Program in Environmental Studies

Academic Unit

Program Information

The Program in Environmental Studies (ENV) offers a vibrant, multidisciplinary forum for engaging the scientific, political, humanistic, and technological dimensions of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world today. Through the certificate program, students majoring in any discipline may pursue a generalist track in environmental studies, or a more specialized track in the environmental natural sciences and engineering.

Experiential learning is integral to environmental studies at Princeton. Several of the courses offer laboratory and field experiences. Additionally, the program offers many summer domestic and international internships after their freshman, sophomore, and junior years. Funding is also available for students wishing to conduct field research as a component of their independent work during the junior or senior year. Equally important to the life of the program are the colloquia and other events through which students may present their work, work collectively on group projects and interact with leading scientists and policy makers in the field.

The Program in Environmental Studies is part of the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), the interdisciplinary center for environmental research, education, and outreach at Princeton University. PEI is committed to advancing knowledge and developing the next generation of leadership in the environmental field. The institute comprises several major interdisciplinary research centers and educational programs for undergraduate and graduate students.

Admission to the Program

The Program in Environmental Studies is open to all A.B. and B.S.E. students. Students interested in pursuing a certificate are encouraged to register as early as freshman year by completing the ENV Certificate Program Student Profile Form. Students should also meet with the director or the undergraduate administrator as soon as possible to plan a tentative course of study, including requirements for the generalist track or one of the specialist tracks.

Program of Study

Students in the certificate program, whether pursuing the Generalist Track or the Specialist Track, must complete five courses, investigate an environmental topic as an element of their departmental thesis, and participate in the senior year colloquium. Students must receive a grade of C or higher (no Pass/D/Fail) in all courses taken in fulfillment of the requirements for the ENV certificate.

Generalist Track

The Generalist Track is designed for students who want a broad based introduction to environmental issues and who wish to study a wide range of topics in environmental studies from a variety of perspectives (social, political, scientific, etc.).

Students following the Generalist Track must complete the following:

  1. One foundation course: either ENV 200A-F or ENV 201A/B. Students enrolled in ENV 200 will select from one of several precept/lab varieties, the choice of which will fulfill differing distribution requirements (EM, LA, QR, SA, STL, STN). Students are encouraged to take their foundation course as early as possible in their academic careers. Please note the laboratory option is not required for the generalist track.
  2. Four electives spanning the academic divisions of natural science, engineering, social science or humanities. Two of these four courses must be from different academic divisions. Three of the four electives must be taken at the 300-level or higher.

Students interested in focusing their coursework in a specific area of environmental studies may choose to concentrate in the humanities or social sciences. A suggested sequence of courses includes the following:

Environmental Humanities Focus

  1. One core course: either ENV 200A-F or ENV 201A/B
  2. One advanced humanities course: ENV 369/ENG 383: Environmental Imaginings and Global Change; or  HIS 491/ENV 491: The History of Ecology and Environmentalism
  3. Three electives from the Generalist Track list; two of these three courses must be from different academic divisions and should be at the 300-level or higher.

Environmental Social Sciences Focus

  1. One core course: either ENV 200A-F or ENV 201A/B
  2. One advanced social science course: WWS 350/ENV 350: The Environment: Science and Policy
  3. Three electives from the Generalist Track list; two of these three courses must be from different academic divisions and should be at the 300-level or higher.

Students are encouraged to discuss elective choices with the director or undergraduate administrator early in their planning process. Courses that are not designated as ENV electives but have significant environmental content may also be accepted pending approval by the ENV director; this includes courses listed under the specialist track.

Academic Divisions

Humanities electives include courses with environmental relevance from departments such as Art and Archaeology, English, and Philosophy, as well as the School of Architecture.

Social science electives include courses with environmental relevance from departments such as Anthropology, Economics, History, Politics, and the Woodrow Wilson School.

Natural science electives include courses with environmental relevance from departments such as Chemistry, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Geosciences, Molecular Biology, and Physics.

Engineering electives include courses with environmental relevance from departments such as Chemical and Biological Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Courses from each of the four elective areas are identified on the program website.

Specialist Track

Environmental Sciences and Engineering Track

The Environmental Sciences and Engineering Track is intended for students who want to enter the program by building on course material derived from upper-level science and engineering courses in their area of expertise. Such advanced courses will enable students to delve deeply into the scientific and technical dimensions of the most complex and urgent environmental challenges facing humanity. Students will choose among topics, ranging from conservation and biodiversity, to climate change, to food and agriculture, to the global energy system to fresh water. Through the Environmental Sciences and Engineering Track, students will gain an understanding of the human dimension of scientific decision-making and the functioning of institutions that will likely be the key to designing successful innovations and environmental interventions for the future.

Students must complete two foundation courses: one environmental science foundation course and either an environmental humanities or environmental policy course, preferably during their sophomore or junior year:

Environmental Science Foundation Courses
EEB 321: Ecology: Species Interactions, Biodiversity and Society
ENV 302/CEE 302/EEB 302: Practical Models for Environmental Systems
ENV 354/GEO 354: Climate and Weather: Order in the Chaos                   

Humanities Foundation Courses
ENV 369/ENG 383: Environmental Imaginings and Global Change
HIS 491/ENV 491: The History of Ecology and Environmentalism or, What Does it Mean to be Natural?

Policy Foundation Course
WWS 350/ENV 350: The Environment: Science and Policy

In addition, students must complete two environmental science or engineering electives at the 300-level or above. One of the two electives must be a laboratory course. Students are also required to take one policy or humanities elective at the 300-level or above.

Except with the approval of the director or the undergraduate administrator, no more than one of these three elective courses may count toward the student’s departmental concentration or another certificate. In all cases, students are encouraged to meet with the program director or undergraduate administrator in order to choose an appropriate sequence of courses.

Environmental Sciences and Engineering Track electives are identified on the program website.

Program Requirements

Senior Thesis. Students in the program earning a certificate via either the Generalist or Specicalist Tracks are expected to examine an environmental issue as a component of their senior thesis. The topic must be approved by both the director as well as the departmental representative in the student's concentration. The environmental content of the senior thesis will be reviewed as part of the senior thesis colloquium (see below). Students who find it difficult to incorporate an environmental topic into their departmental senior thesis should meet with the director of the ENV program to find a suitable alternative as early as possible in their senior year.

Senior Colloquium. All ENV students pursuing the certificate are required to participate in a faculty-led colloquium during their senior year. The senior colloquium involves a series of gatherings over the course of the academic year that offers students a unique and important forum for discussing outcomes of their independent work and exchanging perspectives on global environmental issues. One of the most important aspects of the senior colloquium is the interdisciplinary dialogue facilitated by the participation of students and faculty members from a wide range of academic departments. The culmination of the senior colloquium in the spring is PEI's Discovery Day, a poster presentation that allows students to share the final outcomes of their thesis research with fellow students, faculty, and staff.

Scholar's Forum. Students in the program will also have the opportunity to participate in a self-governed Scholar's Forum, in which they interact with leading scientists and policy makers who are invited to visit throughout the academic year.

Certificate of Proficiency

Students who meet the requirements of the program receive a certificate of proficiency in environmental studies upon graduation.