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Environment & Sustainability Major and Minor

Develop multiple perspectives to solve today’s complex challenges 

Our program in Environment and Sustainability (E&S) is guided by a single principle: understanding and resolving environmental problems requires an interdisciplinary approach. 

We believe a fundamental knowledge of all dimensions of the interdisciplinary curriculum will help you understand where your selected concentration fits together with the larger set of disciplinary skills needed to derive sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.

Major in Environment & Sustainability

Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

Our core curriculum provides an integrated view of the biological, physical-chemical, ecological, human, and social dimensions of environment and sustainability issues. It’s designed to advance your ability to understand and address real-world environmental problems, environmental policy decisions, resource management actions, biodiversity conservation, and human well-being.

The Environment and Sustainability curriculum prepares students during their freshmen and sophomore years to pursue a concentration in depth. 

The cross-college Environment and Sustainability undergraduate major is available in both the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and the College of Arts & Sciences. 

CALS seeks students who maintain a rigorous high school curriculum and demonstrate an outstanding record of academic achievement.

  • 4 Units of English
  • 4 Units of Mathematics (including pre-calculus)
  • 3 Units of Science (biology, chemistry and physics recommended)
  • Also recommended: an additional unit of science

The Environment and Sustainability major comprises a required set of core courses and completion of a selected concentration. Visit the E&S Curriculum page for more information.

In addition to a required set of core courses, all students must select one of six concentrations, consisting of six to ten additional courses. Descriptions of the concentrations, their course requirements, including those courses to be selected within the core requirement, and associated lists of electives are at the links below. E&S concentrations are:

  1. Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology (EBAE)
  2. Environmental Economics (EE)
  3. Environmental Humanities (EH)
  4. Environmental Policy and Governance (EPG)
  5. Land, Air and Water Resources (LAWR)
  6. Individual Student-Designed Concentration (ISD)

BIOEE 1610: Ecology and the Environment

This course provides an introduction to ecology, covering interactions between organisms and the environment at scales of populations, communities, and ecosystems. Ecological principles are used to explore the theory and applications of major issues facing humanity in the 21st century, including population dynamics, disease ecology, biodiversity and invasive species, global change, and other topics of environmental sustainability.

EAS 2680: Climate and Global Warming

This course familiarizes students from a range of disciplines with such contemporary issues in climatology as global warming and El Nino. It introduces the natural greenhouse effect, past climates, and observed and projected climate changes and impacts, and covers natural climate variations and their consequences and predictability.

HIST 2581: Environmental History

This lecture course serves as an introduction to the historical study of humanity’s interrelationship with the natural world. Environmental history is a quickly evolving field, taking on increasing importance as the environment itself becomes increasingly important in world affairs. The course is designed as an intensely interdisciplinary course: we’ll view history through the lenses of ecology, literature, art, film, law, anthropology, and geography.

NTRES 2201/ BSOC 2201/ DSOC 2201: Society and Natural Resources

The actions of people are crucial to environmental well-being. This course addresses the interrelationships between social phenomena and the natural (i.e., biological-physical-chemical) environment. It is intended to (1) increase student awareness of these interconnections in their everyday lives; (2) introduce students to a variety of social science perspectives, including sociology, economics, psychology, and political science, that help us make sense of these connections; (3) identify the contributions of each of these perspectives to our understanding of environmental problems; and (4) discuss how natural resource management and environmental policy reflect these perspectives.

Students will be able to:

  • Compare and contrast multiple perspectives on the sustainability of human-environment relationships, including implications for food, land, air, water, energy, climate, and biodiversity
  • Evaluate claims about sustainability using approaches and perspectives from the biophysical sciences, humanities and social sciences.
  • Apply diverse scholarly approaches to critically evaluate information and build knowledge about how the environment influences human resource use.
  • Work collaboratively and across disciplines to formulate approaches to environmental challenges that could help build sustainable human-ecological systems.
  • Communicate and collaborate across disciplines, and demonstrate the capacity to enter the public dialogue regarding complex environmental issues using a variety of communication strategies.

Minor in Environment & Sustainability 

Students seeking a minor in Environment & Sustainability will customize a course of study that will allow them to develop a basic knowledge of biological, physical and social scientific perspectives on environment.

The minor is designed to allow students with a wide diversity of interests to gain confidence in their understanding of sustainability and the complex interactions and interdependencies that characterize ecosystems and relationships between society and environment. Building literacy and comprehension across relevant disciplines is a fundamental step toward effective engagement with sustainability and can provide students with highly desirable communication and systems-thinking skills for the job market.

Students in the minor will craft their own course of study. A minimum of 13 credits is required. Students must take one course from each of the five categories below, at least two of which must be at the 3000-level or higher. A list of 3 and 4 credit course options is provided for the first four categories to support students’ choices. The 1 credit colloquium (ESS 2000 or BEE 2000) is required. All courses except ESS 2000 or BEE 2000 must be taken for a letter grade, and a grade of “C” or better must be recorded. Any undergraduate student at Cornell may enroll in the minor (except E&S majors), and there are no penalties for double-counting courses toward this MINOR and a student’s major.

Download the ESS Minor registration form and email the completed form to E&S Undergraduate Coordinator sw38 [at] cornell.edu (Suzanne Wapner), or contact her for additional information. Academic advising is available for students in the ESS Minor. Please contact Suzanne if you have questions.

  • Environmental biology:  See E&S Curriculum List A.
    Additional options include:
    • Ecology & the Environment (BioEE 1610 or BioSM 1610)
    • Biodiversity & Evolution (BioEE 1780 or BioSM 1780)
  • Environmental physics or chemistry:  See E&S Curriculum List B.
    Additional options include:
    • EAS 1600: Environmental Physics (S) (recommended)
    • Physics 1101: General Physics 1 (F, Su)
    • Physics 2207: Fundamentals of Physics 1 (F)
    • Or AP Physics B: minimum score of 5
  • Environmental social science:  See E&S Curriculum List C.
    ​Additional options include:
    • Environmental and Resource Economics (AEM 1500 and AEM 2500)
    • Society & Natural Resources (NTRES 2201)
    • Environmental Law (CRP/NTRES 4444)
  • One sustainability course of 3 or more credits, 3000-level or higher. See ESS Minor Sustainability Course List.
  • Colloquium - ESS 2000 or BEE 2000 (1 cr)
  1. Complete Part I of the registration form and email to E&S Undergraduate Coordinator sw38 [at] cornell.edu (Suzanne Wapner)
  2. Complete the courses required for the ESS minor. Remember, a grade of C or better is needed for a course to count towards the minor.
  3. In the final semester prior to graduation, bring a copy of your transcript and your “Application to Graduate” to the E&S Undergraduate Office, 117 Kennedy Hall. Suzanne will review your transcript to complete Part II: Verification of requirements. Upon verification of the successful completion of all required courses, a designated E&S representative will sign the form as required for the minor.

Transfer Student Admissions

Gain a comprehensive and integrated view of the biological, physical-chemical, ecological, and social dimensions of  the environment. Students will advance their critical ability to solve rel-world problems, affect decisions involving environmental policy, resource management, biodiversity conversation and human health. Concentrations include: environmental biology and applied ecology; environmental economics; environmental humanities; environmental policy & governance; land, air, and water resources. A student-designed individual concentration is available for qualified students.

Academic Record

  • Strong academic record at the college level. In general, competitive applicants have at least a 3.0 (B) average.
  • CALS Required Coursework should be completed or in-progress with a “B” or better before applying.
  • The most competitive applicants are full-time students who have met the GPA and course requirements.

For transfers entering as sophomores or transfers with two full-time college semesters of study (post-high school) completed or in progress at time of application.

Required

Strongly encouraged (but not required)

  • Calculus I OR Statistics
  • General (Inorganic) Chemistry II with labs

For transfers entering as juniors or transfers with four full-time college semesters of study (post-high school) completed or in progress at time of application.

Required:

  • One full academic year of Introductory Biology with labs
  • General (Inorganic) Chemistry I and II with lab OR one semester of General (Inorganic) Chemistry with lab AND one semester of Physics 
  • Statistics
  • Two College Writing/English Composition courses or one writing/composition and Public Speaking

Strongly encouraged (but not required):

  • Calculus I
  • Courses that meet the CALS social science and humanities requirements in Cultural Analysis, Historical Analysis, Knowledge, Cognition and Moral Reasoning, Literature and the Arts, Social and Behavioral Analysis and Foreign Language.

Careers in Environment & Sustainability

plastic debris floating in ocean

Business

  • Financial analyst
  • eCommerce category specialist
  • Global associate
  • Real estate associate
  • Derivative trade assistant
  • Business development representative
  • Electrical project manager

Education

  • Assistant program manager
  • Development coordinator
  • Environmental educator
  • Parks program instructor

Law/Legal Services

  • Environmental litigation paralegal
  • Policy analyst
  • Environmental paralegal
  • Asbestos litigation paralegal

Natural Resources and Environment

  • Vegetation management technician
  • State park sustainability coordinator
  • Solar consultant
  • Staff scientist
  • Climate and sustainability assistant
  • Wilderness coordinator
  • Natural resource specialist
  • Clean water analyst

Research

  • Environmental research assistant
  • Carnivore monitoring research assistant
  • Oceans research assistant
  • Invasive grass research assistant
  • Communication research assistant

More

  • Civic analyst
  • Cooperative extension aide
  • Energy policy assistant

Explore your opportunities

A CALS education goes beyond the classroom and gives students frequent opportunities to apply what they learn in real-world settings.