, economic, literary, and philosophical dimensions of environmental topics. The minor helps guide students to the many academic fields that afford a perspective on environmental problems and enables them to explore questions most compelling to them from the vantage point of various disciplines.

The Swarthmore College Environmental Studies Program cooperates with Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges to offer a tri-college environmental studies interdisciplinary minor, involving departments and faculty from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. The tri-college environmental studies program aims to bring students and faculty together to explore the interactions among earth systems, human societies, and local and global environments.

The Academic Program

An interdisciplinary course minor in environmental studies is available to all students, consisting of an integrated program of an introductory course, four additional courses, and a capstone seminar, taken in addition to a regular major.

The expectation is that minors will take the introductory course, Introduction to Environmental Studies, early in their program and before the senior year. Apart from the introductory course and the capstone seminar, there are three categories of courses: environmental science/technology, environmental social science/humanities, and cognate/interdisciplinary. Lists of courses belonging to each of these categories appear in the course catalog and the program’s website. Environmental Studies minors are generally expected to take two courses in environmental science/technology (one of which must be a lab science) and two courses in environmental social science/humanities. In consultation with the program coordinator, however, up to two courses toward the minor may be chosen from the list designated cognate and interdisciplinary courses or courses taken at other institutions (domestic and foreign). Students should regularly check the program’s website for additions and changes to course lists; the website will also have links to qualified and available environmental science, social science, arts and humanities courses at Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges.

Any student may request credit in environmental studies for interdisciplinary environmental courses taken at other institutions (domestic and foreign). Application forms for credit evaluations are available on the program’s website. Swarthmore College sponsors environmental study abroad programs in Cape Town, South Africa and Central Europe (Krakow, Poland and Brno, Czech Republic)more information on these programs can be found at

At least two of the four courses selected for the environmental studies minor must be outside the major and, if it exists, a second minor, so that when the introductory course and capstone seminar are added, the College policy requiring at least four courses outside the major or any other minor will be satisfied.

Swarthmore environmental studies students may also apply for the honors minor, which has similar requirements plus an external examination on an approved topic that links together two of the courses and a senior honors study paper that explores the connections between the two courses (see honors section  below).

Swarthmore students must submit their plan of study to the coordinator, usually when they apply for a major, and should inform the coordinator about any changes in their academic programs. Students may petition the Faculty Committee on Environmental Studies to have courses taken at other institutions fulfill some of these requirements. One of the courses may be independent work or a field study (in the U.S. or abroad).

Overview of Curriculum

Introductory Course

Completion of the introductory course, Introduction to Environmental Studies (ENVS 001  ), will normally be required of all minors and should be taken prior to the senior year. This course will be co-taught by one faculty member from a science or engineering field and by one faculty member from the social sciences or humanities. Focusing on one or two case studies, the course will emphasize basic concepts in environmental studies and explore how environmental challenges are best approached by drawing upon the contributions of more than one academic discipline.

Environmental Courses in Specific Disciplines (normally 4)

The minor in environmental studies generally requires at least two courses from specific disciplines in environmental science/technology, one of which must be a lab science, and two courses from specific disciplines in environmental social science/humanities. These courses are offered by the departments that support the program, and they focus on environmental topics using the methods and perspectives of a specific discipline.

Cognate and Interdisciplinary Courses (maximum of 2)

In consultation with the coordinator, up to two courses toward the environmental studies minor may come from the list of cognate and interdisciplinary courses. These courses cover topics and methods that relate significantly to the environment. Interdisciplinary environmental studies courses, including courses taken abroad at other institutions and study abroad programs, may also be included in this category. Such courses are occasionally offered by the Environmental Studies Program, including independent work or a field study (in the United States or abroad) supervised by a member of the committee (ENVS 090).

Capstone Seminar

In addition to the introductory course and four courses, each student pursuing a minor will participate in the capstone seminar in environmental studies, offered as ENVS 091  at Swarthmore during the spring semester of the senior year. The capstone seminar will involve advanced work on one or more issues or problems in environmental studies. Leadership of the capstone seminar rotates among the members of the Faculty Committee on Environmental Studies. The Bryn Mawr and Haverford Environmental Studies Senior Seminar (ENVS 397) also counts in fulfillment of the capstone requirement, but before students consider enrolling in the capstone seminar at another campus, they must consult with the Swarthmore Environmental Studies coordinator and recognize that the senior seminars all require major time commitments apart from scheduled seminar meeting times.

Honors Minor

An honors minor in environmental studies includes an integrated program of the introductory course, four courses, and the capstone seminar. The course requirements are similar to those of the regular Environmental Studies minor  (see above). These six courses are taken in addition to a regular major, and at least four of these courses must be outside the major.

The honors preparation will consist of a combination of two-courses that are related in some way that is suitable for a single honors examination. Both of the courses must be outside the major. The two courses may be selected from a single discipline or from two different, but environmentally related, disciplines. It is also possible for one of the courses to be interdisciplinary. Other two-credit options such as a course with an attachment will not be encouraged, and a two-credit thesis will not be allowed. Student performance in the two designated courses must be at a high enough level to merit honors, as judged by the faculty teaching the courses. Also, approval of the student’s honors application should be obtained from these same faculty since they will be expected to specify prospective honors examiners.

The senior honors study will consist of a small paper that explores the connections between the two courses used for the preparation. This paper will be included with background materials submitted to the honors examiner.

Special Major

Although the Environmental Studies Program does not offer a regularized special major, students who seek a more focused and extensive study of the environment may pursue a self-designed special major drawing on courses across the curriculum. According to College guidelines, a “special major is expected to be integrated in the sense that it specifies a field of learning (not necessarily conventional) or topic or problems for sustained inquiry that crosses departmental boundaries, or it may be treated as a subfield within the normal departmental major.” Special majors consist of at least 10 credits and normally no more than 12 credits, including fulfillment of a comprehensive requirement (such as a thesis, comprehensive examination, or other project approved by the student’s faculty advisers).

Students may apply for an environmental studies special major in either the Course or the Honors program. A special major may either be pursued singly or paired with a second major housed in another department or program. All environmental studies special majors must normally complete ENVS 001 and ENVS 091. Interested students should consult as early as possible with the Program Coordinator and other faculty with related interests.

Given the breadth of courses supported by the Environmental Studies Program, it is normal for students to focus special majors either within a particular division (i.e., Humanities, Social Sciences, or Natural Sciences & Engineering), or around an interdepartmental theme (e.g., Environmental Policy, Food Justice & Sustainability, Land Use Planning). Since even a well-planned environmental studies special major is by nature interdisciplinary, pursuing it alongside a traditional departmental major-potentially exploring the intersection of the two through an independent thesis-may serve as a valuable course of study.

Special Major in Environmental Studies

Students must complete at least 10 credits and normally no more than 12 credits for a special major in ENVS.  Two of those credits will normally be ENVS 001  and ENVS 091  (ENVS 091 to be completed in the senior year). Only two credits may overlap with a student’s other major or minor. Special Majors may apply up to three (3) ENVS-related foreign study credits to their program. With the approval of the ENVS Coordinator, students may elect to write a one-credit thesis (ENVS 092 ) or pursue an independent study as a substitute for regular coursework. The thesis cannot be used to fulfill the requirements of the student’s other major or minor. Students must have adequate disciplinary background on environmental studies to carry out independent study and/or write a thesis.

Honors Program in Environmental Studies

Admission into the Honors Program in Environmental Studies requires successful completion, with a grade of B+ or better, of ENVS 001   plus one course in each of the ENVS subfields (NSE or SSH). 

Special Honors Major

Honors special majors complete four related preparations (constituting at least 8 units of credit).  These may include seminars, course combinations, a course plus attachment, a thesis, etc.  The rubric for relating these preparations has been devised by the student and approved by the ENVS faculty. One of the preparations may be used toward a cognate major or minor if the other departmental requirements have been met.  Honors special majors must either write a thesis examined by examiners from at least two departments or be examined orally by a panel of their four examiners (or both).  

Honors Minor

Students who are completing all other requirements for the minor in Environmental Studies may propose a single honors preparation, consisting of a seminar, a course combination, a course plus an attachment, a thesis, etc.

Off-Campus Study

Swarthmore’s Central European Programs in Brno, Czech Republic and Krakow, Poland

Swarthmore operates closely related environmental study abroad programs in Central Europe hosted by Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic and by the Jagiellonian University and Politechnika Krakowska in Krakow, Poland. Students usually take three environmentally related courses, taught in English, as well as a required language and culture course that includes intensive language instruction in either Czech or Polish. The Brno program, based in Masaryk University’s Department of Environmental Studies, focuses primarily on environmental social sciences and humanities. An internship at one of two environmental NGO’s, supervised by faculty for academic credit, is available at either Hnuti Duha (Czech branch of Friends of the Earth) or the Veronica Sustainability Center. The Krakow program, based in Politechnika Krakowska’s Department of Environmental Engineering, focuses primarily on environmental science and technology. For more information, see the website:

Cape Town South Africa Program on Globalization and the Natural Environment

Swarthmore is a member of a consortium with Macalester and Pomona Colleges that sponsors a junior year environmental study abroad program in collaboration with the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Students from the three consortium schools, as well as those schools under consortium agreements with the three schools, may apply. For more information, see the website:

Environmental Science/Technology Courses

The environmental science/technology category includes courses that emphasize techniques and methodologies of the sciences and engineering and whose subject is central to environmental studies. Therefore, all students will be familiar with a body of scientific knowledge and scientific approaches to environmental problems.

Environmental Social Sciences/Humanities Courses

The environmental social science/humanities category includes courses that are central to environmental studies and focus on values, their social contexts, and their implementation in policies. Thus, all students will have studied the social context in which environmental problems are created and can be solved.