B.S. in Environmental Science, University of New Mexico

Information for this profile was provided by Gary Weissman, professor of Geology at the University of New Mexico. Information is also available on the program website. Students in this program are pursuing a B.S. degree.

Program Design & Assessment


The University of New Mexico is a Hispanic Serving Institution; around 38% of the student body is Hispanic. The Environmental Science degree has been offered for about 10 years within the Earth and Planetary Sciences department.

Strengths of this program

The main attraction of the program is its importance to the community and that it addresses how humans will continue to live on the planet in these times of change.

The degree represents a broad approach to Earth Science; it incorporates aspects of geology, biology, atmospheric science, and hydrology. Environmental Science is an integrative field in that subjects such as how biogeochemical cycles are interactive among the different spheres on earth are studied. The program takes an Earth Systems approach to teaching Earth processes and the environment.

Types of students served

Nearly 50% of students in the Environmental Science degree program are minority students. This high percentage of minority students reflects the general population on the UNM campus. The department attributes this high number of minority students in the field to a variety of factors, including the design of the program as well as the nature of the course content. Research on learning suggests that the compartmentalized nature of a standard science curriculum is less appealing to minority students than the systems approach used in teaching environmental science. Also, environmental science is seen as more relevant for the community than some other fields in science.

Program Goals

The goals of this program are as follows:

The program aims to give students a broad training so that they can perform a variety of skills and tasks in their future occupations or graduate school work. This provides students with a flexible skill set.

Providing an integrative approach to teaching Environmental Science is also a goal of the program as it prepares students to think broadly about the context of problems and wider implications of actions.

The learning goals were informed by the following resources:

The faculty who created the degree program 10 years ago designed it to mimic how Environmental Science is practiced; the systems approach, integrative nature of the course work, and broad skill set all match qualities that faculty saw in fellow Environmental Scientists. When the program began, there were no additional funds provided by the institution to create the program. Faculty had to use courses and resources that were already available within the Earth and Planetary Sciences department and existing courses around campus to create it. Using new resources, the department is currently (Spring 2014) working on revising this curriculum to reflect changes in the field over the past 10 years.

How program goals are assessed

Faculty can assess how students are learning the broad base of skills by evaluating their abilities in the capstone course. In this course, students apply the skills obtained during the degree program in a wide variety of lab or field settings to demonstrate how they can conduct environmental science in a wide range of situations. Skills range from GIS work to geochemistry to geology to ecology and vary depending on which course path a student has taken to the capstone course. Teams of students work together to answer a research question, using their varied backgrounds to collect and analyze data and provide a meaningful response to the research question.

Design features that allow goals to be met

Along with the varied course work that students take to complete the degree requirements, students also take a 2-part course series to provide the foundation of and then utilize the Earth systems approach to environmental sciences. The first course teaches the foundational concepts of Earth systems and general skills needed in Environmental Sciences (e.g., computer programs, presentation approaches, library research, and applications of mathematics and statistics in environmental science), and the second course (the capstone course) requires students to apply and use the skills previously taught.

Alumni Careers

Graduation rate

There are around 70 majors in the department with about 10-15 students graduating every year. This has been steady in recent years.

Careers pursued by our alumni

Most of our graduates attend graduate school after completing the degree. If students do not attend graduate school, they tend to get jobs in local consulting agencies or at local national laboratories (like Sandia or Los Alamos National Laboratories). Some students who work for consulting firms or national labs eventually do go on to graduate school after working for a few years. Many of the Native American graduates get jobs in tribal governments.

Courses and Sequencing

Diagram of course sequencing and requirements

Other key features of this program:

There is a very strong emphasis on undergraduate research in this degree program. Faculty members actively seek out students who seem interested, are innovative thinkers, and who they think will be successful in completing detailed undergraduate research projects. Financial support for this work is obtained through research grants and departmental support from our generous alumni. There are many supporting services for this research on the UNM campus, as well, and these are described on the Supporting Minority Students at UNM web page.