Environmental Studies (BA)

University of Pittsburgh

Date Posted: Oct. 23, 2018
Submitted by: Claire Pope
Sustainability Topic: Curriculum
Content Type: Academic Programs
Program Type: Baccalaureate degree


Founded in 1996, the Environmental Studies (ES) Program has become one of the most successful interdisciplinary majors at the University of Pittsburgh. Students may take classes in six different schools and myriad departments within the University. A full-time coordinator helps ES students choose classes, set up internships and field camps, and plan career and post-baccalaureate goals.

Students are drawn to environmental studies for a variety of reasons—some for its breadth and diversity, while others choose ES simply because they love the outdoors. But, inevitably, the question arises: what can I do with this degree? The answer relies on your interests and ambitions, and the kinds of electives you take. For instance, students can focus on:

  • Practical/technical: Students involved in geographic information systems (GIS) can collect and manipulate data to create computerized, visual representations of the physical world—in present form as well as using models to depict how changes might affect the environment over time. Other students learn laboratory techniques and monitoring systems, and even gain hazardous-waste (HAZWOPER) training.

  • Policy-driven: Internships with local governmental, research, and advocacy groups give students a chance to interact with policy-makers and regulators; other students work with companies and environmental consulting firms in assessments and monitoring. Courses in nonprofit management and environmental law focus on the issues faced by environmental groups, corporations, governmental agencies, and the public, as well as ethical/political issues, such as environmental justice.

  • Natural world: In addition to core courses in biology, chemistry, geology, and geochemistry, environmental studies students can take electives in ecology, sedimentology, paleoclimatology, and limnology (study of lakes and other bodies of fresh water). More importantly, students can choose field courses to match their interests, or combine their field work in geology and ecology with seminars in public policy. And because Pitt is a research university, students also have the chance to work with professors in the laboratory setting or in the field.

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