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Earth, Society and Environmental Sustainability at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Information for this profile was provided by Anna Nesbitt, School of Earth, Society and Environment, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Information is also available on the program website. Students in this program are pursuing a bachelors degree.

Program Design & Assessment


The Bachelor of Science program in Earth, Society and Environmental Sustainability (ESES) was implemented in 2007 as an umbrella degree program allowing students access to courses from the Departments of Geology, Atmospheric Sciences, and Geography and Geographical Information Science. The former departments comprise the School of Earth, Society and Environment (SESE) at the University of Illinois. Initial student demand for the ESES major indicated two tracks: The Science of the Earth System (SES) concentration was designed for students interested in the Earth Sciences, but who desired a broader background in each of the three disciplines emcompassed by SESE; The Society and Environment (SAE) concentration was designed to attract students interested in the human dimensions of sustainability and global change. Since implementation, the program has grown to serve over 170 on campus majors, and more recently has grown to include two minor programs, and an online major open to students across the world.

Strengths of this program

The strengths of the ESES major are flexibility paired with numerous and varied opportunities for project based learning. Flexibility is achieved through minimizing core requirements and maximizing student choices in courses. Such flexibility allows students to pair the ESES degree with a second major and/or time studying abroad. Furthermore, ESES majors build their advanced course curriculum from a superset of over 40 courses, allowing students to finely tune their degree toward their own interests and goals. ESES program advisors strongly encourage majors to engage in at least one project based learning experience as they progress toward their advanced coursework. Opportunties for a project based setting range from a traditional capstone course: ESE 401; to integrative courses in the field: ESE 497, with options ranging from a "Field Expedition to Costa Rica", to the "Summer Arctic Research Program".

Types of students served

The ESES Bachelor of Science degree is a Liberal Arts and Science Degree, thus our program primarily supports ESES majors. However, ESES students frequently have second majors in disciplines ranging from Chemistry to Psychology. We also serve a large number of students minoring in ESES or our Environmental Fellows Program, the major difference between the two minor programs being that EFP requires a Capstone experience.

ESES majors are a diverse group reflecting to a large extent the diversity of students accepted to the University of Illinois: 50% of our 172 majors are women, 4% Black, 6% Hispanic, 7% Asian, 8% International and 10% are Honor's students.

Program Goals

The goals of this program are as follows:

  • Explore their current interests and discover new interests,
  • Cultivate analytical, critical thinking and communication skills,
  • Develop a rich understanding of Earth Systems, from either a humanistic or scientific perspective,
  • Identify a niche for specialization within the broader discipline of Earth Systems Science,
  • Gain hands on experience in an internship, research project or community outreach.

The learning goals were informed by the following resources:

Institutional policies have primarily informed the ESES program's learning outcomes, which are frequently cited as the culmination of a degree in the liberal arts and sciences. A degree in ESES also requires an introductory course in Geographical Information Science (GIS), which exists expressly due to employment opportunities within the field of GIS.

How program goals are assessed

Over the previous six years our program's major focus has been to increase student participation in the ESES major and to create and implement advanced courses under our rubric. Recruiting a stable basis of students has been essential for procuring meaninful program assessments and for funding course development. In future years, the ESES curriculum committee hopes to use program assessments to enhance the connection between our courses, supplementary programming, etc. with student outcomes.

Design features that allow goals to be met

Again, our strengths, flexibility and our courses emphasizing project based learning, are intentional features designed to prepare our students for a perpetually changing workforce and culture. Offering students significant control over the form of their degree also fosters self-discovery and independence, which are key to meeting our programmatic goals.

Alumni Careers

Graduation rate

Term Fall '08 Spring '09 Fall '09 Spring '10 Fall '10 Spring '11 Fall '11 Spring '12 Fall '12 Spring '13
Graduates 0 3 9 14 10 48 10 49 16 27

Careers pursued by our alumni

Approximately 27% of alumni pursue a post graduate education, and the rest find employment in a diverse array of fields ranging from jobs in industry as sustainability coordinator positions, green building, finance, and environmental journalism. Approximately 7% of our alumni report themselves as currently unemployed.

Courses and Sequencing

Diagram of course sequencing and requirements