Environmental Studies

405 Interdisciplinary Sciences Building
(831) 459-2634--Main Office
(831) 459-5004--Undergraduate Major and Requirement Inquiries
(831) 459-4136--Doctoral Program Inquiries

Programs Offered

Environmental Studies B.A. 

Agroecology BA

Environmental Studies/Biology B.A.

Environmental Studies/Earth Sciences B.A.

Environmental Studies/Economics B.A.

Environmental Studies Ph.D.

Environmental Studies Designated Emphasis (D.E.)

Environmental Studies is a field of study that views the Earth and our place in it, as a set of complex, interacting socio-ecological systems. At UC Santa Cruz, we use an interdisciplinary approach to study the social, cultural, and scientific relationships with the environment. Courses in environmental studies provide training not only in the physical and social sciences, but also in writing, critical thinking, quantitative analysis, project and team management, and more. Environmental studies alumni are making a difference in conservation organizations, habitat restoration, sustainable agriculture, environmental mediation, biodiversity research, and many other areas.

Undergraduate Program

The environmental studies major prepares students for meaningful lifetime engagement with the environmental challenges that are facing society. UCSC environmental studies graduates hold leadership positions as legislative and policy analysts, environmental lawyers, environmental managers, city and state planners, educators, restoration ecologists, organic farmers and agroecology specialists, conservation biologists, environmental engineers, museum curators, business consultants, and political advocates. In addition, many graduates go on to obtain professional, master’s, or doctoral degrees at the nation’s finest institutions.

Students pursue an interdisciplinary curriculum that combines coursework in the natural and social sciences. Introductory courses cover the ecological, political, and economic aspects of historic, current and future environmental issues. The core course, Environmental Studies 100/L, Ecology and Society builds on the skills acquired in the lower-division classes, and encourages students to apply ecological, economic, and political skills toward environmental and ecosystem management. The remaining upper-division elective courses further emphasize the integration of ecological knowledge with an understanding of social institutions and policies. The program emphasizes active, interdisciplinary learning with the overall objective of instilling the necessary skills to conserve biodiversity and integrate the principles of sustainability with respect to management of complex environmental systems. Faculty work on these issues at local, regional, and global levels, providing a unique, proactive, and progressive academic environment for students wishing to pursue a degree program within the Environmental Studies Department.

As a complement to classroom instruction and research, many courses have field components. The Environmental Studies Internship Program helps qualified students find placements with government and educational agencies, community organizations, and private firms. Furthermore, faculty-directed, independent, or field-oriented research courses allow environmental studies students the opportunity to learn more about their specific academic career or personal interests, often while earning academic credit.

In addition to the single environmental studies major, students can also choose to pursue the agroecology major. The major will provide students with a depth of expertise in interdisciplinary knowledge and skills related to agroecology and sustainable food systems. UCSC students pursuing the B.A. in agroecology will gain knowledge and skills in multiple disciplines and an increased understanding of complex agricultural systems. 

Students may also choose to pursue one of three combined majors with biology, earth sciences, or economics. The combined major curricula offer the unique integration of the underlying concepts of environmental studies with a focus on the application of these concepts in a closely related field (or vice versa).

The general environmental studies B.A. major offers three concentrations in addition to the major without a concentration. Below are the concentrations offered in the environmental studies B.A. major.

Geographic Information Systems Concentration

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is an interdisciplinary field that links ecology, geography, and society to evaluate and facilitate environmental planning, policy, management and conservation. Within environmental studies, GIS addresses complex and interconnected social and ecological problems and fosters more sustainable environmental futures by supporting the visualization of geographical distribution of environmental problems and solutions. GIS is also an information technology field that acquires, manages, interprets, integrates, displays, analyzes, or otherwise uses socio-economic and environmental data focusing on geographic, temporal, and spatial contexts. Students in the GIS concentration will develop a strong foundation in environmental problem solving that is linked to geospatial data acquisition and management, computer-based GIS technologies, and advanced geospatial analysis. GIS is a key emerging industry in the U.S. today and job growth is rapidly expanding. GIS specialists work in many areas, including research and analysis in resource and environmental management, biology, sociology, marine sciences, commercial business and marketing, and urban and regional planning.

The GIS concentration provides students within environmental studies majors with a set of foundational courses in introductory geospatial data management and visualization, information technology and software in GIS, and advanced geospatial analytical approaches for environmental applications. The program learning outcomes and student competencies that are achieved through the concentration include the successful development of basic geospatial technology skills and abilities, advanced geo-spatial data analysis abilities for environmental applications, enhanced understanding of scale, co-production of space, politics and power of representation, and the preparation of students for entry and mid-level careers as GIS specialists.

Global Environmental Justice Concentration

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental justice is defined as ‘the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.’ Today, environmental justice is a pillar of national environmental policy, with a swathe of laws and legislation that covers a wide range of sectors. It is a growing area in policy, advocacy and scholarship internationally, embracing topics as diverse as indigenous rights, gender equity and climate justice. In recent years, a parallel idea—of human rights and the environment—has emerged in legal and policy contexts. Environmental justice and human rights are thus among the fastest growing subjects in environmental public policy globally.

This concentration provides students within environmental studies majors with special depth of understanding of the issues and approaches central to global environmental justice The global environmental justice concentration is premised on the assertion that the distribution of environmental problems reflects longstanding, uneven terrains of power and privilege, exploitation, and dispossession. Globalization and the fluidity of corporate capital, commodity chains and community campaigns require approaches that conceptualize the frictions between the local and global, legacies of colonialism, and multiplicity of responses— human and non-human—in the face of oppression, adaptation, and resistance. The inextricable interconnections between ecological and social degradation, and the social implications of efforts to remedy ecological degradation, are an intrinsic and important core of environmental studies.

Conservation Science and Policy Concentration

Effective conservation of biological diversity requires integrating principles of conservation biology and environmental policy. Conservation science is built on a foundation of natural history embedded into a framework of modern ecological theory. Conservation policy reflects social values and provides the economic and legislative tools to achieve desired goals surrounding the conservation of species and ecosystems. The purpose of the conservation science and policy concentration is to provide students within environmental studies majors with the depth and necessary skills in natural history, conservation biology, and environmental policy to effectively engage in this intrinsically interdisciplinary field. Students completing this concentration will be prepared for positions with government agencies and conservation organizations concerned with biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management.

The concentration requires upper-division core courses in both natural and social science aspects of conservation, as well as a field-based course in ecology, natural history, or conservation. The field-based course is important because effective work in the conservation field requires a deep understanding of natural ecosystems. This is best learned through immersive, experiential field courses that develop a natural history-based understanding of ecosystems as well as how to ask and answer critical ecological and conservation questions.

Graduate Program

Environmental Studies Ph.D. Program

Established in 1994, the doctoral program* in the Department of Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz emphasizes close faculty-student interactions, department-wide intellectual exchange, and cross-discipline innovation. The goal of our Ph.D. program is to develop exceptional individuals with strong foundations in their own fields, and the ability to work with those in other relevant specialties.

The program draws from two main areas: ecology and social science. These are historically independent fields and UCSC's Environmental Studies program is one of the first to link them.

Graduates of the Environmental Studies Doctoral Program at UC Santa Cruz are expected to be informed in conservation biology, global change ecology, agroecology, environmental policy, and political economy of the environment. Our students have deep intellectual strength in their area of specialty, and make substantial contributions toward the understanding of an environmental problem.

Please contact our Graduate Program coordinator with any questions or inquiries you may have.

Designated Emphasis

The Designated Emphasis is the equivalent of a “minor” for doctoral study. It will provide you with a framework for in-depth study in specialized fields in your area, and an opportunity for recognition of particular scholarly expertise.

Discuss your intention to declare the Environmental Studies Designated Emphasis with your primary advisor and the Graduate Program coordinator, in your primary Ph.D. program. 

Please see this page for information about the Designated Emphasis in Environmental Studies.

*Our program is doctoral only, we do not offer a terminal master's degree at our program.