Environmental Science Professional Development Course

Sarah R. Hall, College of the Atlantic


This professional development course features students engaging with a variety of local scientists, researchers and other professionals in environmental disciplines. Students learned about environmental science careers while beginning to develop their professional network and expanding their environmental content knowledge.

Course Size:

Less than 15

Course Format:

Small-group Seminar

Institution Type:

Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

The course is designed for students interested in broadening their professional network in Environmental STEM (E-STEM) fields, learning from local stakeholders about what "work" they complete in their career, and learning what skills and content knowledge are needed for different career paths. Beyond meeting and engaging with stakeholders, students practice real-world work that these professionals engage in such as data management, report preparation, budgeting, communicating science to the public, and dissemination of research findings. They learn to use software required in many E-STEM jobs, such as excel. Students also practice researching employment opportunities, preparing application material, and interfacing with professionals to inquire about potential or future opportunities. Students are evaluated based on their performance on weekly assignments, interaction with the weekly stakeholder, and a final project/report. Many of the students in this class were unfamiliar with general aspects of careers such as hourly versus salary pay and benefits. In addition, this course dedicated time to the differences between long-term positions and seasonal or temporary positions.

Prerequisite: students must have taken at least 2 environmental science courses prior to enrolling, but this course is designed particularly for students returning from the E-STEM field course.

Course Content:

Each week different, local E-STEM professionals engage with students both in the field (where appropriate) and in the classroom to give students a feel for what professionalism and professional work means for different jobs. These include fields such as environmental consulting, environmental policy, municipal planning, environmental education, energy and resource management, recreation, research, and conservation.

Course Goals:

For the Course itself:

  • Increase students' awareness of and access to a broad group of professionals working in E-STEM fields
  • Provide opportunities for students to read and discuss scientific/technical literature and reports
  • Facilitate student understanding of potential pathways to future careers

For the Students:

  • Be comfortable and confident researching employment opportunities, preparing application materials, and interfacing with professionals to inquire about potential or future opportunities.
  • Be able to describe different methods and needs for data management, report preparation, budgeting, communicating science to the public, and dissemination of research findings depending on career type.
  • Have a basic understanding on how to use common software (e.g., Microsoft Office, Adobe products, and ArcGIS) important in many E-STEM jobs.
  • Begin developing confidence in reading and writing about scientific content for public and professional audiences.

Course Features:

The visiting professionals suggest reading assignments which were then posted the week prior to their visit. This rendition of the course required students to attend and assist in the Acadia National Park Science Symposium and had an optional field trip to a geoscience education conference.

  • Career Portfolio
    • The students record a log of the key skills, training, and content knowledge characteristic to each visiting professional's career path. This also includes information about characteristics of different jobs (e.g., amount of time in the field/lab, day-to-day work, workplace dynamics, travel, etc.)
  • Final Skills Project
    • The students identify environmental scientific work that they would like to contribute to and then independently identify a potential mentor (outside of COA) and contact them for assistance. This project is specifically designed for students to develop a new skill with the guidance of their mentor.
  • Final Written Project
    • Throughout the term, the students prepare a written project, such as a grant proposal, scholarship application, senior project proposal, or an independent study report.


Students are evaluated based on their performance on weekly assignments, interaction with the weekly stakeholder, and the projects described above.

The Course Breakdown:

  • Assignments: 40%
  • Final Written Project: 15%
  • Final Skills Project: 20%
  • Engagement/Participation: 10%
  • Career Portfolio: 15%


The E-STEM PD Course syllabus: E-STEM PD Course Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 209kB Jul28 20)


  • Public Education (High school science teachers; citizen science researchers and programmers)
  • Communication and Data Visualization researchers (University of Maine)
  • Research ethics and proposal writing (various professionals)
  • National Park Personnel: Administrative staff (research permitting, scientific research coordinator), Interpretation (education, training), Cultural resources (education, preservation, historical research), Scientific research (biologists, ecologists, hydrologists)
  • Environmental Consultants (groundwater and soil remediation)
  • Public Health researchers and program organizers (applied geoscience, biology, hydrology projects)
  • Government workers and public servants (e.g. specialists from the Geological Survey, CDC, municipal government: council members, public works employees)
  • Non-profit organizations supporting researchers (e.g. forest ecologists, hydrologists) for applied work in the region (e.g. Friends of Acadia, Schoodic Institute)


Week 1: Skills, Content Knowledge, and E-STEM Careers Overview and Logistics of Job Acquisition

  • Activity: Make a list of internship opportunities: list skills/content knowledge you will gain and write a bit about why they interest you?
  • Activity: Develop list of entry level jobs making note of where they found the job advertisement. List skills/content knowledge required for the job, the logistics of the job, and the salary/benefits information.

Week 2:Science Education at the High School Level

  • Stakeholder: High School Science Teacher(s) and Students.
  • Discussion: Tailoring topics and assignments to standards (NGSS).
  • Activity: Create mock assignment for a science topic of choice. Match the assignment to NGSS.
  • Field Trip: A local site with the high school students and teachers. College students teach some aspect of the the field trip.

Week 3:Collaborative Research and Scientific Communication

  • Stakeholder: Group of collaborators from local laboratory: biologists, computer programer, program manager, volunteers working together on a community-significant project and citizen science projects.
  • Discussion: Planning a project, writing a proposal, executing a collaborative project, communicating with different audiences.
  • Activity: Data visualization techniques using citizen science dataset.
  • Field Trip: Local Laboratory/Field Site of collaborative project

Week 4:Proposal Writing and Research Ethics, Concerns and Communication and Science Education to the Public

  • Stakeholder: Communications Researcher, Institutional Review Board (IRB) member.
  • Discussion: research ethics, IRB process.
  • Activity: Prepare mock proposal for a scientific study of choice.
  • Discussion of internships and jobs list. Follow-up activity: Prepare a CV and cover letter for an entry level job.

Week 5:Technical Skills - Illustrations and Graphics

  • Stakeholder: Researcher to discuss illustration or visualization techniques.
  • Activity: Build an illustration for proposal and follow-up illustration critique.

Week 5:Networks and Resource Management

  • Stakeholder: Forest Ecologist, Resource Manager.
  • Field Trip: local research site.

Week 6:Geology and GIS Work

  • Stakeholder: Geological Survey employees - GIS, mapping, report writing, applied projects.
  • Activity: Build a GIS-Based map of field area for proposal; Interview mentor in community and write response.
  • Field Trip: Conference attendance.

Week 7:Private Sector and Public Health

  • Stakeholder: Environmental Consulting workers, local biological/environmental laboratory.
  • Activity: Oral presentation on skills project progress.
  • Field Trip/Discussion: Local sites of interest or readings picked by stakeholders.

Week 8:Recreation and Graduate School

  • Stakeholder: Panel of National Park (or other recreational area) employees - research, program management, public safety, cultural resources, etc.
  • Discussion: graduate and post-graduate research opportunities.
  • Activity: Peer review of draft of written project.
  • Field Trip: Local sites of interest tied to recreation site.

Week 9:Municipal and State Government

  • Stakeholder: Panel of local and regional government workers with ties to geoscience (Dept. of Env. Protection, Center for Disease Control, etc.).
  • Activity: Peer review of Career Portfolio.
  • Field Trip: Geoscience Education Conference (Optional).

Week 10:Final Presentations

  • Activity: Presentation of skills projects.

References and Notes: