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Major in Environmental Science (B.A.)


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Because we don’t have a backup planet

The importance of environmental science is made plain every day. The changing climate, polluted air and water, loss of biodiversity, a growing population, and food insecurity are just a few examples of our planet under pressure. It needs protection. At Clark, you’ll explore these and other pressing issues affecting our home — the Earth.

But that’s just the beginning. In addition to understanding, our planet needs action. In the environmental science major, you’ll put your learning into practice by getting out in nature, taking part in research projects, interning at environmental organizations, exploring diverse places and spaces through study abroad, and taking action both on campus and beyond.

Why Study Environmental Science at Clark?

  • Learn from world-class faculty who conduct field exploration, both in New England and on all seven continents, and who address sustainability challenges by analyzing problems and identifying solutions.
  • Examine environmental challenges from all academic perspectives — sciences, social sciences, humanities — and from the perspective of action and change.
  • Align the major with your personal interests by choosing from three broad areas of specialization: environmental science and policyearth system science, and environmental and conservation biology.
  • Gain experience with leading-edge methods of analysis including geospatial informatics, big data analytics, decision methods, and community engagement.
  • Participate in high-impact research in our Lasry Center for Bioscience laboratories, with the Human-Environment Regional Observatory (HERO) Program, and through our world-renowned Graduate School of Geography’s connections with international governments, science organizations, NGOs, and businesses.

The Environmental Science Path

The environmental science major requires the completion of 17 to 18 courses, depending on the track selected. You’ll complete three core courses — Earth System Science, Environmental Science and Policy: Introductory Case Studies, and Introduction to Biology I, each of which provides an overview of one of three areas of focus in environmental science — and choose one area to pursue in-depth. (Learn more below.)

  • Earth system science: Earth system scientists examine the structure and function of the parts of the earth’s lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere, and how these systems interact with one another. This integrated science, which focuses on connections between these earth system components, is at the heart of some of our most pressing physical science and nature-societal issues, including global climate change, water availability, and the loss of biological diversity. The track emphasizes the patterns and processes across the Earth’s surface (both land and ocean), serving as an introduction to earth sciences or geosciences. Intensive field study, satellite remote sensing analysis, geographical information science (GISci), and computer simulation are all tools for understanding, monitoring, and predicting earth system behavior. The ESS track of the environmental science major trains graduates for a wide range of professional endeavors as well as more advanced studies involving physical geography, including landscape ecology, land-atmosphere interactions, hydrology, biogeochemistry, remote sensing, and GISci.
  • Environmental and conservation biology: Environmental biologists explore the ways in which organisms evolve and interact with one another and their environments. Levels of exploration can range from molecular evolution and genomics to ecosystem level function. Conservation biology makes up one component of this field, focusing on the biological knowledge necessary to preserve biodiversity. Because the loss of biodiversity has reached crisis levels, we offer a focused curriculum that lets you bring appropriate biological tools and knowledge to efforts to develop conservation strategies and policies.
  • Environmental engineering: This track is designed for students intending to pursue the 3-2 Program in Engineering. With pressures from population growth, urbanization, industrialization, and associated demands for materials and goods, environmental engineers find ways to anticipate and monitor natural resource shocks and natural disasters, track pollutants and reduce and manage wastes to improve environmental quality and provide clean air and water, develop safe and sustainable built environments and industries. Students will gain a solid foundation in mathematics and sciences with an orientation toward the environment, preparing them to continue with more advanced and focused studies within Columbia University’s engineering school.
  • Environmental science and policy: This track will prepare you to deal with the complexities of environmental issues in a societal context. You’ll gain an in-depth understanding of how human activity impacts the natural environment, along with scientific, social science, and policy perspectives on how these impacts can be managed and mitigated. The track’s strong emphasis on the natural sciences ensures that you will understand the technical, as well as the social, aspects of the world’s most pressing environmental issues.

Skills you will learn include how to:

  • Design a hypothesis, and collect and interpret relevant data
  • Communicate scientific information orally and in writing
  • Work as part of a team

Environmental Science Academic Excellence Award
This award is given to a graduating senior Environmental Science major in recognition of outstanding academic achievement. Awards are given based on academic excellence, commitment to breadth and depth in the field, and involvement in intellectual life outside of the classroom.

Environmental Science Research Excellence Award
This award is given to a graduating senior Environmental Science major who has delivered excellent research within the field of environmental sciences during the course of their undergraduate study. Awards are given based on research excellence, exceptional interest and ability in scientific inquiry, and commitment to pursue scientific research and applications.

Environmental Science Excellence in Practice Award
This award is given to a graduating senior Environmental Science major in recognition of distinguished effort to improve the way humans interact with the environment, natural or built. The recipient will have worked in close concert with an outside organization (e.g. government agency, NGO, etc.) putting her/his academic preparation into practice to address a real-world issue in environmental science.

Special facilities available to you include the Jeanne X. Kasperson Research Library at the George Perkins Marsh Institute, the Guy H. Burnham Map and Aerial Photograph Library, Clark Labs, and earth system science teaching and research laboratories in polar science, forest ecology, and terrestrial ecosystem physiology. Learn more.

During your junior year, you might be accepted into the environmental science honors program. Joining the program means you’ll work closely with a professor to create a thesis on a topic of your choice. Examples of recent honors thesis topics are:

  • Food Security and Sustainability for At-Risk Youth in Main South Neighborhood, Worcester, Mass.
  • Regeneration of Subalpine Spruce-Fir Forests After Spruce Beetle Outbreaks in the Context of a Changed Climate
  • Profiling Pollution at a Combustion Research Center in Holliston, Mass. to Explore Public Health Implications
  • Limiting Leopard Predation on Livestock: Protective Cattle Enclosures as a Strategy for Human-Leopard Conflict Mitigation Around Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Building your foundation

The Clark Experience

We structure our curriculum around Liberal Education and Effective Practice (LEEP), which connects classroom learning with action through world and workplace experiences.

Learn More

Explore the Environmental Science Program