Environmental Science and Environmental Studies, Northern Arizona University

Information for this profile was provided by Rod Parnell, School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Northern Arizona University. Information is also available on the department's website. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


NAU's School of Earth Science and Environmental Sustainability offers three undergraduate degrees; all focus on pre-professional training with a strong field emphasis. Our Geology degree is a traditional mineralogy/petrology/sedimentology/structure progression that also incorporates a component of applied/surficial geology. Our environmental sciences degrees provide a strong core in the natural sciences with a required emphasis area in one of the natural or social sciences. Our environmental studies degrees have a strong core in the natural and social sciences (with several courses shared with the environmental sciences degree) and a required focus area in sustainability, the Southwest environment, or globalization.


The environmental sciences degrees date from the 1970s, but were updated 12 years ago to create more interdisciplinary, team-taught approaches to environmental issues. Our environmental studies degrees were designed seven years ago to contrast with our environmental sciences degree by having students learn a broad range of perspectives to address major societal issues (e.g. sustainability or globalization).

Program Goals

Learning goals include: enhance awareness of relationships between human and non-human components of the environment at local to global scales; and generate environmentally aware citizen who are inspired, committed, active, participatory, persuasive and influential. Knowledge outcomes include understanding: system structure, function, resilience and stability/sustainability, including biotic, abiotic, and cultural components; the science/policy interface; concepts of environmental justice; and principles and applications of energy, water, and biogeochemical cycling.

Alumni Careers

We view environmental and geosciences majors as pre-professional training. Their commonest career trajectories go through federal, state and tribal environmental and resource management agencies. Many also go on to graduate programs in geosciences, environmental sciences and environmental policy, and some go through law schools into environmental policy.

In addition, a number of our students go into middle or high school education, or environmental education through non-governmental organizations. Some also work in outdoor recreation and education organizations.

Program Assessment

We have developed assessment programs, including pre-and post-assessment components for all of our degree programs, in cooperation with NAU's Office of Academic Assessment. All programs use assessments of capstone products from our students and exit interviews, along with other components.

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

Entry courses are Introduction to Environmental Sustainability or Foundations of Environmental Sciences.

Core courses

All environmental studies and environmental sciences majors take these additional core courses:

  • Environmental Ecology
  • Environmental Politics
  • Internship or Undergraduate Research
  • Senior Capstone in Environmental Sciences and Studies

In addition to the shared core, all environmental studies majors must take:

  • Intensive writing in Environmental Studies
  • Environmental Communications
  • Environmental Humanities
  • Environmental Ethics

In addition to the shared core, all environmental sciences majors must take:

  • Calculus I
  • University Chemistry I and II
  • Statistics I
  • Atmosphere and Hydrosphere (Prerequisite: 1 year of Chemistry and Foundations of Environmental Sciences)
  • Energy Resources and Policy, writing intensive
  • Conservation Biology (Prerequisite: Ecology)


Environmental Studies students are required to take electives from three groups of courses, a natural sciences group (2 courses, 6-8 credit hours), a social sciences group (3 courses, 9 credit hours), and a humanities group (3 courses, 9 credit hours) plus an ENV elective. The electives chosen depend upon which focus area the studies student chooses: Southwest Environment; Globalization and Environmental Change; or Sustainability, Community and Biocultural Diversity.

Environmental Sciences students are required to take one ENV elective course plus an emphasis of 40-50 credit hours (10-13 courses) in Applied Geology, Applied Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Administration and Policy, Environmental Communication, or Environmental Management.

Environmental electives:

  • Extreme Weather
  • Climate Change
  • Solid and Hazardous Waste Management
  • Environmental Sciences of the San Juan River
  • Soil and Groundwater Remediation
  • Meteorology
  • Conservation Biology
  • Historical Ecology: Reconstructing Past Ecosystems
  • Microbial Ecology
  • Senior majors may choose to enroll in 500-level ENV courses for which they meet the prerequisites.


Senior Capstone in Environmental Sciences and Studies