Botanist and UChicago professor Henry Cowles founded the science of ecology with his landmark studies of the Lake Michigan dunes. Today, the Environmental Studies program is designed to emphasize interdisciplinary approaches to environmental topics while remaining flexible enough to foster innovative studies that incorporate models and methods from the social sciences, humanities, or natural sciences. The program brings together faculty and courses from Anthropology, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Economics, English, Geographical Studies, Geophysical Sciences, Physics, Political Science, and Public Policy Studies.
Students who are majoring in Environmental Studies are expected to build a foundation for studying environmental questions by completing basic course work both in the natural sciences and in quantitative analyses. The program draws on the existing strengths and interests of College faculty in a variety of disciplines and divisions.
Students can choose from two broad thematic tracks: environmental economics and policy, and socio-natural systems and frameworks. The curriculum is organized around required elements that include an honors thesis and an internship or field studies component. In the past, students have worked at an environmental law firm in New Mexico with a focus on indigenous communities, measured and addressed lead levels in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, and advocated on water shortage issues in Mumbai, India. Stipends are available from the Environmental Studies program for otherwise unpaid summer field experience.
Students in other programs may choose to minor in Environmental Studies.