ENVS 131: Introduction to Environmental Studies

Melissa Hage
Oxford College of Emory University


The environment impacts our way of life in many aspects (e.g., food and fiber production, resources for building shelter and infrastructure, water supplies, etc.). Adverse impacts to this environment affect the well-being of humans and other living organisms. Therefore, it is essential that students (majors and non-majors alike) understand natural environmental systems, physical and social causes of environmental problems, and strategies to mitigate or manage these issues. This course provides the basic scientific knowledge and understanding of how our world works from an environmental perspective. It provides a framework of knowledge into which additional information can be readily integrated over a lifetime of continued learning.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture and the lab are both taught by the professor.

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory course that is the foundational course for the ENVS major. However, typically 80 - 90% of the course is taken by non-science majors looking to satisify a general education requirement. The lab is required and students must pass the lab in order to pass the course.

Course Content:

Topics covered include general issues on the environment, basic principles of ecology and ecosystem function, human population growth, production and distribution of food, water resources and management, water pollution, hazardous chemicals, air pollution and climate change, biodiversity and its conservation, energy resources, and sustainability. Lab focuses on investigating local ecosystems and are primarly spent ourdoors. Lab provides students an opportunity to practice important skills required for the signature experience (i.e., close observation of the natural world, question formation, experimental design, and data collection and analysis), while also introducing students to the most common practices of early environmental scientists (i.e., specimen identification, wetland delineation, and field sampling).

Course Goals:

The two overarching goals of this course are:

1) to peak your curiosity about the Earth they inhabit, gain knowledge about the natural world, and to share that curiosity and knowledge with others. You should be able to observe the world around you, marvel at what you see, and understand the processes at work.

2) to impart to you a relevance of scientific knowledge and processes so that you can become more critical thinkers and better decision-makers – economically, politically, socially, and personally.

At the completion of this course, you will be able to:
- Discuss the major themes in environmental science
- Understand the natural world and the human impact on its processes, and
how those impacts can be mitigated
- Observe the natural world, generate questions, and evaluate evidence
- Develop field techniques and analyze real-world data
- Evaluate ongoing environmental issues through the lens of sustainability
- Communicate scientific information both verbally and in writing

Course Features:

The lab activities culminate in the signature experience, an open-inquiry project in which the students conduct their own observational study based on previous experience and published literature. Students write a shortened scientific paper that allows them to formalize their hypotheses and predictions, describe their sampling method, illustrate and analyze their results, and interpret their data in the context of published literature, which is at times contradictory to their own findings.



Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 400kB May21 19)

References and Notes:

The Environment and You, 2nd edition, Christensen and Leege

The course utilizes case studies, so additional reading resources include new articles, primary literature, websites, etc.