Bi-Co Environmental Studies Major

The Bi-Co Environmental Studies Major combines the strengths of our two liberal arts campuses to create an interdisciplinary program that teaches students to synthesize diverse disciplinary knowledge and approaches, and to communicate effectively across disciplinary boundaries as they engage with environmental issues. In addressing these issues, ENVS students will apply critical thinking and analytical skills within a holistic, systems framework that includes social justice as an essential component.

In addition to in-depth investigation of the theoretical and applied foundations of the study of the environment from all divisions, the ENVS major incorporates praxis community-based learning as well as core courses that examine the theoretical and empirical approaches that the natural sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities bring to local and global environmental questions. In addition, ENVS majors pursue an individually selected area of environmental expertise, in order to gain a depth of knowledge, and to develop a sense of their own agency in addressing what most concerns them. To support these learning goals, the ENVS program will provide opportunities for independent and collaborative research, including co-curricular learning, via local, national and international internships and opportunities to study abroad.

Major Requirements

Students are required to take a minimum of 11 courses in the Environmental Studies major. Six required courses are in the core program, which consists of:

  • ENVS 101 Introduction to Environmental Studies (preferably in the first year)
  • ENVS 201 (Environmental Natural Science) *
  • ENVS 202 (Environmental Social Science) *
  • ENVS 203 (Environmental Humanities) *
  • ENVS 204 (Environmental Studies Praxis) *
  • ENVS 397 Environmental Studies Capstone (during the fall or spring semester of the senior year)

* These 200-level core courses should be taken early in a student’s course of study, preferably several in the second year. They will be offered for the first time in the 2018–2019 academic year.

A wide variety of environmentally themed courses offered by departments across the Bi-Co may serve as ENVS electives, but the five elective courses must fulfill the following requirements:

  • At least three elective courses must articulate a coherent disciplinary or thematic focus that students develop in consultation with their ENVS advisor;
  • A minimum of one course must come from each of two broad divisional groups:
    • Natural sciences, math and engineering
    • Humanities, social sciences, and arts
  • At least two elective courses must be taken at the 300-level or equivalent.

All major programs require the approval of the major advisor. Courses approved for the Environmental Studies Major at Swarthmore can be taken for the Bi-Co ENVS major or substituted for requirements contingent upon the major advisor’s approval.

Courses taken while studying abroad or off-campus may be approved for the ENVS major by the major advisor in consultation with the ENVS department.

Learning Goals

The Bi-Co Environmental Studies major is an interdisciplinary program that teaches students to synthesize diverse disciplinary knowledge and approaches, and to communicate effectively across disciplinary boundaries as they engage with environmental issues. The Environmental Studies major graduate is used to applying diverse modes of data collection and analysis to problem solving for practical ends across a wide array of interconnected social and environmental challenges.

Environmental Studies students will apply critical thinking and analytical skills within a holistic, systems framework that includes the following specific goals:

  • Cultivation of environmental literacies, and the ability to read, analyze, and create products from the environmental social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.
  • Experience with praxis activities in the context of intellectual work, with particular emphasis on experience working with community groups in a social justice community-based, participatory framework.
  • Development and refining of written and oral communication skills for a variety of academic and non-academic audiences.
  • A nuanced understanding of, and the ability to articulate, the role of different divisions of intellectual inquiry in environmental issues.
  • An understanding of the diverse modes of environmental theory, from all divisions, and experience translating complex environmental data into actionable conclusions or revised theory.

ENVS 101: Introduction to Environmental Studies

The course offers a cross-disciplinary introduction to environmental studies. Tracing an arc from historical analysis to practical engagement, distinctive approaches to key categories of environmental inquiry are presented: political ecology, earth science, energy, economics, public health, ecological design, sustainability, public policy, and environmental ethics. Basic concepts, such as thermodynamics, biodiversity, cost-benefit analysis, scale, modernization, enclosure, the commons, and situational ethics, are variously defined and employed within specific explorations of environmental challenges in the modern world. No divisional credit is awarded for this course at Haverford nor does the course satisfy any of the Bryn Mawr approaches to inquiry. 

ENVS 397: Environmental Studies Capstone 

The senior project experience consists of participation in ENVS 397, the one-semester collaborative senior capstone. Under the direction of a faculty instructor, Environmental Studies seniors are expected to actively engage in environmental problem solving. Students bring the perspectives and skills gained from their ENVS focus area and from their preparatory work in the major to collaborate on interdisciplinary projects.

Descriptions of New Courses

  • ENVS 201 (Environmental Natural Science), preferably in the second year.*

This course introduces students to the fundamental principles and practices of environmental natural sciences. Methods such as hypothesis development and testing, data gathering, analysis, and experimental design are employed to study a scientific problem in the context of the environment. Topics may include geomicrobiology, biogeochemistry, ecophysiology and climate science. Hands-on lab work or field experiences are included. Pre-requisite: ENVS 101, Scientific Investigation (SI); Natural Science (NA).

  • ENVS 202 (Environmental Social Science), preferably in the second year.*

The course explores the human/nature nexus from the standpoint of human societies. Students will learn the fundamental tools of the social sciences within an inquiry-based framework. Topics may include environmental politics and policymaking, economic development, spatial planning, environmental and social justice. Pre-requisite: ENVS 101. Note: The new faculty member in Environmental Social Sciences will play a lead role in developing and teaching this course. 

  • ENVS 203 (Environmental Humanities), preferably in the second year.*

Bringing the traditional focus of the humanities–questions of meaning, value, ethics, justice and the politics of knowledge production–into environmental domains calls for a radical reworking of a great deal of what we think we know about ourselves and our fields of inquiry. Inhabiting the difficult space of simultaneous critique and action, this course will re-imagine the proper questions and approaches of the humanities, asking how our accumulated knowledge and practice might be refashioned to meet current environmental challenges, to productively rethink ‘the human’ in more than human terms. In order to resituate the human within the environment, and to resituate nonhumans within cultural and ethical domains, we will draw on a range of texts and films, and engage in a range of critical and creative practices of our own. Pre-requisite: ENVS 101. Critical Interpretation (CI); Cross-Cultural Analysis (CC).

Note: The new faculty member in Environmental Humanities will play a lead role in developing and teaching this course.

  • ENVS 204 (Environmental Studies Praxis), preferably in the second year.*

This course offers a cross-disciplinary introduction to community-based learning. Working with local community groups, students will learn the fundamental skills of praxis work applied to environmental issues within an inquiry-based framework. Pre-requisite ENVS 101.

  • ENVS 275 (Independent Research in Environmental Studies)^

Independent research, scholarship, or Praxis performed under the supervision of an Environmental Studies faculty member. Requires permission of instructor. Open to second and third year students only.

  • ENVS 350 (Advanced Topics in Environmental Studies)^

This course offers an in-depth view of a special topic related to the environment. The topic will change depending on the area of focus of the instructor.

  • ENVS 399 (Environmental Studies Advanced Capstone)^

This course is for students who arrange additional time to continue work on their senior capstone projects in preparation for performance, presentation, or other exhibition. Requires instructor permission. Up to one half credit.

* Course will be offered for the first time in the 2018–2019 academic year

^ To be offered as staffing and student demand permits

Sample Yearly Coursework

This major work plan example illustrates how a student might distribute her ENVS courses. A student who starts their coursework early has abundant opportunity to take additional elective environmental courses beyond the minimum eleven shown in the schedule below. Similarly, a student who begins the ENVS major early could go abroad in the junior year by, taking more of her ENVS electives in the senior year.

Year 1

Introductory course: ENVS 101

Core: ENVS 203 (Humanities)

Year 2

Core: ENVS 201 (Natural Sciences)

Core: ENVS 202 (Social Sciences)

Elective: ENVS Focus (Category A: Natural Sciences/Math/Engineering)

Elective: ENVS Focus (Category B: Social Sciences/Humanities/Arts)

Year 3

Core: ENVS 204 (Praxis)

Elective: ENVS Focus (Category A or B)

Elective: ENVS Focus (Category A or B)

Year 4

Elective: ENVS Focus (Category A or B)

Capstone: ENVS 397

Focus Areas

The possibilities of a Focus Area are many! Focus areas can be organized by a specific perspective on the study of the environment, a particular interdisciplinary focus, or even a geographic region. Each complete ES major consists of the ES core sequence plus five elective courses, of which at least three from the approved course lists would be chosen to comprise a Focus Area. 


Contact Us

Bi-Co Environmental Studies

Chair for AY 2022-23, Bryn Mawr Point of Contact, Bi-Co Environmental Studies
Don Barber, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Geology, on the Harold Alderfer Chair in Environmental Studies, Bryn Mawr College | 610-526-5110

Haverford Point of Contact, Bi-Co Environmental Studies
Jon Wilson, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Haverford College

Temporary contact for Environmental Studies:
Kim O'Connell
Park Science 132