Department Learning Goals

Environmental Studies is a cross-divisional department with natural science, social science, humanities, and interdisciplinary courses. Our students learn about the origins and impacts of, as well as potential solutions to, environmental issues by studying the behavior of natural systems and their interactions with political, economic, social, and cultural factors.

Because the study of environmental concerns is inherently interdisciplinary, students develop a broad foundation of knowledge and integrative thinking skills in their time at Mount Holyoke College. Environmental Studies majors graduate with the intellectual tools and breadth of understanding to confront environmental challenges of the present and future.

Core Foundational Approaches

The department emphasizes approaches to learning that engage students more actively in the scientific, social/human, and global dimensions of environmental study. Each approach is a fundamental component of environmental literacy.

  • Interdisciplinary Thinking: Students develop the ability to integrate knowledge using modes of inquiry that conceptually organize and link ideas, methods, and data from several fields. 
  • Critical Thinking: Students cultivate the capacity to listen and think analytically and critically by questioning assumptions, evaluating evidence, and articulating well-reasoned arguments. They also develop quantitative and qualitative methodological expertise. 
  • Depth of Knowledge: Students gain a solid understanding of how the natural world operates, how it has been impacted by human activities, and how it has influenced human actions and development through time. They recognize that solving environmental challenges requires knowledge of the underlying physical and biological processes involved as well as the complex ways these processes interact with cultural, historical, political, and economic forces. 
  • Intercultural Competence: Students appreciate the diverse cultures that make human society, and develop perspectives, skills, and knowledge to engage with values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of communities other than their own in environmental education, activism, development projects, and domestic and international research projects. 
  • Global Consciousness: Students recognize and understand global, national, regional, and local environmental concerns, perspectives, and experiences, including the impacts of economic, cultural, and political contexts on various communities and resources.


In order to meet the above goals, the Environmental Studies curriculum places a strong emphasis on habits of critical thinking and questioning across academic disciplines:

  • Problem Identification, Assessment, and Solution: Solution: Students analytical skills in determining the scale and parameters of environmental problems. They develop an in-depth understanding of the scientific method, employing both quantitative and qualitative analyses to clarify and understand data. They become familiar with scientific, historical, and ethical analyses of environmental problems and are able to propose imaginative and creative solutions appropriate to specific issues, based on in-depth study of local to global factors.
  • Communication and Information Literacy: Students recognize the breadth depth of environmental information, across a range of formats and fields. They strengthen writing and communication skills and develop a broad foundation of information literacy. They learn how to formulate and articulate questions, frame research projects, locate needed resources, evaluate information, and make critical judgments about the presentation of research. They are able to synthesize, present, and use this information in a way that helps answer a question, solve a problem, or educate self or others.
  • Reflective Learning and Application of Knowledge: Students practice and develop their capacity for reflective learning in all courses, but especially in the capstone senior seminar. They develop the skills for peer feedback, self- reflection, and assessment of learning impacts. Experiential learning opportunities (e.g., community-based work, internships, and study abroad) allow students to increase their range of interactions with diverse peoples. They also develop leadership and decision-making skills including facility in working constructively with diverse perspectives, personalities, and groups. They develop pre-professional confidence in future options for environmental work in a range of government, education, business, and non-profit contexts.

These core foundational approaches and skills are important in all facets of environmental studies and will serve graduates well in their post-college lives and careers.