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Environmental Studies

NOTE: This page contains information from the 2012-2013 Catalog. It remains available for archival purposes only. For the most current WC Catalog content, please visit http://catalog.washcoll.edu and download this year’s edition.
Interdisciplinary Major


The enormity and complexity of environmental decisions facing humanity as we near the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century is staggering. No discipline by itself, nor in consort with a closely related discipline, can fully prepare students to make the sound environmental decisions they assuredly will have to make in the future. Adequate preparation for such decision making is best found within the context of a liberal education—an education that is equally balanced among the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. The environmental studies major at Washington College has this breadth of perspective as its foundation. Whether the issues be regional or global in perspective—i.e., revival of a depleted fishery, the fate of toxics, land use management in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, world population concerns, loss of biodiversity, climatic changes due to changing industrial and agricultural practices—all of these issues have economic, ethical, historical, scientific, and sociological perspectives that must be examined before solutions to them can be formulated.

It is appropriate, then, that the environmental studies major at Washington College takes a multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. Students engage in a coherent course of studies ranging from marine and estuarine biology to environmental economics to the nature writers of American literature. The major in environmental studies is designed to educate students from a wide diversity of backgrounds and interests about the nature and complexity of environmental issues they will have to address as educated citizens. The major will provide students with a rigorous program addressing a wide spectrum of environmental concerns from a variety of perspectives. Worldwide awareness of environmental issues has evolved beyond concerns over specific issues such as pollution and the ozone layer, the fate of tropical rain forests, or wildlife conservation. Environmental studies now encompass theories of global environmental change, how the change influences the quality of life, and our relationship to the world around us.

Washington College is located between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic beaches—a unique location for environmental studies. In a predominantly rural area projecting rapid growth over the next decade, Washington College students can use the Chesapeake Bay region—its farms and waterways, its history and culture, its people and their environmental concerns—as a learning laboratory. The Chester River is at Washington College’s back door, and several environmental research facilities are located nearby.

Students are encouraged to participate in internships and summer research programs and complete a minor in an allied field of study. It is recommended that majors take a course that introduces them to the techniques and applications of Geographical Information Systems. The senior capstone experience (SCE) in environmental studies can be fulfilled by either doing a research paper or a laboratory investigation. With either selection, the Senior Capstone Experience should be interdisciplinary in nature.

Advanced Placement credit will be given for ENV 101 provided a score of 5 is attained on the Environmental Science AP exam. However, it is strongly suggested that students in this category audit this course.

Required Course Work

All of the following:

  • ENV 101. Introduction to Environmental Studies (to be completed by the end of the sophomore year)
  • BIO 104 Ecology of the Chesapeake Bay or BIO 206 Ecology
  • CHE/ENV 110. Chemistry of the Environment or CHE/ENV 210 Environmental Chemistry
  • PHY/ENV 140. Exploring the Solid Earth or PHY 141/ENV Atmosphere, Ocean and Environment or PHY 340 Earth and Planetary Systems Studies
  • MAT 109. Statistics
  • ECN/ENV 117. Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
  • PHL 303. Environmental Ethics
  • TWO upper level ENV courses chosen from the following:
  • ENV/BIO 221. The Bermuda Environment (summer course)
  • ENV 222. Summer Environmental Studies in Ecuador
  • ENV 301. Birds of the Chesapeake Bay
  • ENV 302. Conservation and Wildlife Management
  • ENV 314. Energy and the Environment
  • ENV 294, 394. Special Topics (with approval of the Director)
  • ENV 001, 002. Environmental Studies Seminar

One introductory-level majors sequence in the Natural Sciences combined with the appropriate upper-level course in the same department, as chosen from those courses listed below:

  • BIO 111, 112. General Biology I, II, BIO 206. Ecology
  • CHE 111, 112. General Chemistry I, II, CHE 210. Environmental Chemistry
  • PHY 111, 112. General Physics I, II, PHY 340. Earth and Planetary Systems Studies.

Additional Natural Sciences courses, to be chosen from those listed below, are recommended:

  • BIO 203. Microbiology
  • BIO 211. Plant Biology
  • BIO 303. Parasitology
  • BIO 309. Marine and Estuarine Biology
  • BIO 336. Ichthyology

At least one additional Humanities course, chosen from those listed below, is required:

  • CRS 244. A Humanities Perspective on the Chesapeake (if enrolled in the Chesapeake Semester)
  • ENG 321. Romanticism
  • ENG 361 or 362. Literary Romanticism in the United States I or II
  • ENG 347. American Environmental Writing
  • PHL 310. Philosophy of Science

At least two additional Social Science courses, chosen from those listed below, is required.

  • ANT/ENV 107. Introduction to Environmental Archaeology
  • ANT/ENV 137. Cultures and Environments of the Chesapeake
  • CRS 242. Interdisciplinary Study of an Estuary: Integration and Action (if enrolled in the Chesapeake Semester)
  • ECN 317. Environmental Economics
  • ECN 318. Natural Resource Economics
  • EDU 311. World Geography
  • POL 375. International Political Economy
  • SOC 370. Environmental Sociology

One of the credit-bearing internships or research opportunities, as well as pertinent special topics courses, can substitute for a selection in the Humanities, Natural Sciences, or Social Sciences where appropriate. This decision is based on the approval of the Director of the Program in Environmental Studies.

  • ENV 395. Summer Research
  • ENV 490. Individualized Internships
  • ENV 495, 496. Independent Research

Senior Capstone Experience

Every senior is required to complete a Senior Capstone Experience (SCE) in Environmental Studies. Students will enroll in the four credit SCE course during their final semester, although students must begin work on their SCE during the previous semester. The SCE can take the form of a laboratory or field research project or a monograph. Selection of the nature of the SCE will be based upon discussion with an Environmental Studies faculty member(s), and also will require the approval of the Director of the Environmental Studies Program. The SCE will be graded A (Honors), B C D or Fail. Grading will be based on joint evaluation of the SCE by Environmental Studies faculty.

Experiential learning is at the heart of the environmental studies major. Although not required for the major, internships and research opportunities help students directly apply the insight, theory, and research methodology they learn in class. The College sponsors ten-week summer research projects in the fields of biology, chemistry, environmental studies, psychology, and physics. Internships and research projects outside of the natural sciences are also encouraged. Students of environmental studies have completed internships with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, the Wildfowl Trust of North America in Queenstown, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center near Annapolis, the Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies in Cambridge, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in Annapolis, The Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida and the Washington College Center for Environment and Society. Washington College has established cooperative relationships with the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, the Pickering Creek Environmental Center in Easton, and the Sassafras River Natural Resource Management Area near Kennedyville.

The Program in Environmental Studies regularly conducts summer courses abroad. Students are accompanied on these courses by Washington College faculty. Summer Study in Bermuda is based at the Bermuda Institute of Oceanographic Sciences in St. George. In field trips, lectures, and labs, students study the ecology and history of the island, exploring mangrove swamps, coral reefs and much more. Summer Study in Ecuador, jointly run with the Universidad de San Francisco in Quito, takes participants through a variety of ecosystems, from the Pacific coast and highlands to the rain forests of the Amazon, and to the Galapagos Islands. These trips allow students to relate their coursework to new parts of the world, to meet professionals and students from other countries, and to see a wide variety of ecosystems and related social systems.

Environmental Studies is a growing field. In response to the scientific investigation of the environment and the high level of social concern for the preservation of the environment, professional and academic specializations in the environmental arena have multiplied. All large companies employ environmental attorneys. Private foundations and governmental agencies employ Washington College graduates as environmental educators and land management planners. All of these positions require people with training that is both scientifically sound and steeped in the social, political, ethical, and humanistic dimensions of environmental issues.

Course Descriptions

101. Introduction to Environmental Studies

This course is an introduction to the discipline of environmental studies. A multidisciplinary, international view of human responsibility toward the natural world will be emphasized, focusing on significant contemporary environmental issues. Topics to be covered include environmental literature (both historical and current), economic and ethical environmental concerns, scientific methods of assessment and analysis of environmental problems, and possible solutions to representative environmental problems. The laboratory/recitation section will be utilized for field trips, guest lectures, demonstrations, and discussions. This course is a prerequisite for all upper-level courses entitled environmental studies. The course should be completed by the end of the sophomore year if it is going to be counted toward the major.

107. Introduction to Environmental Archaeology

Exploration of the variety of past human societies and cultures through archaeology, with an emphasis upon the interplay between environment and culture. The course covers a wide time span, from the biological evolution of hominids and the origins of culture to the development of complex civilizations and the more recent historical past. (Also ANT 107)

109. Introduction to Geographic Information Systems

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are used in academia, business, and government to manage large datasets of spatially-linked information and to provide users with powerful analytic tools. Classroom discussions introduce the theories and uses of GIS and focus on the organizational issues that impact the implementation of GIS in our society. Laboratory activities teach the student how to extract and present GIS data in graphical form, and how to construct and augment GIS databases using on-the-ground data gathering, map point-plotting equipment, and auxiliary data bases. (Also ANT 109)

110. Chemistry of the Environment

An introductory course focusing on the chemical dimensions of current environmental problems such as global warming, ozone depletion, water and soil contamination, and non-renewable fuel consumption. Fundamental principles of chemical bonding, equilibrium and kinetics are studied as they arise in connection with each environmental issue. Inter-disciplinary aspects are explored to further understand the multiple dimensions of the problems. Intended for students planning to major outside the sciences. Three hours of lecture and two hours of laboratory each week. (Also CHE 110)

117. Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

Environmental and natural resource economics focuses on the economic sources of environmental problems and natural resource use in a market economy and the evaluation of the alternative policies for dealing with these problems. This analysis extends to the examination of regional issues (local air and water pollution, recycling programs, and fisheries) and global issues (climate change and waste disposal). The course is intended for students not planning to major in economics. (Also ECN 117)

137. Cultures and Environments of the Chesapeake

An examination of prehistoric and historic societies in the Chesapeake Region. Archaeological, historical, and environmental evidence is used to understand cultural development and the relationships between people and their environment. Topics include the arrival of humans in the region, Native American groups, colonial settlement in the Tidewater, and the 19th Century. (Also ANT 137)

140. Exploring the Solid Earth

This course investigates the composition, structure, and dynamics of the solid Earth. The course reviews prominent theories for the origin of matter, the accretion and differentiation of the planets, and the structure of the Earth’s interior. The role of plate tectonics in driving the exchange of matter and energy between Earth systems is a central theme of the course, providing the theoretical context for understanding geological phenomena such as seismic activity, volcanism and mountain building. The course is designed to provide the necessary scientific and intellectual background for understanding a wide range of Earth phenomena, and to give students a greater appreciation for the origin and evolution of their planet. Includes three lecture-hours per week plus lab. (Also PHY 140)

141. Atmosphere, Ocean and Environment

This course examines processes and features that characterize the Earth’s surface. The course focuses on the major Earth systems of land (lithosphere), air (atmosphere), and water (hydrosphere) and explores how these systems evolve and interact through geologic time. Examples include studying global air circulation and its effect on weather, examining links between ocean currents and global climate, and exploring how stream processes help to shape landscape. The role of plate tectonics in driving the exchange of matter and energy between Earth systems is also a central theme. The course is designed to provide the necessary scientific and intellectual background for understanding a wide range of Earth phenomena, and to give students a greater appreciation for their natural environment. Includes three lecture hours per week plus lab. (Also PHY 141) Prerequisite: Physics 140 or Environmental Studies 101

210. Environmental Chemistry

The cycling of natural chemical species and pollutants in the water, soil and air of our earth system is a major component of our complex ecosystem. In this environmental chemistry course, we will develop an understanding of the transport and reactions controlling natural chemical species in our environment, as well as the cycling of pollutants. We will focus primarily on current issues of water, soil and air pollution and will study how scientists are cleaning up currently polluted sites, such as through bioremediation, and then look forward to how society is working towards reducing the movement of pollutants through our environment. In the laboratory portion of the class, we will investigate the water quality of local water bodies, including the Chester River, as well as conduct hands-on experiments related to the environmental issues studied in class. Three hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory each week. Prerequisite: Chemistry 112. (Also CHE 210)

221. The Bermuda Environment

This summer course will investigate the complex ecology of the Bermuda Islands, the impact that human habitation has had on their natural history, and current environmental concerns and means of mitigating those concerns. Major areas of study will include (but not be limited to) coral reef ecology/symbioses, mangrove community ecology and environmental relevance, architectural and military influences during colonization, fisheries practices (past, present and future) and current concerns and problems, and ecotourism and associated environmental impacts.(Also BIO 221) Prerequisite: Environmental Studies 101, or Biology 111-112, or permission of the instructor.

222. Summer Environmental Studies in Ecuador

This three-week-long summer course, offered in conjunction with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, will investigate many of the worlds most distinctive species of plants, animals that inhabit the richly diverse ecosystems of Ecuador. Students will gain an understanding of Ecuador’s social and economic issues and the challenges it faces as a developing country while attempting to conserve its natural resources. Topics investigated include conservation of the Amazon rain forest and oil exploration, ecotourism, biodiversity concerns, mangrove conservation and the fate of Galapagos tortoises and the Galapagos fisheries. Prerequisite: Environmental Studies 101 or permission of the instructor.

301. Birds of the Chesapeake Bay

This course will emphasize the natural history, ecology, and conservation concerns of the major groups of birds (both residential and migratory) that can be found associated with the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. It will provide students a rigorous overview of the study of birds from ecological and environmental perspectives. Students will be expected to keep a field journal for the duration of most of the semester. There will be weekly mandatory off-campus four-hour Saturday field trips. These field trips will focus on identification, ecology, natural history, the use of mist nets, and banding. Students are expected to provide their own binoculars. Prerequisite: Environmental Studies 101, BIO 111-112.

302. Conservation and Wildlife Management

This course will focus on current conservation concerns of both national and international importance. The course covers such topics as biodiversity and its preservation, ecosystem management and habitat destruction, designing and managing protected areas, values and ethics in conservation, and wildlife management and its many facets. The course will have two to three required scheduled off campus field trips that may occur on a Saturday. Prerequisite: Environmental Studies 101, BIO 111-112.

308. Reconstructing Past Environments

The study of scientific principles and methods in archaeology, with special emphasis upon earth sciences. Environmental reconstruction and site formation processes will be explored, along with methodologies such as remote sensing, geophysical prospecting, soil science, palynology, floral and faunal analysis, and radiometric dating. Pleistocene and post-Pleistocene geomorphology and environmental change in the Chesapeake will be examined, with field trips to local sites and local research projects. (Also ANT 308.) Prerequisite: Anthropology 208, Environmental Studies 101, or permission of instructor.

195, 295, 395, 495. On-campus Research

On-campus courses currently available in this category are offered by the Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Psychology Departments. The course is comprised of a ten-week summer project guided by a faculty member. The student and the faculty mentor develop a research project, supported by a reading list and involving theoretical laboratory or field investigations supervised by the faculty mentor. Participants will produce a final report detailing the findings of their research.

399. Environmental Studies Seminar

This is an interdisciplinary special topics course that extensively examines any number of current environmental issues utilizing both texts and original sources. The course is available to junior and senior Environmental Studies majors only.

190, 290, 390, 490. Internships

A number of these have recently been offered. Students have received academic credit for summer work carried out at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, The Wildfowl Trust of North America, The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and the Joint Cooperative National Marine Fisheries Service/Maryland Department of Natural Resources Laboratory at Oxford, Maryland. Available to declared Environmental Studies majors only. Not open to first-year students. Internships receiving academic credit must first be approved by the Director of the Program.

194, 294, 394, 494. Special Topics

196, 296, 396, 496. Off-campus Research

197, 297, 397, 497. Independent Study

Courses in this category are currently available in most disciplines. The course consists of an individualized research project chosen by the student in consultation with a faculty member. The student will, with the help of the faculty mentor, design a project to be implemented during the course of the semester. The student will conduct an appropriate literature search, carry out the research, and submit a written report by the end of the semester.

001, 002 Environmental Studies Seminar

A two semester weekly non-credit bearing seminar that prepares students for either graduate education, career development, and writing a successful Senior Capstone Experience (SCE). Seminars are led by Environmental Studies faculty and invited guests. Students will present their SCE proposals and findings as part of the seminar. Required of all senior Environmental Studies majors.

SCE, Senior Capstone Experience

Every senior is required to complete a Senior Capstone Experience (SCE). Students will enroll in the 4 credit SCE course during their final semester. The SCE can be in the form of either a monograph or a laboratory or field research experience.