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UC Santa Barbara General CatalogUniversity of California, Santa Barbara

Environmental Studies

Division of Mathematical, Life, and Physical Sciences
Bren 4312
Telephone: (805) 893-2968
Program Chair: Carla M. D'Antonio


The Environmental Studies Program at UCSB was established as an academic program more than 50 years ago. It was one of the first such programs in the country and remains one of the strongest in terms of student demand and national reputation, with over 7,300 alumni.

Today, the Environmental Studies Program has approximately 1,000 students and employs 14 tenured faculty, 12 affiliated faculty, and several outside professionals who teach courses in their field of expertise. The Environmental Studies Program offers three undergraduate degrees, two of which encourage an integrative approach to environmental studies: (1) The bachelor of arts degree in environmental studies provides a basis in social science, natural science, and humanities courses followed by advanced courses that integrate across human and natural systems, both necessary to understand the many facets of our environment. (2) The bachelor of science degree in environmental studies also emphasizes the importance of an integrative approach; however, it also provides a strong introduction to the role that the natural and physical sciences play in environmental problems. (3) The Environmental Studies Program is also home to one of the first academic programs on the West Coast to offer a bachelor of science degree in hydrologic sciences and policy. This degree is specifically designed to study the significant role water plays in our environment.

Majoring in Environmental Studies

The environmental studies curriculum is designed to provide students with the scholarly background and intellectual skills necessary to understand complex environmental problems and formulate sound solutions. The curriculum is integrative, drawing upon not only environmental studies faculty, but also the resources of a variety of environmentally related departments and disciplines at UCSB as well as the Santa Barbara community. Although the program offers two environmental degrees, both majors recognize and emphasize the linkages between human and natural systems.

The bachelor of arts degree in environmental studies addresses these linkages by providing the breadth necessary for students to explore the scientific, policy, economic, socio-cultural and ethical issues pertaining to the environment. For their major preparation, students in the B.A. degree program enroll in a series of three introductory environmental studies courses, complemented by a range of introductory natural science, physical science, mathematics, economics, policy and politics, society and culture, and ethics and justice courses. At the upper-division level, students are required to take a series of courses that demonstrate the integration across human and natural systems characteristic of the environmental studies major. Moreover, depending on their own areas of interest, students may pursue either a specific or multidisciplinary environmental emphasis by choosing a combination of elective courses from within the Environmental Studies Program. The last part of the major is a 20-unit upper-division outside concentration where students complete courses from one or more UCSB departments or programs relating to their emphasis. Approximately one-third of all environmental studies B.A. majors elect to use this section to complete either a double major or minor, or to participate in a field studies or study abroad program.

The goal of the bachelor of science degree in environmental studies is to train students to become proficient in the natural and physical sciences, as well as to be aware of social and cultural influences upon environmental problems facing society today. The B.S. degree follows a curriculum design similar to the B.A. degree in environmental studies. However, in addition to introductory courses in environmental studies and in economics, policy and politics, society and culture, ethics and justice, the bachelor of science preparation requires a full year of introductory biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus. The upper-division and outside concentration, while still integrative and flexible, limit the number of social science and humanities courses a student may take. The majority of environmental studies electives, as well as the outside concentration, are restricted to physical and natural science disciplines.

The two degrees in environmental studies have also prepared graduates for positions in diverse occupations including environmental consulting and impact analysis, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, “green” business, toxicology, the U.S. Department of Energy, public-interest lobbying, water conservation, local and federal government, outdoor recreation, industrial hygiene, the Peace Corps, environmental education, mineral and resource management, and recycling and hazardous waste management. Employment opportunities are enhanced through a synthesis of coursework and faculty-supervised internships in a chosen career field.

In addition to the Environmental Studies Internship Program, other student opportunities include the Environmental Studies Senior Honors Program, a senior thesis course (Environmental Studies 197), and the opportunity to conduct independent research or serve as a research assistant with an environmental studies faculty member (Environmental Studies 199 or 199RA). Specialized writing classes, designed to increase a student’s ability to produce comprehensive papers, are linked to some departmental courses. The Environmental Studies Program is also affiliated with study abroad programs and field research schools which provide students the opportunity to receive academic credit while conducting environmental research in places such as Nepal, Africa, Australia, South America, Hawaii, Alaska, and Montana. Students may also conduct independent research at any of the 30 California natural reserves managed by the UC Reserve system.

For more information about these and other opportunities, please contact the program’s academic advisor at (805) 893-3185, stop by the Environmental Studies Program main office, or e-mail your inquiries to:

The Environmental Studies Program welcomes transfer and continuing students.

Majoring in Hydrologic Sciences and Policy

Hydrology is a science dealing with the occurrence, circulation, distribution, and properties of the waters of the solid earth and its atmosphere. Many of the significant environmental problems that society is facing today are related to hydrologic or water issues. These include the hydrologic impact of climate change; the transportation of hazardous materials in both ground and surface water; the maintenance of high quality water for human consumption, industry, irrigation, recreation, energy generation, and agriculture; the understanding of geological hazards; and the management of important aquatic environments. Because water is important to and affected by physical, chemical, and biological principles, the curriculum of the B.S. degree in hydrologic sciences is multidisciplinary.

The main focus of the hydrologic sciences and policy program and major is to provide students with the scientific training needed to understand and solve complex hydrologic problems at local, regional, and global levels. The goal of the hydrologic sciences curriculum is to provide a rigorous framework for students to examine the hydrologic process in our environment. Although the program is housed within the Environmental Studies Program, the curriculum for this degree is offered cooperatively by the departments of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology; Chemistry and Biochemistry; Geography; and Earth Science. Lower-division courses concentrate on the physical and natural sciences. In the upper division, students complete a core group of hydrology courses and then select one of the following three emphases: biology and ecology, physical and chemical sciences, or policy.

Students who graduate with a B.S. degree in hydrologic sciences and policy are prepared to do graduate work in such fields as environmental science, biology, ecology, chemistry, geography, geology, environmental engineering, and a variety of specialty programs in hydrology.

Hydrologic sciences and policy students are also often qualified for positions in environmental consulting and planning, water quality analysis, aquatic resource management, waste water treatment, as well as a variety of jobs with state and federal agencies. Students who are interested in pursuing a career in the hydrologic sciences are encouraged to visit the environmental studies peer advisor’s office for additional information pertaining to jobs and careers in the hydrology field.

Students in hydrologic sciences and policy have the opportunity to conduct academic internships. Through the Environmental Studies Internship Program, a student majoring in hydrologic sciences can obtain valuable hands-on experience while earning academic credit towards major requirements. Students majoring in hydrologic sciences and policy may also conduct independent research or serve as a research assistant with faculty members (Environmental Studies 199 or 199RA). In addition, the Environmental Studies Program offers a senior honors program for all qualified hydrologic sciences majors in which a student can receive a “Distinction in the Major” award upon successful completion of the program. The hydrologic sciences program is also affiliated with numerous study abroad programs and schools, which provide students the opportunity to receive academic credit while conducting hydrological research around the world.

The hydrologic sciences and policy major welcomes transfer and continuing students.

Internship Program

Students majoring in either environmental studies or hydrologic sciences may choose to complete an internship from the Environmental Studies Internship Program (ESIP). Managed by the environmental studies internship coordinator, this academic program was initiated in 1973 to provide students with experience in their field of interest and to tie classroom learning to practical field applications.

Internships are considered an integral part of the environmental studies and hydrologic sciences curriculum and are fully supported by the faculty. Over a hundred students are placed in internships locally, statewide, nationally, and internationally each year. Positions are available year round and the internship coordinator is available to assist students in selecting appropriate internships to meet their learning objectives. Academic credit (Environmental Studies 192) is awarded to sophomore, junior and senior level students who successfully complete an internship position. An extensive internship database as well as general information regarding the Environmental Studies Internship Program is available on the Environmental Studies Program’s webpage.

Field Studies, Study Abroad, and Research Opportunities

The Environmental Studies Program strongly encourages its students to participate in experiential elective courses, study abroad programs, or any other academic opportunities which enhance their environmental education. The environmental studies curriculum has a number of special courses which allow students to conduct independent research projects (Environmental Studies 199), work as a research assistant for one of its faculty members (Environmental Studies 199RA), or pursue a senior thesis on a topic of their choice (Environmental Studies 197).

Additionally, through the outside concentration requirement, environmental studies students may earn academic credit towards their major requirements while conducting field research in the outdoors with faculty from all over the globe. Field studies opportunities are available through the program’s affiliations with a number of field studies and research programs. Similar opportunities at other institutions offer excellent first-hand experiences, and interested students should consult the Environmental Studies Program advisor for additional information.

Furthermore, the flexibility of the environmental studies curriculum permits students the opportunity to pursue study abroad through the UC Education Abroad Program. Past environmental studies majors have studied up to one full year at universities located in countries such as New Zealand, Ecuador, England, Scandinavia, and the University of Virginia’s Semester at Sea. Depending on the coursework taken, academic credit may be petitioned to substitute for a number of units in the environmental studies or hydrologic sciences majors.

Approximately one-half of all environmental studies majors complete at least one field studies or study abroad program before graduating. Additional information about affiliated environmental field studies programs and study abroad programs is available from the environmental studies academic advisor.

Scholarships and Awards

Each year, undergraduate scholarships and awards are available to students majoring in the Environmental Studies Program. They include the UCSB Foundation’s Pearl Chase Scholarship, which awards one or two $1,500 scholarships recognizing academic excellence within environmental studies; the Environmental Studies Associate’s Tom Rogers Scholarship awards up to $5,000 a year to students who embody the ideals of civic responsibility and leadership; the Mathew Charles Decker Memorial Scholarship annually awards $1,000 a year to assist a student in participating in an environmental field studies program; the Coeta Barker Scholarship awards money to students who are in good academic standing and participate in an unpaid academic internship; and the J. Marc McGinnes Environmental Advocacy Award. Environmental Studies scholarship and award information is available on the Environmental Studies Program’s webpage.

The Senior Honors Program

Qualified majors are eligible to participate in the Environmental Studies Senior Honors Program, which offers the opportunity to work closely with a faculty advisor to complete a senior thesis. Requirements include senior standing, completion of at least 20 upper-division major units, minimum grade-point average of 3.0, and enrollment in Environmental Studies 197. Students who successfully complete the program and obtain a minimum overall grade-point average set each spring, are eligible for graduation with “Distinction in the Environmental Studies Major.”

It is highly recommended that lower-division students interested in participating in the senior honors program should enroll in the honors discussion sections offered with Environmental Studies 1, 2, and 3. Interested students may obtain additional information regarding the senior honors program from the Environmental Studies undergraduate advisor.