Initial Publication Date: May 1, 2012

Environmental Science B.S. degree program at the University of New Mexico

Information for this profile was provided by David Gutzler, Earth & Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico-Main Campus. Information is also available on the program website. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


The B.S. in Environmental Science within the Earth & Planetary Sciences Department synthesizes quantitative studies of the interactions between the solid earth, oceans, atmosphere and biological processes taking place therein.


The B.S. degree in Environmental Science (ENVS) at the University of New Mexico was conceived in the late 1990s by the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences (EPS, formerly Geology) to fill a perceived gap in programmatic offerings at UNM. Several emerging subfields of the Earth sciences such as hydrology and atmospheric sciences had no clear academic home at UNM, but EPS had bolstered its own capabilities in these areas in the 1990s. The department devised a new B.S. degree program designed to emphasize a physical systems approach to environmental studies.

Program Goals

The EPS Department has set the following broad learning goals for the ENVS major:

A. Develop an understanding of Earth systems, emphasizing the physical and chemical processes linking these components.
B. Develop proficiency in supporting sciences, quantitative problem solving and the scientific method.
C. Have a broad but solid grounding in general measurement and analysis tools needed for process-based assessment of Earth systems.
D. Develop more specialized and advanced expertise in several subfields of Environmental Science.
E. Undertake at least one major project that applies the scientific method to the environment by a team of collaborating peers.
F. Understand the principles of ethics in the conduct and application of science within the academic and professional arenas.

Alumni Careers

Our program is designed to prepare graduates for these career paths:
The degree provides scientific training for environment-related occupations, including both scientific fields as well as peripheral fields such as law and medicine. A considerable fraction of ENVS majors enter water-related careers, either directly or after moving on to graduate school from our program.

I also know several of our graduates who have gone on to careers in K-12 education, and one who works in sales & design for a vendor of solar power equipment.

Program Assessment

Formal assessment of the learning goals is still in the pilot phase. Instructors of the sed/strat and Advanced Environmental Science (capstone) course have devised simple before/after metrics to assess a few (but not all) specific student learning outcomes related to the goals listed above.

Courses and Sequencing

Entry into the program

  • The Blue Planet + laboratory, or
  • How the Earth Works - An Introductory to Geology + laboratory

Core courses

  • Environmental Systems (Prerequisite: 2 semesters chemistry, 1 semester calculus or physics or biology)
  • Statistics and Data Analysis in Earth Sciences (Prerequisite: 1 semester calculus)
  • Geologic Presentation

Additional Requirements

Instead of a fixed core + electives, we require ENVS majors to take the core courses listed above, plus choose 30 credits of upper division coursework from the following seven groups. Students must take at least two courses from each of four groups:

  1. Spatial analysis
    4 courses: GIS classes in the EPS and Geography Depts
  2. Geochemistry
    5 courses, including water chemistry, thermodynamics, and an overview of geochemical principles
  3. Geoscience
    5 courses: these include the first half of the upper division core curriculum for our geology major: Earth history, mineralogy, petrology, New Mexico field geology, environmental geology
  4. Earth surface processes
    4 courses: sed/strat, environmental geology, geomorphology, pedology
  5. Hydroscience
    3 courses: aquifers & reservoirs (with mininal math prerequisites), hydrogeology, physical hydrology (with at least one semester calculus and physics)
  6. Climate
    5 courses: Meteorology, global climate change, paleoclimatology (these three with mininal math prerequisites), climate dynamics, applied meteorology (these two with calculus and physics prerequisites)
  7. Ecology
    9 courses, all offered through Biology Dept, including principles of ecology, ecosystem dynamics, microbial ecology, flora of New Mexico, plant community ecology, biogeography, limnology (all requiring lower division biology, some with additional chemistry prerequisite)


Advanced Environmental Science (a field measurements course in which teams of students work together on a large class project)

Other requirements or key features

Supporting science requirements:

  • 2 semesters calculus for scientists & engineers
  • 1 semester chemistry with laboratory
  • 1 semester calculus-based physics
  • 1 semester introductory biology with laboratory

Students must also satisify requirements for an undergraduate minor in a different department (generally ~20 semester credit hours). This can be satisfied as a 'distributed minor' by taking one additional semester of chemistry and physics plus 7 additional semester hours of any supporting science.