Environmental Science Concentration Guidelines

Environmental Science is a broad interdisciplinary study within Science, Mathematics and Technology, which draws upon the knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics to help learners explore and understand complex, dynamic processes operating within natural environmental systems. Within the concentration of Environmental Science, students may focus on specific themes such as agroecology, alternative energy, climate change, ecology, soil science, sustainability and water resources.

The interdisciplinary nature of the Environmental Science concentration offers many occupational possibilities. Possible career opportunities for students with concentrations in Environmental Science may include, but are not limited to environmental consulting, education, environmental law, research, positions with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), resource management, restoration and conservation, watershed management and sustainable agriculture. This concentration also will prepare students for graduate school programs with focuses in the Environmental Sciences.

Students interested in focusing on human interactions with environmental systems, e.g., environmental policy, economics, education and communications, should consider a concentration in Environmental Studies rather than Environmental Science. This concentration can be developed within the Interdisciplinary Studies area of study.

Concentrations in Environmental Science include a range of approaches and titles; however, they share a common core of knowledge and an approach to progression within the individual specialization.

Foundation in Biological and Physical Sciences

Because Environmental Science is an interdisciplinary field, students designing such concentrations should have a broad knowledge of the scientific disciplines that form the main foundation for work in the field. Introductory knowledge of biology, chemistry and physics will provide students with the solid foundation they need to develop a concentration in Environmental Science and to succeed in the advanced-level course work they will need to include in their degree plan. Foundational knowledge and experiences must include coverage of the core methodologies and theories of the discipline, as well as participation in experiential learning provided in laboratory and/or field activities.

  • Biology: Students should develop an understanding of biological concepts and sub-disciplines, which typically are covered in college-level introductory biology studies. Knowledge areas should include cellular and molecular biology, microbial, plant and animal biology, as well as introductions to population and community ecology.
  • Chemistry: Students should develop an understanding of the basic principles of chemistry and acquire the ability to perform relevant calculations,which are typically covered in introductory chemistry studies. Essential areas of knowledge include chemical bonding, molecular structure, periodic properties, thermochemistry and gases along with kinetics, equilibrium, ionic and redox equations, acid-base theory, electrochemistry, thermodynamics and gases.
  • Physics: Students should develop an understanding of the concepts related to the major topic areas typically covered in introductory physics studies. Essential areas of knowledge include mechanics, electromagnetism, waves and optics, thermodynamics and atomic and nuclear physics.

Environmental Science Core

Students are expected to develop a degree plan that encompasses the breadth of the field of environmental science and reflects progression within their area of interest. Students will build upon their foundational knowledge and experiences in the biological and physical sciences, moving to intermediate-level study in the natural environmental sciences, which provides breadth within the concentration and prepares students for in-depth advanced level study. At the advanced level, students may choose to select a particular path, one which best suits their academic interests and goals.

  • Biological environmental science: Students should understand the dynamics of natural environmental systems, focusing on how species interact with each other and their physical environment. Essential knowledge areas include species, populations, communities and ecosystems. Examples of study titles that are commonly used to meet this expectation include Environmental Science and Ecology.
  • Physical environmental science: Students should understand the dynamics of natural environmental systems, focusing on the processes shaping the physical environment. It is expected that this understanding would include both small-scale processes, such as the rock cycle, and large-scale processes, such as tectonics. Essential knowledge areas include rock formation, soil formation, nutrient cycling, water cycling, atmosphere dynamics and geologic history. Examples of study titles that are commonly used to meet this expectation include Geology and Earth Science.
  • In-depth knowledge and skills: Within their concentration, students must include advanced-level environmental science studies and experiences which provide them with the opportunity to acquire and develop:
    • problem-solving and research skills, including definition, information gathering, analysis, research design, evaluation and testing, as well as knowledge of appropriate experimental and applications methodologies
    • an increasingly critical and sophisticated understanding of the theoretical and conceptual models of the field
    • an understanding of the field as an ever-evolving area of scientific knowledge and the skills required to maintain currency in environmental science
    • a practical and a conceptual understanding of the scientific method.

Each student brings his or her own goals and background to the study of environmental science. In order to address their goals, it is common for students to focus their advanced-level study on a thematic area. For example, students interested in ecology within environmental science might include the study of ecology, conservation and biodiversity. Students interested in soil science within environmental science might include in the study of soil science, agroecology, watershed management and environmental change. Students interested in meteorology and climate within environmental science might include in the study of meteorology, global climate and natural disasters. Students are not limited to these examples, nor are they required to have a thematic area within their concentration. A thematic area is only one way to acquire the knowledge, skills and competencies expected of students in Environmental Science.

Essential Skills and Larger Context

Students should complement their science foundation with their development of skills that enhance their ability to critically analyze and interpret environmental processes and phenomena and provide them with a greater awareness of the nature of the interactions between human activities and the surrounding environment.

  • Quantitative Reasoning: Essential to the study of environmental processes and ecosystem dynamics is the ability to quantitatively analyze data collected during laboratory and field observations and experimentation. At a minimum, students should include a statistics study or equivalent in their degree plan. Students should consider additional quantitative studies such as calculus or advanced quantitative methods as appropriate to their educational and career goals.
  • Technology: Proficiency in the use of tools employed by environmental scientists is vital. Students should demonstrate a familiarity with current technology centered on spatial analysis including geographic positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS). Due to the increasing role technology is playing in the analysis and distribution of scientific data, students should demonstrate a proficiency in the technology appropriate to their focus within Environmental Science. Students also should demonstrate the ability to use technology to acquire data in field and laboratory research projects. They also should be able to use technology to analyze and interpret data with a goal of strengthening their understanding of a particular research question and identifying future areas of research. Students might demonstrate this learning through a variety of studies and/or experiences.
  • Wider Social Context: All science is conducted within a wider social context. Thus, students should include in their concentrations studies and experiences that develop their understanding of the relationships among society, the natural world and the work of scientists. The knowledge areas and experiences that students select to complement the science components of their concentration will vary, but they should be appropriate to their future academic and career goals. Exploration of Environmental Science within the wider context might be performed within a variety of fields, such as policy, law, ethics, education, economics, literature, or communication.
  • Practicum: Students developing concentrations in Environmental Science must include a learning experience that will provide them with practical experience in the field. Examples of ways this practical experience could be acquired include an internship, a study designed in consultation with a mentor and the assessment of prior learning experiences. Practical study provides students with the opportunity to engage in current and innovative technological methods used for experiments and the collection of data. Topic areas for practical experience include environmental research and monitoring, conservation and restoration, environmental education and environmental policy design and implementation. For example, a student interested in agricultural sustainability may intern at a local community organic farm. Students can work with their mentor to identify appropriate practical experiences.

Capstone Experience

Students designing concentrations in Environmental Science should include a capstone study or final integrating experience in their degree plan. Within the capstone experience, students practice and reinforce the skills learned and the knowledge gained during the foundational components of their program. As a capstone experience, students might work with a mentor to design their own research projects, or they might decide to participate in a formalized research project offered through a local college or organization. The practical experience guideline may be met through the fulfillment of the capstone.


Students should explicitly discuss in their rationale essay how each of the above topics is incorporated in their degree program, how the program is designed to meet their goals and how the program meets the currency criteria discussed above. It is not necessary that the specific terms used above appear in individual study titles.

Effective July 1, 2013