Environmental Studies and Sustainability

Environmental studies and sustainability is an interdisciplinary field that attempts to understand and address the diverse environmental changes in our world and work to create a positive change.

In the past 150 years, our society has developed new technologies leading to longer life spans, increased communication capacities, and increased yields in agriculture. Unfortunately, the effects of these advances continue to be countered by the depletion of natural resources and changes in nutrient cycling, biological diversity, atmospheric composition, and climate.

The goal of the environmental studies and sustainability curriculum is to prepare students for a career in a diverse spectrum of environmental employment positions ranging from research scientist to writer to educator to political lobbyist, while developing a conscientious concern for the world in which we live.

The major is strongly interdisciplinary, requiring a core of science courses but encouraging exploration of the arts, political science, economics, education, writing, and other fields.

Major and Minor: Environmental Studies and Sustainability
Related Major and Minor: Biology
Academic Catalogue

Enviromental Studies students collect data in the Arboretum.


Three chief factors make this major a standout: an award-winning arboretum, one-on-one research with faculty, and a course of study that breaks free of conventional departmental boundaries. Half of the campus footprint, the Wesleyan Arboretum is a living laboratory for outdoor education and ecological research, but it’s also a place for recreation, creative inspiration, and personal renewal. Student researchers work closely with the faculty on environmentally relevant projects. Recent projects investigated lead (Pb) concentrations in turtle bones, water samples from central Georgia, and the role of the arboretum in storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Outside the Classroom

Learning is more than just a classroom phenomenon at Wesleyan. Students in the environmental studies major and environmental science minor gain research and environmental education experience through the college internship program, independent research conducted with faculty, or study abroad opportunities or study abroad opportunities in Belize and Costa Rica. The 104-acre Wesleyan College Arboretum offers numerous volunteer and research opportunities, especially in the areas of ecological restoration and outdoor education.

Course Samples

ESC 208: Field Biology.
Students will be introduced to the flora, fauna, and ecosystems of the southeastern United States in this field-intensive course. Emphasis will be on practical aspects of conducting scientific investigation outdoors, namely: taxonomic skills, field identification of plants and animals, use of dichotomous keys, techniques for sampling and describing natural populations and communities, and quantitative skills for analysis of data.

ESC 280: Ecology.
Ecological principles at the level of the individual, population, community, and ecosystem. Specific topics include nutrient cycles, flow of energy in ecosystems, population dynamics, evolutionary ecology, life histories, competition and other community interactions, succession, and island biogeography. Current topics in anthropogenic global change.

ESC 360: Conservation Biology.
Students read, review, and discuss current literature in this speaking-intensive course. Students will conduct both laboratory- and field-based studies. Topics include defining diversity, threats to biodiversity, population genetics of rare species, conservation strategies and nature preserves, and legal and ethical issues.

POL 306: Environmental Politics and Policy.
The course begins by exploring key events, concepts, and theories before focusing on debates about how to approach sustainability and environmental issues locally and globally. In particular, students will consider international governance approaches, which rely largely on the authority of nation-states, as well as alternative arrangements initiated and led by non-state actors such as NGOs, corporations, local governments and communities. Students will also employ design-thinking techniques to come up with creative and practical solutions to specific sustainability problems. 

POL 356: Activism and Political Organizations.
This course examines organizations in the United States that seek to influence public policy outcomes, with a particular focus on parties and interest groups. Students will study the development of these institutions and the tools available to political organizations and grassroots citizens to obtain the policy outcomes they desire.

PHI 207: Effective Leadership in Community.
Students will explore a variety of theories and philosophies of social change and will engage academic research on these topics. Students will use their new found understanding of philosophies of social change to focus on the social change model of leadership in experiential learning settings. Students will evaluate their own personal leadership style and its implications as a practicing leader of social change.

PHI 307: Power and Service Leadership.
Students will explore philosophies and critical theories of power, including philosophies of race, gender, sexuality, class, and ability. This course discusses the following aspects of service learning for social change – why we are involved in service learning, what we get out of service learning, what do we give to those we serve, what do we take from those we serve, what are the unintended consequences of our service, and how can we maximize the good of our service for all involved? Students will engage how social change is accomplished in our society as well as advantages and limitations of various change strategies in terms of their impact on and use of societal power dynamics.

More requirements to meet the Environmental Studies major.

Jasmine Rajbhandary holds bird.
Jasmine Rajbhandary ’10
Environmental Science & Biology Major

Undergraduate research is the best way to get an early start on figuring out your interests, and there are many opportunities at Wesleyan. Taking classes is one thing but actually applying what you’ve learned on a practical platform gives you so much more insight on the subject matter, as well as how to do research. It also helps you figure out what you like and what you don’t like. And having that research experience on your resume is always a boost.

Jim with microphone in woods

In 2022, Professor Jim Ferrari was awarded the Earle R. Greene Memorial Award for achievement in ornithology and bird education from the Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS). Other notable award recipients include Roger Tory Peterson (1986), a giant of 1900s birding, and Eugene Odum (1984), whom the Odum School of Ecology is named at UGA. Jim served as President of GOS (2011-2013) and is currently the editor of The Oriole, the scientific journal of GOS.



Len Foote Hike Inn in the north Georgia mountains; Bird Banding Lab at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Maryland; Texas Commission on Environmental Quality



University of Maryland, University of Freiburg (Germany), and Northwestern University.


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Wesleyan offers 25 majors and 35 minors, including self-designed interdisciplinary studies, eight pre-professional programs and the bachelor of science in nursing and bachelor of fine arts degrees.

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