Mission and Learning Outcomes


Barnard College’s Environmental Science Department provides highly motivated young women with challenging and rewarding programs in Environmental Science, Environmental Biology, and Environmental Policy, now Environment and Sustainability. High academic standards, multidisciplinary courses, and training in methodologies such as field work, measurements, and data analysis, ready our students with the tools needed to think critically, evaluate and solve problems, and understand and communicate science to address the needs of society. Faculty members are nationally and internationally recognized scholars and educators, active in research and curriculum development. Courses are innovative, featuring multimedia and technologically advanced resources. The urban setting, the proximity to the Hudson River, and the numerous affiliations we maintain with Columbia University through Lamont‐Doherty Earth Observatory, the Earth Institute, and the School of Public Health, as well as Black Rock Forest, the American Museum of Natural History and other institutions, allow us to offer undergraduates unparalleled opportunities for student research and educational experiences. Upon successful completion of our program, our students are well prepared to continue their academic studies as graduate students or to pursue successful careers in a wide range of fields.

Student Learning Outcomes

We expect that students graduating with an environmental major will learn to:

  • recognize the history, structure, function, interactions, and trends of key environmental systems: climate, earth, life, socio‐political;
  • assemble a logical chain of reasoning ranging from observation to inference and action, not only to identify and characterize a problem, but also to find solutions:
    • design an independent scientific inquiry, from methods to interpretation;
    • locate, organize, analyze, integrate, synthesize, and evaluate complex information from multiple and disparate sources;
  • apply appropriate analytical and quantitative approaches:
    • organize, visualize, and statistically analyze environmental data, and interpret relationships, trends and make predictions about future changes;
  • handle uncertain, complex, real-world problems in the lab, field, community, and workplace:
    • observe analytically and integrate diverse information from variable sources outside of the classroom;
    • think critically, creatively, resourcefully, and strategically, including identifying steps needed to reach goals, manage projects, evaluate progress, and adapt approaches, developing both self reliance, and civic‐mindedness;
    • develop spatial literacy, understand the role of maps and 2-3 dimensional spatial systems; effectively process, reason, problem solve and communicate issues within a spacial context;
  • utilize advances in environmental sciences and technology to resolve issues and anticipate implications;
  • clearly communicate complex analyses, interpretations and significance through variable media (oral presentation, poster, proposal, research article, report), to audiences ranging from scientific to policy, and the general public;
  • collaborate in teams, with peers and mentors, and work with others in diverse group settings, developing flexibility and leadership skills.

Environmental Science provides a scientific basis for management of earth systems. It focuses on the interaction between human activities, resources, and the environment. As human population grows and technology advances, pressures on earth's natural systems are becoming increasingly intense and complex. Environmental Science is an exciting field where science is used to best serve society. The department offers two majors, Environmental Science and Environment and Sustainability, formerly titled Environmental Policy. A third major, Environmental Biology, is offered in conjunction with the Department of Biological Sciences.

The curriculum recognizes the need for well-trained scientists to cope with balancing human requirements and environmental conservation. Majors acquire an understanding of earth systems by taking courses in the natural sciences, as well as courses investigating environmental stress. Students learn to critically evaluate the diverse information necessary for sound environmental analysis. Our courses foster an interdisciplinary approach to environmental problem-solving.

Internships or some type of work or field experience are extremely valuable in preparing students for a career in Environmental Science. We strongly encourage students to consider an internship in the summer before the senior year because it may lay the foundation for the senior thesis.  Studies have shown that students who have had related work experience are more attractive to employers and graduate schools. 

Students interested in environmental science might want to consider a semester or summer program at the SEE-U, SEA Semester at Woods Hole, the School for Field Studies, the Organization for Tropical Studies, or some other field program.  In addition, we recommend that those students planning to go abroad in the junior year elect to do so in the Fall Semester rather than the Spring Semester in order to take best advantage of senior seminar research planning and programming.

Students wishing to go on to graduate school or careers in earth science and the physical sciences should take at least two semesters each of calculus, physics, and chemistry. Those considering  graduate school or careers in biological/chemical fields are recommended to take calculus as well as upper-level courses in biology and chemistry, and may wish to consider enrolling in an Environmental Biology major or minors in these fields. Students interested in pursuing further work in environmental policy, economics, environmental law, journalism, or teaching may consider enrolling in an Environmental Policy major or pursuing a double major, a special major, or a major/minor combination in relevant fields.