Academics

  • Dr. Kohler monitoring a river

    Community involvement: Social justice - sustainability - environmental science research

  • Students on a fall day in the woods

    Program longevity: One of the oldest environmental studies programs in the nation

  • Faculty and student conducting swamp research

    Interdisciplinary program: Combine your major and environmental studies

Dr. Kohler and studentsThe environmental and sustainability studies program at Western Michigan University is based upon a central concern for the long-term health and well-being of the planet and its inhabitants—sustainability in the broadest sense of the term—and a commitment to thoughtful and well-informed action well-designed to protect and promote that state of health and well being.

Program goals

  • Encourage students to develop appreciation for the many elements of planetary health and to devise creative solutions to environmental problems.
  • Prepare students for a professional role in one of many environmentally related careers, and to encourage students to develop responsible attitudes and skills commensurate with a personally fulfilling, environmentally responsible way of living.
  • Provide intellectual and practical experiences that promote understanding of the complex interrelationships between humans, the social and technological systems they develop and the natural environment in which they are embedded.

Program overview

The environmental and sustainability studies program was founded in 1972 and requires a double major—environmental and sustainability studies and a disciplinary major of the student's choice from any college of the University. The environmental and sustainability studies courses have been developed by an interdisciplinary team of faculty with input from outside professionals to ensure students the greatest continuity, depth and integration in their learning experiences.

The environmental and sustainability studies core curriculum embraces the interdisciplinary nature of environmental issues through a combined scientific, social and humanistic approach to undergraduate scholarship. The curriculum consists of a set of core themes, or domains, that are key aspects of a modern environmental education:

  • Commentary and reflection on the human environmental experience, including literature, ethics and philosophy.
  • Decision-making and policy considerations in the political and economic arenas.
  • Historical context of human and ecological interaction.
  • Links joining human social culture and the environment.
  • Physical and biological sciences.
  • Synthesis of theory and application through interdisciplinary communication and practical experience.

Students may enter the environmental and sustainability studies curriculum through any of several different introductory courses reflecting the many disciplines underpinning environmental study. Students follow a progression of coursework, in concert with their second major, that promotes a balanced and sophisticated appreciation of environmental issues from a combined physical science, social science and humanities perspective.

Students must take at least one course from each of the principle domains. Some domains may have only one option at present, but each domain is flexible and intellectually adaptive. The environmental studies faculty may include new courses, or appropriate topic courses, as substitutes as they become available.

At the advanced level, undergraduates are encouraged toward an interdisciplinary synthesis of knowledge and experience through a series of individually selected, approved courses that emphasize practical training in research methods and applications, and through a senior capstone course. The senior seminar brings together environmental studies undergraduates from diverse collateral majors who work together as teams to address and grapple with real, complex environmental issues beyond the classroom.