Introduction to Environmental Science

Benjamin Cuker, Marine and Environmental Science, Hampton University


This is an introductory course centered around the concept of sustainability. One section is for first semester students majoring in Marine and Environmental Science, and other sections are offered for non-majors. The lab is for the majors. The lab introduces basic field work including experimental and survey work. We work in estuarine, marsh, forest and built systems.

Course URL:

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

There are no pre-requisites. The section for the "majors" is designed to get them excited about the field. The non-major sections serve mostly non-science majors and meets their science requirement.

Course Content:

The classroom portion of the course covers all the major topics typical of an environmental science course; basic chemistry, physics, biology, populations, communities,ecosystems, biodiversity, climate, food, geology, and pollution. This is all tied together from the perspective of sustainability. The lab teaches basic field techniques, data manipulation and report writing.

Course Goals:

Objectives & Outcomes:
1. Learn the basic principles of environmental science and sustainability (measured in exams, quizzes).
2. Understand and use the language of environmental science (measured in exams, quizzes, and writing assignments).
3. Develop analytical skills using environmental information (measured in examinations and papers).
4. Learn how to develop meaningful questions related to environmental science (measured in quiz and test development).
5. Understanding the links between the functions of individuals, populations. communities, ecosystems, biomes, and the biosphere (measured in tests and quizzes).
6. Learn the most fundamental aspects of physics, chemistry, and biology and relate these to the interaction between humans and the environment (measured in tests and quizzes).
7. Apply environmental science through service learning (measured in oral presentation and written report).

Course Features:

I use the learner-centered approach. The students are required to read before class and come with 6 written questions - 2 from the previous class for the quiz and 4 from the new material for discussion. I use the class roll to run the discussion. We grade the quizzes each day. The students submit exam questions to a discussion group on BlackBoard for the mid-term and final exam (I used those as much as possible to formulate the tests). This gives them ownership. The students must select a personal sustainability action for the semester, and report on that both orally and in a paper at the end of the class.

Course Philosophy:

We chose a text that emphasizes sustainability (Miller and Spoolman). So every topic is built on sustainability. The lab portion of the course uses local habitats. It useful that the University is located directly on the Hampton River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.


Classroom: There is a quiz every day, and a midterm and final exam. The students help create these tests and quizzes. Points are awarded for a paper/presentation on an environmental topic students choose from a list. They may also do a service learning project (such as work for an environmental group) for their report. They get points for reporting on their personal sustainability action (shorter showers, line drying clothes, driving less, recycling, etc.)they do for the semester. They also get points for reporting on an environmental news story three times over the semester.

All assessment is based upon laboratory reports.


Course outline (Microsoft Word 80kB Jun1 12)

Teaching Materials:

Lab course outline (Microsoft Word 38kB Jun1 12) Energy conservation lab (Microsoft Word 252kB Jun1 12)

References and Notes:

Living in the Environment by Miller and Spoolman
I post a variety of short readings on Blackboard. These tend to be current reports from new studies.