Environmental Studies

Program Description

Many of the greatest challenges currently facing human society concern the strained relation between a resources-intensive global civilization and the ecological systems of the world on which it relies. Environmental Studies is an interdisciplinary field that has emerged in response to these challenges, bringing together natural science, social science, the humanities, and the professions to understand and solve complex environmental problems and conceptualize the workings of communities that are truly environmentally sustainable.

The Environmental Studies Department offers students formal academic programs through which they can engage with environmental issues effectively by integrating skills and knowledge from many different disciplines. The major in Environmental Studies consists of a core sequence of required interdisciplinary courses coupled to one of four concentrations, allowing each student to pursue the aspect of environmental studies of most interest to her. The concentration areas are:

  • Environmental STEM;
  • Global Environmental Policy;
  • Nature, Culture, Arts; and
  • Spirituality, Justice, Ethics.

The minor in Environmental Studies is a flexible program that offers students the opportunity to integrate their environmental interests with work in another major field through independent, hands-on projects as well as through regular coursework.

Study Abroad

Saint Mary’s has a long history of providing quality international programs as an essential part of our educational mission—forming women leaders who will make a difference in the world. As this world becomes increasingly interdependent, the College offers an expanding range of semester, year, semester break, and summer study and service programs in a wide variety of countries, and encourages students to take advantage of them. Learn more about the various Study Abroad opportunities.

Department Chair

Cassie Majetic
252 Science Hall
574-284-4676

Student Learning Outcomes

A student majoring in Environmental Studies will:

  • Understand and analyze the processes and principles of natural phenomena and the human actions underlying environmental challenges.
  • Identify and analyze connections between the natural environment and social justice concerns due to the unequal impact of environmental challenges on groups, for example, as distinguished by genus, race, ethnicity, gender, class, culture, sexuality, or geography.
  • Articulate the historical forces shaping cultural conceptions of nature.
  • Understand the interplay between local and global scales of sustainability within natural and human systems.
  • Integrate knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines to evaluate environmental challenges and potential solutions.
  • Develop community, management, and leadership skills necessary for advocacy on environmental challenges.

A student minoring in Environmental Studies will:

  • Understand and analyze the processes and principles of natural phenomena and the human actions underlying environmental challenges.
  • Identify and analyze connections between the natural environment and social justice concerns due to the unequal impact of environmental challenges on groups, for example, as distinguished by genus, race, ethnicity, gender, class, culture, sexuality, or geography.
  • Articulate the historical forces shaping cultural conceptions of nature.
  • Understand the interplay between local and global scales of sustainability within natural and human systems.

Environmental Studies Courses

ENVS 101  Sustainable Living  (1)  

A practical course that offers an introduction to making sustainable life choices. Topics considered may include food, gardening, electronics, recycling, transportation, renewable energy, home energy efficiency, community-building, spirituality, and more.

ENVS 102  Outdoor Living  (1)  

Outdoor Living, a one-credit elective course, is an opportunity for all of us (including the instructors!) to expand our capabilities in outdoor activities, and to expand our capacity to integrate the outdoors into our daily lives. We will learn a variety of outdoor skills and experiment with a variety of ways to be outdoors, including both active and contemplative approaches. No matter what your skill or experience level with being outdoors, you should expect to expand your horizons in a safe and supportive environment in this class. There are three pillars to this course: ● The Ten Essentials, which give us guidance on how to be safe outside. ● The Leave No Trace Principles, which teach us how to respect the places we go and the plants, animals, soil, air, water, and people there. ● The Outdoors Is For Everyone, which reminds us to be mindful of who has historically been able to be outdoors and who has been excluded from the outdoors, and which prompts us to take actions to make outdoor spaces a place for everyone.S/U grading

ENVS 161  Introduction to Environmental Studies  (3)  

An interdisciplinary course on the systemic interaction of human beings with their environments. It identifies interests informing environmental decisions and introduces practices of environmental advocacy.

ENVS 171  Introduction to Environmental Science  (3)  

An interdisciplinary course that investigates the study of our environment from a scientific perspective. We will focus on principles of the nature of science, matter, energy, water, and life in terms of biology, chemistry, and geology.

ENVS 190  Special Topics  (1-3)  

The presentation of selected subjects of special relevance not included in regular departmental offerings. Prerequisites and attributes associated with major/minor concentrations established by the instructor and will vary by course topic. May be repeated with a different topic.

ENVS 203  Sustainability at Saint Mary’s College and in the Holy Cross Charism  (2)  

This course will address sustainability in the context of the local academic community and its institutions. In light of the recent papal encyclical, Laudato si, On Care for Our Common Home, this course will provide students an opportunity to explore in an interdisciplinary way the challenges of sustainability and develop collaborative strategies for making our common campus homes more sustainable. This course will be offered concurrently at ND, SMC, and HCC, and will be co-taught by faculty from all three campuses. It will meet in rotation on each of the three campuses once per week for two hours. Students will be invited to examine the course materials in conversation with the mission of the Congregation of Holy Cross through immersion at each of the campuses and encounters with the sisters, brothers, and priests of Holy Cross and with sustainability professionals.

ENVS 213  Cultural Sust and Spirituality  (3)  

This course situates the learning within the field of cultural and spiritual sustainability and blends diverse concepts emerging from folklore, sociology, geology, and anthropology. To better understand this work, we will explore ways in which spirituality is embedded within a community’s worldview and understand how recognition of these connections enhances sustainability efforts while promoting community engagement. We will consider Iceland and learn how her cultural and spiritual values work towards environmental solutions providing sustainable solutions through the harnessing of water, wind, and geothermal energy. Finally, as is with all Study Abroad experiences, we will go deeper in our understanding of the importance of learning beyond our borders as we interact with Icelanders and with other travelers.

ENVS 217  Environmental Policy  (3)  

This course introduces the processes by which policy is made at local, state, national, and international levels of government with attention to the special challenges of creating sound environmental policy. It examines the strengths and weaknesses of policies currently in place and prepares students to intervene constructively in the formation of environmental policy.

ENVS 232  The Shape of the City  (3)  

The course covers topics in the design and planning of the American metropolis – towns, cities, and suburbs. The fundamentals of urban design are explored at varied scales and within varied contexts of the built environment – from the individual building to the city block to the neighborhood to the community and larger region – in order to establish the basic principles of livable community design and planning. This course surveys the history of urban form and the socioeconomic, cultural, historical, and environmental forces that have shaped the city. Topics include public architecture and art, landscape architecture, open space and parks, multi-modal transportation, community health and safety, land use policy and regulations, real estate, and the impact of climate change. The process of urban design is explored including the role of multiple stakeholders - government, private sector, non-profit organizations, schools, neighborhoods, and the public. The neighborhood as human ecosystem is featured as a fundamental building block of cities and regions. Through the completion of a series of projects, students develop an understanding of urban design principles through engagement with a real-life neighborhood in the South Bend area. Sustainable design including connectivity, density, green infrastructure, and health receives special emphasis.

ENVS 235  Give Me Shelter  (3)  

This course surveys the design of human shelter, the house, and housing in history with particular focus on the influence of the environment on housing and, vice versa, the influence of housing on the environment. The house is explored from multiple perspectives – as an artifact of art and design, a home, human ecosystem, commodity, value statement, and a basic human right. Housing types, patterns, and designs throughout history and global geography are presented as are factors – climate, construction technology, materials, codes, socio-cultural, public policy, and economics - that shape housing. Various typologies of housing in North America will be examined from single-family dwelling to multifamily combinations. Special emphasis is placed on design and construction of housing for environmental sustainability. Through examination of case studies, field trips, and a house design project of their own, students are asked to reflect on their own experience of house and home and the changing nature of housing needs that come as one passes through life’s generational stages. Students will learn how issues of race or ethnicity, age, class, family status, geography, and other characteristics affect availability of housing in urban America. Housing affordability and access is presented as an essential tenet of environmental sustainability.

ENVS 290  Special Topics  (3)  

The presentation of selected subjects of special relevance not included in regular departmental offerings. Prerequisites and attributes associated with major/minor concentrations established by the instructor and will vary by course topic. May be repeated with a different topic.

ENVS 321  Women, Leadership, and the Environment  (3)  

The course explores significant women who changed the way we design, plan, think about, and live in cities. Drawing upon the experience of women from a diverse set of socioeconomic, ethnic, professional, and personal backgrounds, this course features the unique contributions of each to shaping our cities through design and planning for environmental sustainability - from the individual building to the city block to the neighborhood to the community and larger region. Special emphasis is placed on the leadership qualities and competencies each woman possessed that led to their positive impact on the quality of life in our cities. Saint Mary’s College alumnae who are leaders in design, environmental sustainability, and cities will also be featured. The course examines key leadership concepts and how successful women have navigated power and authority, applied knowledge and experience, and met challenges. The course validates the role of women leaders in design and the environment as essential for solving major challenges of climate change, environmental justice, and livable communities.

ENVS 331  Human Ecology and Spirituality  (3)  

An examination of the relationship of spirituality and ecology within several religious traditions. Particular attention is given to Christianity so that we may study at least one tradition in some depth. The course considers both how human spiritual experience is shaped by its context within particular ecosystems and how religious traditions shape humans’ relation to the biosphere. Prerequisite: RLST 101. ENVS 161 or ENVS 171 highly recommended.

ENVS 385  Interdisciplinary Environmental Research  (3)  

This course provides an introduction to a suite of important methods of analysis in environmental studies. Within a framework of interdisciplinary problem solving, students will learn to define questions for investigation, and they will gain experience using quantitative, qualitative, and textual research tools to address environmental issues. We will discuss the ethics and politics of research and strategies for using environmental research to support environmental advocacy and action. Prerequisite: ENVS 161, ENVS 171.

ENVS 386  Current Issues in Environmental Studies  (1)  

This reading seminar surveys recent articles in the scholarly and popular presses on significant current environmental issues. Weekly readings for discussion are selected by faculty and by students. Discussions will analyze the methods and the rhetoric used in the articles in addition to examining the implications of the issues addressed and how interdisciplinary problem solving could be applied to each issue. Prerequisite: ENVS 161, ENVS 171.

ENVS 390  Special Topics  (1-3)  

The presentation of selected subjects of special relevance not included in regular departmental offerings. Prerequisites and attributes associated with major/minor concentrations established by the instructor and will vary by course topic. May be repeated with a different topic.

ENVS 395  Environmental Studies Capstone Seminar  (1)  

This capstone experience allows students to develop projects centered on a particular environmental issue of interest to the group. Prerequisite: Junior standing, ENVS 161, ENVS 171, and an additional course approved for the ENVS minor (may be taken concurrently).

ENVS 399  Internship  (1-3)  
ENVS 490  Special Topics  (1-3)  

The presentation of selected subjects of special relevance not included in regular departmental offerings. Prerequisites and attributes associated with major/minor concentrations established by the instructor and will vary by course topic. May be repeated with a different topic.

ENVS 495  Comprehensive Project Seminar  (3)  

A collaborative research seminar that provides structure for students’ work on their comprehensive projects for Environmental Studies. Prerequisite: ENVS 385 and ENVS 386.

ENVS 497  Independent Study  (1-3)  

May be repeated.

ENVS 499  Internship  (1-3)  

May be repeated.

Four Year Plans for Environmental Studies Programs

The following are sample four-year pathways for the various concentrations in Environmental Studies


Environmental Studies, Environmental STEM Concentration, Sample Four-Year Path for Applied Math Track

The Environmental STEM Concentration in the Environmental Studies major is a large major program that provides students with a strong grounding in the natural sciences. Students majoring in Environmental STEM at Saint Mary’s who are also majoring in Engineering at Notre Dame follow an Earth and Water science track in the Environmental STEM major. Students pursuing a dual degree in Engineering and Environmental STEM should build their path by consulting directly with both programs, rather than relying on a sample four-year path.) Other students majoring in Environmental STEM follow the Applied Math track, described here. This track gives students expertise in mathematical analysis of environmental problems. Like other programs in natural science and mathematics, many of its courses require a sequence of prerequisites for which careful planning is required.

All ENVS major concentrations share the same core. The core begins with three foundation courses, ENVS 161, ENVS 171, and ENVS 217. These courses can be taken in any order, as long as they are completed by the fall semester of the Junior year, as they are prerequisites for ENVS 385, which students majoring in Environmental Studies generally complete in the spring of the Junior year as the prerequisite for ENVS 495, the Comprehensive Project Seminar, which is taken in the fall of the Senior year.

The Environmental STEM concentration includes 7 courses in addition to the ENVS core: three distributional electives in environmental science & ethics and four area courses in Applied Math or Earth and Water Science. For the Applied Math Track, there are also eight required supporting courses in Chemistry, Physics, and Math. Because this is a highly sequenced, credit-heavy major, it is not a highly flexible program: including a semester-long study-abroad experience will require careful planning. Please note that this is only a sample four-year path.

Students should contact Dr. Cassie Majetic, Chair of Environmental Studies, for individualized advising in the major. 

Plan of Study Grid
First Year
First SemesterCredits
Sophia Language I (4cr)
Sophia W (4cr)
SPLL 101 (1 cr)
MATH 131 Calculus I (LO1 requirement in Mathematical Arts. Students who have begun calculus in high-school may qualify to take MATH 133 in place of MATH 131 and 132. ) 4
CHEM 121 Principles of Chemistry I (LO1 Natural Science (lab) requirement and is a CTS) 4
 Credits8
Second Semester
Sophia Language II (4cr)
Sophia (3cr)
CHEM 122 Principles of Chemistry II 4
MATH 132 Calculus II 4
ENVS 161 Introduction to Environmental Studies (LO1 requirement in Historical Perspectives. It also fulfills Sophia LO3 requirements in Social Responsibility and Global Learning. This course is offered every semester.) 3
 Credits11
Second Year
First Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 217 Environmental Policy (LO1 requirement in Social Science I. This course is offered in fall semesters.) 3
PHYS 121 General Physics I: Mechanics and Waves 4
MATH 231 Calculus III 4
 Credits11
Second Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 171 Introduction to Environmental Science (LO1 requirement in Natural Science, no lab. This course is offered in spring semesters.) 3
PHYS 122 General Physics II: Temperature, Electricity, and Light 4
MATH 326 Linear Algebra and Differential Equations 4
MATH 345 Probability (offered spring semesters) 3
 Credits14
Third Year
First Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 386 Current Issues in Environmental Studies 1
MATH 335 (3 cr) or MATH 336 in jr. spring 3
BIO 316
Conservation Biology
or Ecology
4
MATH 346 Statistics (offered fall semesters) 3
PHIL 256 Environmental Ethics 3
 Credits14
Second Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 385 Interdisciplinary Environmental Research 3
MATH 336 (3 cr) or MATH 335 in jr. fall 3
Sophia (3cr)
 Credits6
Fourth Year
First Semester
ENVS 495 Comprehensive Project Seminar 3
Sophia (3cr)
 Credits3
Second Semester
MATH 381 Mathematical Modeling 3
 Credits3
 Total Credits70

Environmental Studies, Nature Culture Arts Concentration, Sample Four Year Plan 

The Nature Culture Arts Concentration in the Environmental Studies major has significant flexibility.

All ENVS major concentrations share the same core. The core begins with three foundation courses, ENVS 161, ENVS 171, and ENVS 217. These courses can be taken in any order, as long as they are completed by the fall semester of the Junior year, as they are prerequisites for ENVS 385, which students majoring in Environmental Studies generally complete in the spring of the Junior year as the prerequisite for ENVS 495, the Comprehensive Project Seminar, which is taken in the fall of the Senior year.

The Nature Culture Arts Concentration includes 7 courses in addition to the ENVS core: two distributional electives in “Environment and Society” and STEM, four “Explorations” courses and a Theoretical Applications course.  A wide range of courses fulfill these concentration requirements, and they do not need to be taken in a particular order. The slots for these courses in the table below are all listed as “NCA Concentration Course.” This sample four-year path suggests generally taking one NCA concentration course per semester beginning in the Sophomore year, but the pace can be varied to accommodate study abroad or work in a second major. A semester-long study abroad program is highly compatible with the Nature Culture Arts concentration, but some advance planning is needed.

Please note that this is only a sample four-year path. Students should contact Dr. Cassie Majetic, Chair of Environmental Studies, for individualized advising in the major. 

Plan of Study Grid
First Year
First SemesterCredits
Sophia Language I (4cr)
CTS or W (3cr/4cr)
SPLL 101 (1 cr)
ENVS 161 Introduction to Environmental Studies (LO1 requirement in Historical Perspectives. It also fulfills Sophia LO3 requirements in Social Responsibility and Global Learning. This course is offered every semester.) 3
Elective (1-3cr)
 Credits3
Second Semester
Sophia Language II (4cr)
CTS or W (3cr/4cr)
Sophia (3cr)
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 171 Introduction to Environmental Science (LO1 requirement in Natural Science, no lab. This course is offered in spring semesters.) 3
 Credits3
Second Year
First Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 217 Environmental Policy (LO1 Social Science I requirement. It also fulfills the Sophia LO3 requirement in Social Responsibility. This course is offered in fall semesters.) 3
NCA Concentration Course - Some NCA Concentration courses fulfill other Sophia LO1, LO2, and LO3 requirements. 3
 Credits6
Second Semester
Sophia (3cr)
Sophia (3cr)
NCA Concentration Course 3
ENVS 321 Women, Leadership, and the Environment (LO1: Historical Perspectives and LO3: Social Responsibility A and LO2: Women's Voices) 3
 Credits6
Third Year
First Semester
Sophia (4cr)
ENVS 386 Current Issues in Environmental Studies 1
NCA Concentration Course 3
NCA Concentration Course 3
 Credits7
Second Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 385 Interdisciplinary Environmental Research 3
NCA Concentration Course 3
 Credits6
Fourth Year
First Semester
ENVS 495 Comprehensive Project Seminar 3
NCA Concentration Course 3
 Credits6
Second Semester
NCA Concentration Course 3
 Credits3
 Total Credits40

Environmental Studies, Global Environmental Policy Concentration, Sample Four-Year Path

The Global Environmental Policy Concentration in the Environmental Studies major is very flexible during the first two years, but careful planning for advanced courses during the Junior and Senior years is important.

All ENVS major concentrations share the same core. The core begins with three foundation courses, ENVS 161, ENVS 171, and ENVS 217. These courses can be taken in any order, as long as they are completed by the fall semester of the Junior year, as they are prerequisites for ENVS 385, which students majoring in Environmental Studies generally complete in the spring of the Junior year as the prerequisite for ENVS 495, the Comprehensive Project Seminar, which is taken in the fall of the Senior year.

The Global Environmental Policy concentration includes 7 courses in addition to the ENVS core: two distributional electives in Arts/Humanities and STEM, 2 introductory courses (ECON 252, and a course in Society and Environment), and 3 advanced courses. (MATH 114 is also a required supporting course.) This sample four-year path suggests generally taking one or two concentration courses per semester beginning in the Sophomore year, but the pace can be varied to accommodate study abroad or work in a second major. A semester-long study abroad program is highly compatible with the Global Environmental Policy concentration, but some advance planning is needed.

Please note that this is only a sample four-year path. Students should contact Dr. Cassie Majetic, Chair of Environmental Studies, for individualized advising in the major. 

Plan of Study Grid
First Year
First SemesterCredits
Sophia Language I (4cr)
CTS or W (3cr/4cr)
SPLL 101 (1 cr)
ENVS 161 Introduction to Environmental Studies (LO1 requirement in Historical Perspectives. It also fulfills Sophia LO3 requirements in Social Responsibility and Global Learning. This course is offered every semester.) 3
Elective (1-3cr)
 Credits3
Second Semester
Sophia Language II (4cr)
CTS or W (3cr/4cr)
Sophia (3cr)
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 171 Introduction to Environmental Science (LO1 requirement in Natural Science, no lab. This course is offered in spring semesters.) 3
 Credits3
Second Year
First Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 217 Environmental Policy (LO1 Social Science I requirement. It also fulfills the Sophia LO3 requirement in Social Responsibility. This course is offered in fall semesters.) 3
Concentration Intro Course – ECON 252 or Society & Env Elective – or MATH 114 3
 Credits6
Second Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 321 Women, Leadership, and the Environment (LO1: Historical Perspectives and LO3: Social Responsibility A and LO2: Women's Voices) 3
Concentration Intro Course – ECON 252 or Society & Env Elective – or MATH 114 3
 Credits6
Third Year
First Semester
Sophia (4cr)
ENVS 386 Current Issues in Environmental Studies 1
Concentration Intro Course – ECON 252 or Society & Env Elective – or MATH 114 (3 cr) 3
Concentration Advanced Course or Distributional Elective 3
 Credits7
Second Semester
ENVS 385 Interdisciplinary Environmental Research 3
Concentration Advanced Course or Distributional Elective 3
Concentration Advanced Course or Distributional Elective 3
 Credits9
Fourth Year
First Semester
ENVS 495 Comprehensive Project Seminar 3
Concentration Advanced Course or Distributional Elective 3
 Credits6
Second Semester
Concentration Advanced Course or Distributional Elective 3
 Credits3
 Total Credits43

Environmental Studies, Spirituality Justice Ethics Concentration, Sample Four-Year Path 

The Spirituality Justice Ethics Concentration in the Environmental Studies major is very flexible during the first two years, but careful planning for advanced courses during the Junior and Senior years is important.

All ENVS major concentrations share the same core. This core begins with three foundation courses, ENVS 161, ENVS 171, and ENVS 217. These courses can be taken in any order, as long as they are completed by the fall semester of the Junior year, as they are prerequisites for ENVS 385, which students majoring in Environmental Studies generally complete in the spring of the Junior year as the prerequisite for ENVS 495, the Comprehensive Project Seminar, which is taken in the fall of the Senior year.

The Spirituality Justice Ethics concentration includes 7 courses in addition to the ENVS core: two distributional electives in Arts/Culture and STEM; 3 foundation courses in Spirituality (RLST 240 or 251), Justice (JUST 250, GWS 240, or PHIL 254), and Ethics (PHIL 256); and 2 advanced courses. This sample four-year path suggests generally taking one or two concentration courses per semester beginning in the Sophomore year, but the pace can be varied to accommodate study abroad or work in a second major. A semester-long study abroad program is highly compatible with the Spirituality Justice Ethics concentration, but some advance planning is needed.

Please note that this is only a sample four-year path. Students should contact Dr. Cassie Majetic, Chair of Environmental Studies, for individualized advising in the major. 

Plan of Study Grid
First Year
First SemesterCredits
Sophia Language I (4cr)
CTS or W (3cr/4cr)
SPLL 101 (1 cr)
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 161 Introduction to Environmental Studies (LO1 requirement in Historical Perspectives. It also fulfills Sophia LO3 requirements in Social Responsibility and Global Learning. This course is offered every semester.) 3
Elective (1-3cr)
 Credits3
Second Semester
Sophia Language II (4cr)
CTS or W (3cr/4cr)
Sophia (3cr)
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 171 Introduction to Environmental Science (LO1 requirement in Natural Science, no lab. This course is offered in spring semesters.) 3
 Credits3
Second Year
First Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 217 Environmental Policy (LO1 Social Science I requirement. It also fulfills the Sophia LO3 requirement in Social Responsibility. This course is offered in fall semesters.) 3
Concentration Foundation Course. The spirituality foundation course (RLST 240 or 251) fulfills the Sophia LO1 RLST 2 requirement. 3
Concentration Distributional Elective (fall or spring) 3
 Credits9
Second Semester
Sophia (3cr)
ENVS 321 Women, Leadership, and the Environment (LO1: Historical Perspectives and LO3: Social Responsibility A and LO2: Women's Voices) 3
Concentration Foundation Course 3
 Credits6
Third Year
First Semester
Sophia (4cr)
ENVS 386 Current Issues in Environmental Studies 1
Concentration Foundation Course 3
Concentration Distributional Elective 3
 Credits7
Second Semester
ENVS 385 Interdisciplinary Environmental Research 3
Concentration Advanced Course 3
 Credits6
Fourth Year
First Semester
ENVS 495 Comprehensive Project Seminar 3
 Credits3
Second Semester
Concentration Advanced Course 3
 Credits3
 Total Credits40