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Research Station: Campus Stewardship Courses

How do colleges and universities focus on the campus environment in the classroom? In some courses, students spend the entire semester working on a single project, in others they break into small groups to explore multiple issues. At some schools these courses occur annually while at others only occasionally. For all, the aim is to study the issues, to promote a greener campus, and if possible, to take action.

Only a relatively small number of such courses exist—that is, considering there are more than 3,500 colleges and universities in the United States. At schools where campus-focused courses are offered, faculty and students have plenty of topics to choose from, including recycling, energy conservation, transportation, toxic chemicals, landscaping, water conservation, investment policies and dozens more.

Does your school have a "campus stewardship" course? If not, the following examples will provide ideas and inspiration. This information was drawn from websites, course syllabi, and correspondence with instructors. Some of the courses are no longer offered, but the information about them may still be useful. For help with setting up such a course, check the links and email addresses provided in the course descriptions, or contact EcoLeaders.

Schools and Courses

  • Brown University (Providence, RI)
    Course title: Environmental Stewardship Practicum
  • Goucher College (Baltimore, MD)
    Course title: Global Civic Responsibility
  • University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Ontario, Canada)
    Course title: Greening the Campus and Community
  • Northland College (Ashland, WI)
    Course title: Sustainable Living on a College Campus
  • University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
    Course title: Energy Star Building Analysis and Design
  • Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH)
    Course title: Environmental Problem Analysis and Policy Formulation
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison (Madison, WI)
    Course title: Environmental Studies Certificate Program Capstone
  •  (Houston, TX)
    Course title: Assessment of Rice University as an Environmental System

Brown University—Providence, RI (back to top)

Environmental Studies 41 - Environmental Stewardship Practicum

Details: Offered once a year in spring semester. Meets once a week for 2.5 hours, with additional time required for field trips and meetings. Course has been offered continuously since 1990.

For further information: Brown is Green website

Course Goals
1. To research and evaluate economically feasible solutions for decreasing the environmental impact of the individual, household, and institution.
2. To learn the process of completing group research projects, acting as an environmental consultant, and produce reports and recommendations suitable for implementation by the University Administration.


Research Project Report. A final report is required, completed by a team of two to four researchers throughout the semester. The report shall include a review of literature, review of institutional information and procedures, economic analysis, and proposal for implementation of a program. The nature of the report has some flexibility. It should be modeled after the content and quality of a research report provided by a professional consultant to the university. The project can deal with individual, cooperative, or community issues but must have an analysis at the university/institutional level as a major component.

Subject Presentations. Each student will be responsible for (co-) developing and (co-) teaching one class period, or an assigned part of the period, on specific topic areas to be decided at the beginning of the semester. Students will meet ahead of time with the instructor to approve plans for activities, which might include facilitated discussion, multi-media segments, practical application projects, or other "hands-on" activities. Development of readings and/or other forms of research for the lesson is mandatory.

Discussion Papers and Exercises. Approximately two short discussion papers and several problem sets, involving practical applications of data gathering and analysis, will be completed during the course. The scope and nature of these and other assignments will be determined throughout semester according to instructor and student interest.

Computer Literacy. Specified papers, research, assignments, announcements, etc. relative to the course will be conducted through electronic mail, networked files and the Web. The objective is, in part, to test the electronic mode of communication for efficiency in use of time and resources.

Readings. Binders and Web resources will be developed throughout the semester. Students should first consult these resources when researching their area. The students and instructor will develop electronic and other supplemental readings during the semester.

Field Trips. Trips during class and outside of class time will be scheduled. Possibilities include the Johnston Landfill and Materials Recovery Facility, Manchester Street Electrical Generation Plant, relevant Brown University facilities, and a local organic farm and composting center.

Class Planning Schedule. Because the course includes a team-teaching component, the quality of the content provided depends upon the initiative, research, and creativity of participants. To ensure that ES 41 will be a worthwhile experience for everyone, a timeframe for the required planning and approval phases for the class presentations will be followed.

Spring 2001 Schedule

Jan 29 - Introduction
Feb 05 - Topic: Electrical Efficiency, Global Warming (Project Selection)
Feb 12 - Topic: Food and Yard Waste Composting (Project Work Plan Due)
Feb 19 - Project Group Meetings
Feb 26 - Topic: Consumption (Formal Proposals Due)
Mar 05 - Topic: Environmental Health
Mar 12 - Topic: Transportation (Progress Report #1 Due)
Mar 19 - Topic: Alternative Energy Systems
Apr 02 - Topic: Water Quality, Conservation
Apr 09 - Topic: Food Production and Consumption (Progress Report #2 Due)
Apr 16 - MRF and Landfill Tour
Apr 23 - Topic: Recycling and Waste Management
Apr 30 - Farm Tour (Final Report Due)
May 07 - Project Presentations

Goucher College—Baltimore, MD (back to top)
International and Intercultural Studies 210 - Global Civic Responsibility

For Further Information: Goucher College website

Details: The course examines the complex processes of globalization and how these political, economic, and social changes affect the individual, nations, and the environment today. It looks at the state of the world today, how we got here, and how different approaches to the world influence and reflect how we relate to one another in the world and to our environment. It uses the environmental issues of food, energy, waste, and water to discuss the different theoretical approaches. As part of the course, students conduct an environmental audit of Goucher College to better understand where they as individuals and a community fit into the environmental picture today. Following is a description of the audit project.

Goal. The goal of this project is to do an audit of Goucher College's use of resources. We will examine the four issues of energy, food, water, waste. We also want to know how we fit into the larger environmental picture -- in terms of local, state, national, and international use of resources. And we want to make recommendations for what we (students, faculty, staff, administrators) can do to lessen Goucher's environmental footprint.

Procedure. The class will be divided into four groups and each group will investigate one of the issues. Each group will decide what they will focus on and how the work will be divided. Some of the questions that might be asked are: Where does our water come from and how much do we consume? How much refuse do we make and where does our refuse go? How much energy do we use and how efficient is our heating and cooling system? Where does our food come from and how much food do we consume?

Resources. There are several books about conducting an environmental audit on a college campus that are on reserve in the library.

  • April Smith, Campus Ecology, LA: Living Planet Press, 1993
  • Julian Keniry, Ecodemia, Washington, DC: National Wildlife Federation, 1995
  • Sarah Creighton, Greening the Ivory Tower, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998
  • The National Wildlife Federation has resources on environmental audits, as well as a list of schools that have done environmental audits.

Grading. Each group will be assigned one grade at the end of the semester. Each student in the group will receive that grade, unless exceptional circumstances prevail. Whether an exceptional circumstance exists will be determined by the professor. For example, if one student in the group was not involved in the project she/he will receive a lower grade than the rest of the group. Grading is determined based on all of the work handed in throughout the semester - not just the final paper. The final grade for your environmental audit will be determined as follows: final paper (50%), presentation (20%), first draft (20%), plan of action (10%).

Course Schedule

Sep 28 - Plan of Action due
Sep 28-Oct 31 - Carry out your plan of action. Revise your plan as necessary. Read books, articles on your issue. Interview appropriate Goucher personnel and students.
Oct 03-Oct05 - Group must meet with professor to discuss Plan of Action.
Oct 31 - Audit first draft due
Oct 31-Nov 21 - Revise paper. Conduct more research as necessary.
Nov 07-Nov 09 - Group must meet with professor to discuss First Draft.
Nov 21 - Audit final paper due
Nov 28-Dec 07 - Presentations in class

University of Waterloo—Ontario, Canada (back to top)
ERS 250 (Formerly ERS 285) - Greening the Campus and Community

For Further Information: WATgreen program, Student Project Library

Details: Course is offered three times a year in the Department of Environment and Resource Studies (ERS).

History: During fall 1990, an ERS course on problem-solving concentrated on "Greening the Campus." This provided a crucial nexus for consolidating WATgreen activity during its initial startup. It captured a group of students and faculty and focused their attention on projects related to the campus as an open ecosystem. The very fact of having a course devoted to WATgreen made it a mainstream activity for students and faculty rather than an add-on.

In fall 1991, a course devoted to WATgreen was started. This course focuses on teaching students how to evaluate the environmental implications of their life on campus. It serves to identify aspects of campus life which have the potential to be improved by further student projects. A list of these projects is made available to students interested in greening the campus. The data collected by students in this course are used as the basis for other student work and as a baseline for measuring improvement in UW's environmental profile. To date, most of the projects have involved students from engineering and environmental studies. Our current focus is on broadening the scope of involvement in WATgreen.

Course Goals and Overview

In the early 1990s, the innovative environmental educator, David Orr, decided that university campuses should model the world that their students seek to create. Out of his ideals and commitment, the first "greening the campus" project was created. The idea was to use the campus as a laboratory for demonstrating how to create sustainable communities. The Greening the Campus movement has since spread across university campuses in both the United States and Canada. The University of Waterloo was the first university in Canada to get involved. The WATgreen project was set up by ERS faculty and students working in cooperation with staff, students and other faculty members from across the university.

In ERS 285/250, students examine the working of the university and it broader community environment in terms of present conditions and envisioned possibilities. The students apply a systems or holistic perspective in order to arrive at creative, innovative and feasible solutions to the current real-life problems involved in running the university and/or in fostering sustainability in Waterloo, Kitchener and the surrounding rural communities.

The goal of the course is to ensure that students receive experience in planning and carrying out interdisciplinary research projects that are grounded in real-life problems. This course also makes a direct contribution to enhancing the sustainability of the campus and the broader community in which it is located. The campus and the community serve as the laboratory for identifying, evaluating and assessing indicators of progress toward greater sustainability. Students develop research projects designed to test criteria for sustainability in a variety of settings, both on and off campus using qualitative and quantitative research methods. The course requires students to collect and analyze physical and social data. A variety of tools may be used including systems analysis, environmental audits, field surveys, questionnaires, interviews, and statistical analysis. Students then make recommendations for improvements on the basis of their analysis. Upon completion of the course, students should be well prepared to take on the challenges of proposal-writing, systems analysis, research design and implementation and report preparation required for successful completion of ERS 390 and ERS 490.

Required Readings

The course text is Research Decisions, 2nd edition, by Ted Palys, Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1997. In addition, students are expected to familiarize themselves with information available in print and on the Web about WATgreen, the broader Greening the Campus movement and the social requirements for environmental literacy. A selection of reference sources will be on reserve in the Map and Design Library.

Tutorials: Regular attendance at the tutorials is very important. The stages of the project during the tutorials should deal with each of the major research decisions that you will be reading about in your textbook. As such, your projects will reflect the lectures of the week. Make sure that you keep up with your readings so that you can apply them to your project and can answer the checklists presented in your tutorials every three weeks.

Quizzes: These quizzes are based on the readings in the textbook. (Questions are at the back of each chapter). The quizzes will be held at the beginning of class or tutorial.

Project Analysis Due May 25. The assignment is to be done individually and is designed to ensure you are familiar with at least one aspect of previous WATgreen work and to engage you in thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of various research methods. With the assistance of your tutor, students will choose a previous WATgreen research paper and will prepare a short (approximately 5 pages) analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the research methods used. Make sure you defend your arguments by drawing on information from your textbook. Using your assigned WATgreen topic, and your textbook, you will identify the following:

  • Importance/relevance of general topic with respect to some dimension of sustainability
  • Background, history of WATgreen activity in this area and any comparative information you can find about how this has been handled in Greening the Campus initiatives elsewhere;
  • Specific research problem addressed (Was the research problem clearly defined and supported by clearly identified research questions or objectives?)
  • Outcomes of this project (Were there any identifiable results of this project?)
  • Strengths and weaknesses of research methods used to address the problem and create recommendations (What methods were used for: population determination, sampling, data gathering, analysis? Were the research methods appropriate to the scope and significance of the problem? Were they reasonable given the time and resources available for the project? Did they generate credible results in a fashion that is likely to influence decision-makers? Refer to your text. State your criteria for determining strengths/weaknesses clearly and be sure to refer to key concepts such as reliability, validity, and utility).
  • What YOU would recommend/suggest regarding changes or improvements, if any, if a similar project were to be done in the future, and/or with respect to follow-up research (How do you think that your recommendations would have/will affect outcomes of similar projects?)

Group Project: Students will work in groups of three on research projects assigned in consultation with Patti Cook and some other staff from the university. This year, the class will consider the issue of air quality in Kitchener-Waterloo with a specific focus on the University. Make sure that you do your research to find out what has been investigated previously and build on previous work. Some topics to consider:

  • Calculate the emissions from car exhaust on campus (see Greg Michaelenko) and consider how they might be reduced.
  • Assess the impact of pollution on the trees on campus (see Larry Lamb) e.g. do a comparative analysis of trees in another locale.
  • Assess the policy approach of the region in dealing with the problem of poor air quality in the region.
  • Conduct a survey of students and/or faculty to consider ways of reducing dependence on automobiles to the university.
  • Consider the influential actors that shape the decision-making process and develop a strategy for activism.
  • Analyze the causes for the air quality problems in Kitchener-Waterloo. How much difference would a local strategy make?
  • Evaluate the air quality impacts on asthma sufferers
  • Mapping the trees on campus: a GIS project.

Preliminary Proposal and Study Design: This must be approved before you may proceed to the final project - Last date for submission - June 8

Your group will prepare a five-page document including the following:

  1. Project Definition: Statement of research problem, importance/rationale, and scope
  2. Systems Analysis: Provide a short description and graphic representation(s) of the relevant campus/community system and its relevant subcomponents, showing how improvement in your topic area will contribute to greater sustainability for the campus and community. Identify actor groups, using the analytical framework introduced to you in ERS 100.
  3. Proposed Research Method: Identify what information you intend to gather, where you will gather it from and how you will analyze it, referring to sections of your text. If you are doing a survey or are using research tools, include a draft research tool/survey.
  4. Schedule: Show your time frame for completion of the project, identifying major steps, who is responsible for each of them in your group and when they will be completed. Use the course outline as a guide for major benchmarks.

Presentation and Final Report: Your presentation will highlight your key findings and focus on your recommendations, addressing the key criteria of creativity (is it innovative?), effectiveness (will it work?), efficiency (is it feasible given available resources of time and money?), and impact (what difference will this make to the sustainability of the relevant system(s)?). Presentations are expected to be of professional quality, incorporating visual aids and providing a polished presentation of information within the time frame provided. FINAL REPORTS WILL BE SUBMITTED IN HARD AND DISK COPY. Your final report will NOT be considered to have been submitted UNTIL it has been received in hard and DISK copy.

Project Titles, by semester

Summer 2000. Air Pollution and Tree Health on Campus, Tree Mapping-Physics Building and Needles Hall, Bike Lanes to Campus, Public Transportation to Campus, Rooftop Gardens on Campus

Winter 2000. Energy Efficiency in Residence Window Systems, Windows for the Proposed Architecture Building, Energy and the Proposed Architecture Building, Greening the University of Waterloo's Building Standards, Green Building Materials and the Architecture Building

Summer 1999. Communicating Environmental Information to Students, Goose Aversion through Landscaping, Energy Use Reduction in Math Building, Guidelines for New Buildings on Campus

Winter 1999. Greening Graphic Services, Hazardous Materials at UW, Transportation Study: Reducing the Need to Drive to Campus, Central Stores, Examination of The Purchasing Department, Campus Ecology Update

Summer 1998. Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration: The North Campus Pond, Campus Tree Inventory, Outdoor Land Use and Landscape History, Alternative Frosh Experience

Winter 1998. The Imprint's Footprint, Examining Recycling Contamination in ES 1 and 2, Environmental Education Assessment at Ron Eydt Village, Ron Eydt Village Food Waste Audit, Sanding & Salting, Vermicomposting on UW Campus

Summer 1997. Greening The Minds Of The Village 1 Residence, A Study on the Sustainability of the UW Golf Course, Waste Audit of the University of Waterloo Gazette, Evaluation Of The Hazardous Materials Handling Facility, Bare Berms on Campus

Winter 1997. An Audit of Fine Arts, Composting at St. Paul's, Cycling at UW, Lug-a-Mug Assessment in the Engineering Society C & D, Micro-Commuting on Campus, Mission Imprintable, Recycling at Athletic Events


Northland College—Ashland, WI (back to top)
Environmental Studies 250 - Sustainable Living on a College Campus

For Further Information: Main campus

Details: Northland College, a private 4-year liberal arts college at the northern tip of Wisconsin, built its way onto the national environmental map in 1998. That was the year it opened the McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center (ELLC), a state-of-the-art student residence hall. The building is energy and water efficient, composts or recycles most of its waste, and is constructed with many locally available materials. Students were involved in the planning and design of the building, and current residents study the structure and its use of resources as part of a college course.

Goal: This experience will integrate student's living environment with the study of various components of sustainability. We will study personal living habits and choices from the perspective of the environmental impacts resulting thereof. The "Environmental Living and Learning Center," our newest residence hall, will serve as classroom and laboratory for this course. Our focus of study will start at each of our individual homes and venture outward as our impacts reach out to the community, region, nation, and planet. Each student will confront the question: How shall I live?

Objectives: Students, with support and guidance of faculty, staff, and community members, will study sustainability in the context of the following five areas:

  1. Energy: Monitoring the ELLC wind and solar energy systems, passive solar heating design and gas boiler heating systems. Study student and building system energy demand. Comparing and contrasting these with conventional systems and buildings on campus. Develop, implement, and evaluate conservation techniques and programs that go beyond the standard technology. Trace grid electricity and natural gas from source to application. Explore our energy future.
  2. Water: Monitor water usage, compare and contrast with traditional buildings. Develop a comparative analysis of composting toilets with conventional units. Develop, implement, and evaluate conservation techniques and programs which go beyond the standard technology. Trace tap water from source to discharge. Investigate landscape and rain and snow runoff.
  3. Food: Analyze sources, environmental and health impacts of food consumed by residents and class members. Utilize the greenhouses and campus gardens to grow food for consumption by residents. Collect data on the energy and water demands of food production, preparation and preservation. Experiment with composting, vermiculture, and other methods of food waste conversion to compost for use in the greenhouses. Develop menus for low impact lifestyles. Research regional and national food production and the contrasting new trends in bioengineering and organic agriculture.
  4. Consumption and waste: Study purchasing and consumption habits/practices of all students in the course. Monitor, record, categorize, and analyze the students' purchasing during a two month period. Analyze the impacts of materials purchased, their packaging, and eventual disposal. Develop model purchasing practices and recycling efforts with a goal of reducing the quantity of materials being landfilled by 75 percent.
  5. Green building practices: The ELLC employs many materials in its construction that are "green" by some definitions. This group will study these materials as well as others to evaluate the better green choices for future construction and renovation. Performance of green materials will be compared to conventional choices. We will also study the green building movement as a national movement or fad, and recently developed evaluation tools. A final objective of this course will be to develop educational programs and materials for interpreting the new residence hall which will be presented to interested members of the college community and the Chequamegon Bay community. Practicality and transferability of the information for regional sustainability will be a prime objective. Papers, public presentations, video documentaries, and webpages are a few possibilities.

Course structure

We will meet three hours per week in large group class meetings. These provide structure, a common knowledge base, broad conceptual themes, problem solving, opportunities for group work, field trips, and connections to regional and global perspectives. On average, one meeting per week will involve a guest speaker or tour. Several of these activities are already scheduled, however free time still exists for the addition of others based on student interest. The class will break into four small groups of four to five students each. These teams will concentrate on one of the five objective areas, or another approved topic, and are expected to meet outside of class time to study their focus areas. The instructor or resource persons will meet with the small groups as needed.

The final programs and presentations will occur during the two weeks prior to finals week and will be open to the community.


Since we are not using a text, class attendance, small group attendance, and participation are very important to successful completion of this course. Students missing more that four class periods can expect to have their final grade reduced by one letter grade.

Students will write reflective papers at mid-term and at the end of the term which will address their learning during the class. Questionnaires, survey instruments, data analysis techniques, concept maps, and other class projects will become part of each student's class portfolio.

The final component of assessment for the course will be based on the programs and materials developed and on the quality of the final group presentations.

Course Readings

Earth In Mind, by David Orr
Ecological Literacy, by Mitchell Thomashow
Material World: A Global Family Portrait, by Peter Menzel
Ecodemia, by Julian Keniry
Ecological Design, by Sim Van Der Ryn & Stuart Cowan
Voluntary Simplicity, by Duane Elgin
The Integral Urban House
Environmental Resource Guide, compiled by the AIA
Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things, by Ryan & Durning Northland's Sustainability Charter

University of Virginia—Charlottesville, VA (back to top)
Engineering 162 - "Introduction to Engineering: Energy Star Building Analysis and Design"

For Further Information: University of Virginia website

Details: Course meets twice a week for 50 minutes. Partially as a result of this course, the University of Virginia was chosen by the US Environmental Protection Agency as the 1999 Green Lights Education Partner of the Year. Students use EPA's Energy Star Buildings Manual as the principal course book, applying its buildings guidelines to conduct energy analyses of campus buildings. In turn, the university's Energy Program Manager utilizes the students' work to develop energy projects. As a result of these and other energy projects, the University of Virginia (as of 1999) reduced its energy use by 23 million kilowatt-hours, preventing the release of 40 million pounds of carbon dioxide.

Course Goals

To introduce open-ended problems and the concepts of design. To explore the interactions of technical, economic, management, policy, and ethical considerations in engineering decisions. To introduce concepts of sustainable use of natural resources including environmental assets. To develop an ability to conduct an energy analysis of buildings and design a cost-effective energy upgrade. To develop team-work and communication skills. To introduce the various fields of engineering and applied science.

Learning Objectives

  1. To utilize the EPA Energy Star Buildings protocol to conduct energy analyses of buildings and prepare design recommendations for energy-efficient building upgrades.
  2. To develop fundamental concepts of energy, consider the role of energy in society, and address decisions regarding energy development, supply, and regulation.
  3. To work in teams to develop conceptual designs which relate to such issues as safety, quality, reliability, and optimization.
  4. To prepare written and oral reports that communicate recommended design solutions to meet the performance requirements of open-ended problems.
  5. To apply basic computational techniques used in economic decision-making, including interest, time-value of money, capital costs, annual costs and comparison techniques.
  6. To understand and apply basic concepts of professional responsibility and ethics.
  7. To learn about various career opportunities in engineering and applied science.

Project Description

The Energy Star building analysis project is the major assignment for the class. Teams of 3 to 7 students analyze the energy use of buildings on campus and their goal is to determine the most cost effective and important upgrades to make the building more energy efficient as a whole.

The project is broken up into five stages which include all aspects of the building such as lighting, insulation, HVAC system, and several others as outlined by the EPA's Energy Star Program. Suggested upgrades will not only save the university money, but also will benefit the environment by decreasing the amount of fossil fuels burned.

Throughout the semester, project teams work with numerous employees of the facilities management department at UVA along with contacting companies for information on different products. The hands-on work not only introduces students to several fields in engineering but also develops their presentation skills.

Sample Project Report Outline

Mechanical Engineering Building - Built 1971, 4 floors, 71,008 square feet
Utility cost $245,976, Cost per square foot: $3.46

Stage 1—Green Lights

  • Maximize lamp/ballast efficiency
  • Use of automatic controls
  • Implementation of sensors
  • Establish operation and maintenance practices

Green Lights Upgrade of 1996

  • Replaced T-12 with T-8
  • Replaced old standard magnetic ballasts with standard electronic ballasts
  • Total project cost: $132,561

Lighting Savings

  • Lighting load reduction: 54,866 kW
  • Electricity reduction: 294,464 kWh/year
  • Energy cost savings: $17,562/year
  • Internal rate of return: 12%

Implementation of sensors?

  • Already installed in bathrooms
  • Installed in offices and classrooms per request
  • Many professors decline installation of sensors because of sporadic failure
  • Facilities Management offers free installation per request
  • Sensors not compatible with dimmer

Use sensors correctly

  • Team MEC has noticed the misuse of sensors, specifically those in restrooms
  • Repeatedly set [On] instead of [Auto]
  • Use posters to inform occupants

Turn off lights when not in use

  • Reduce operating hours of lights through word of mouth and flyers
  • No monetary investment, only a few seconds of inconvenience
  • Payback is immediate and savings potential is excellent

Energy cost savings per year:
$1,009 to $1,136 saved (through 2-hour reduction per day in 3 classrooms)


Dartmouth College—Hanover, NH (back to top)
Environmental Studies 50 - Environmental Problem Analysis and Policy Formulation

For Further Information: Environmental Studies homepage, Report Titles

Details: The course, which started in 1973, is offered once a year in spring semester and is open primarily to seniors. According to the current instructor for the course, " The basic picture is pretty simple: The course instructor picks a topic for students to dig into and suggests how students should organize themselves in analyzing the issue in question. Then students work in small groups (typically 4-6) investigating component parts, and a full-length report emerges after a couple of months of hard digging." For a complete list of annual project titles dating from 1973, see the Report Titles website.

General Description

In this class, students will be required to quantify, analyze, and make recommendations regarding a local environmental issue. As part of this task, students will organize themselves into groups to collect data and analyze various aspects of the problem, assess the alternatives, and make specific recommendations for action. In conducting these studies students will be responsible for all aspects of the work. The instructor will be available to facilitate student initiatives and to provide feedback on interim and final results. The final product of this course will be a written report which will outline the problem under consideration, the recommendations for action, and the corresponding supporting evidence and methodology. The class will also present its report in a public seminar.

The goals of this course are to: (1) give students an opportunity to see how the interdisciplinary knowledge acquired in their various courses and departmental major programs can be integrated in a synthetic manner; (2) provide for an in-depth evaluation of a significant environmental policy problem; and (3) give students the experience of working as a project team toward the solution of a real-world problem.

Spring 2000 - The Issue: Transportation and the Environment at Dartmouth

The transportation sector is a major cause of environmental degradation, accounting for 27 percent of U.S. energy use and large volumes of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and hydrocarbon emissions. The fuel system that supports automobiles and other vehicles is linked to environmental harms such as oil spills and the depletion of nonrenewable resources. Finally, the mobility provided by automobiles is both a cause and an effect of suburban and rural sprawl, which generate both habitat fragmentation and environmental disamenities.

According to Clifford Cobb, the use of automobiles generates external costs equivalent to $1.60 per gallon of car-related gasoline consumption. Internalizing these costs through higher fuel prices or other policy interventions would alter both vehicle technologies (the fuel economy, size, and performance of vehicles on the road) and human behavior (travel distances, mode choice, and vehicle occupancy). Cobb estimates that a shift to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars would be the dominant impact of cost internalization. Behavioral changes would be of secondary importance.

Your assignment this term is to link the general issues surrounding transportation and the environment to the particular circumstances faced by the transportation system at Dartmouth. In this context, the "Dartmouth transportation system" involves both: (a) the use of College-owned vehicles for official purposes; and (b) the use of private vehicles and public transportation by Dartmouth faculty, staff, and students to commute to and from campus. More specifically, your class this term is charged with the tasks of:

1. Characterizing the existing transportation system. In this task, you will examine the types of vehicles currently in use, their patterns of utilization (distance traveled per vehicle), and the ensuing impacts on major environmental variables (definitely energy use; possibly emissions of air pollutants and other indicators as well).

2. Identify alternatives. This task will assess the prospects for technological options such as high-mileage automobiles or more exotic electric cars or hybrid vehicles. You might also consider behavioral alternatives such as car pooling, public transportation, and nonmotorized transportation (bicycling and walking).

3. Policies and incentives. In this task, you will outline how the existing transportation system is supported by Dartmouth policies as well as broader social, political, and economic factors. More importantly, you will discuss practical steps that could be taken by the College or by individual members of the Dartmouth community to reduce the environmental impacts caused by vehicles. You might, for example, explore the impacts of: (a) building additional faculty housing in close proximity to campus; (b) encouraging individuals to drive more fuel efficient cars; or (c) adopting a system of parking fees that provided incentives to reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles.

Throughout your work, you should pay close attention to matters of economic and political feasibility - the compatibility of your proposals with the objectives of cost-conscious administrators and the perceived needs of faculty, staff, and students. You should aim to provide a short list of well-packaged options that are likely to receive widespread support in the Dartmouth community. Don't lose track of the "big picture," and don't let yourselves get too bogged down in details. Remember: Simplicity is a virtue, and real-world policy analysts must often base their work on a combination of literature research and the use of readily available data.

Course Schedule

Except for the first week of class, most class periods are not scheduled aside from a weekly class meeting to assess the current progress of the project. Reserve the other class periods for meeting with classmates and other activities related to this class. The need to meet during some of the presently unscheduled class periods will likely arise as the project progresses. Keep in mind that these may be the only times that the entire class can meet together.

Mar 27 - Introduction
Mar 29 - Bill Hochstin, Dartmouth Purchasing Office
Mar 31 - Brainstorming/organization
Apr 03 - Ned Perrin, Professor Emeritus, Environmental Studies
Apr 10 - Project outline due
Apr 17 - Progress report
Apr 24 - Progress report
May 01 - Progress report
May 08 - Progress report
May 15 - Final Report due at printers
May 26 - Seminar presentation, 4:00 p.m., 101 Fairchild (tentative)
May 31 - Wrap-up session

University of Wisconsin, Madison—Madison, WI (back to top)
Environmental Studies 600 - ES Certificate Program Capstone

For Further Information: Institute for Environmental Studies homepage

Summary (from "Small Wins" essay, written in 1996)

The Institute for Environmental Studies (IES) at UW-Madison offers an undergraduate certificate in environmental studies. In their senior year, IES certificate-program students may take ES600--an intensive, project-based seminar meant to integrate knowledge and skills from prior coursework. Each fall semester since 1991, ES600 has focused on projects dealing with environmental issues related to campus operations and natural areas management. With 925 acres, a population of 60,000, and a budget of $1.3 billion, UW offers an abundance of environmental project opportunities.

Over the semester, students work on several research projects. One of these is an applied project in which pairs of students collaborate with a university staff "client." Clients help design projects and oversee the students' work. An action component, or small win, is the ultimate objective. Students have to design a real project they can complete in sixteen weeks.

To decide on a project, students explore one or more areas of interest, conducting reconnaissance investigations with appropriate campus units. They discuss project possibilities with staff members, and eventually find one that a staff client wants to see accomplished. Often, a student's original project idea evolves into something quite different than first imagined. One semester, a student who wanted to document the over-use of animals in research ended up researching alternative disposal options for the tons of soiled animal bedding (made of wood shavings and droppings) that were being landfilled annually. His original quasi-political intentions had to be shelved to meet the very down-to-earth needs of his client.

Students quickly find that working for a client is a dramatically different educational experience than working for a grade. When a staff person invests time in a project and counts on receiving the agreed-upon product, a very different kind of motivation and level of commitment among students tends to occur.

Course Goals

1. Understanding complex organizations. How do organizations work, who makes decisions, and what can individuals do to influence institutional policy and practices? Throughout the semester, we will use UW Madison - with its 60,000 inhabitants and $1.3 billion budget - as our focus, using it as both field station for research and model system for understanding institutions and how they operate and evolve.

2. Becoming competent researchers. Opportunities for research exist everywhere in organizations, but carrying out useful and credible investigations requires discipline and skill. While participating in individual and group projects, we will formulate research questions, design and conduct appropriate research, analyze findings, and propose recommendations and action plans.

3. Working effectively in teams. Increasingly, workplace and community activities require teamwork and responsible collaboration. In almost all of our class assignments and projects, we will work with classmates and resource persons on and off campus. We will explore ways to work cooperatively, resolve disagreements, reach consensus, and make efficient use of time.

4. Using research findings to educate and persuade. Our efforts will be successful to the degree that we can effectively communicate our findings on paper and in person. We will focus much attention on writing/preparing project proposals, draft reports, opinion papers, and other assignments. We will also review and constructively critique each others' writing. Everyone will give individual and group presentations on their projects, and we will work on the skills needed to translate research findings into action.

Readings and Resources

  • Ecodemia: Campus Environmental Stewardship at the Turn of the 21st Century, by Julian Keniry, 1995, Wash., D.C.: National Wildlife Federation.
  • A packet of readings will be available for purchase and some required articles will be given out over the semester.
  • Copies of over 175 campus-focused student reports are available in ring binders on the IES Library reserve shelf. A copy of the course text and other books pertinent to campus environmental research are also on reserve, as are additional articles, documents on UW-Madison, and reports from other colleges and universities.
  • "Required" mug - For those who don't already own the refillable red mug sold in the unions, we encourage you to buy one and use it.


Readings Discussions & Commentary. One or two readings will be assigned each week, and a one- to two-page written commentary will be assigned for some of them. The task of leading discussions on the readings will rotate among class members.

Projects. Three projects will run concurrently over the semester, and will require working collaboratively with classmates and others. Class-time will be used, in part, for working on the team project. You will be expected to work on the Fact Sheet and client projects primarily outside of class.

We will draw from your experiences with the projects over the semester to enhance our collective understanding of UW and the research process. Project results will be shared in presentations to the class and public.

  1. Fact Sheet. Centered on a topic of your choice, you will prepare a one-page document summarizing some aspect of UW's resource use or natural history.
  2. Client Project. Working in pairs, you will collaborate with a university staff "client" to identify a project that can be completed in one semester. Each project needs to have a service or action component for making use of your findings.
  3. Team Project. As a class, we will work with a staff client on a large, complex project.

Rice University—Houston, TX (back to top)
BAKE 302 -Understanding Environmental Systems: An Interdisciplinary Perspective

For Further Information: Course reports, BAKE 302, food group report

Details: BAKE 302 is a three-hour lecture/seminar/workshop style course concerning human interactions with the environment and how to reduce adverse human impacts on the environment. Students will complete two major project assignments focused on [1] understanding the Rice University campus as an environmental system and [2] the environmental design of a hypothetical Ninth College. These projects will provide experience in environmental research, interdisciplinary teamwork, report preparation, and public presentation. This course is sponsored by Baker and Lovett Colleges and is directed by Arthur Few, Professor of Space Physics and Environmental Science and Master of Baker College, and Bill Leeman, Professor of Geology and Geophysics and Master of Lovett College. Check the course webpage for future updates. A related parallel course, ENVI 490, organized by Mike Ford, is concerned with specific aspects of a campus environmental audit. Students enrolled in both courses are encouraged to interact closely in evaluating the impacts we have on our environment and in developing concepts that may minimize the negative impacts.

There are three major components to BAKE 302:

  1. Understanding the Rice University Campus as an environmental system;
  2. Understanding the theory and practical aspects of environmental systems;
  3. Designing environmentally friendly systems.

In each of the three components we will study three dimensions: the human dimension, the natural environmental dimension, and the human-engineered dimension.

Course Reading
Environmental Science - Earth As a Living Planet, Botkin & Keller (1997)

Course Schedule
Week 1, Mon - Rice University Campus - Organizational meeting
Week 1, Fri - Form, function, and human interactions with space
Week 2, Fri - Lecture and walking tour: The campus landscape and ecology - objectives, data, schedule, anticipated problems
Week 3, Mon - Team status reports - outlines for report
Week 3, Fri- Electrical power - water systems. David Orr visit
Week 4, Mon - Systems thinking: reports and presentations training
Week 4, Fri - Preliminary reports and presentations
Week 5, Mon - System modeling - flows, reservoirs, feedback, drivers, controls, limits
Week 5, Fri - Natural systems, the Earth as a system, Engineered systems
Week 6, Mon - Open and closed systems; houses, cities, engineered Earth?
Week 6, Fri - NASA's space station, lecture and tour. Field trip to JSC
Week 7, Mon - System behavior - modeling results
Week 7, Fri - Biosphere 2 - the plan and the experience
Week 8 - Field trip to visit Biosphere 2, near Tucson Arizona (BAKE 304 - Field Studies in Environmental Systems) Seminars, tours, projects with Biosphere 2 crew
Week 9, Mon - Update on Rice environmental analysis
Week 9, Fri - Final report and class presentations
Week 10, Mon - Presentations to Rice University
Week 10, Fri - Living on campus - meeting the needs. Organizational meeting - environmental design for a 'Ninth College'
Week 11, Mon - Rice architecture and overview. Meeting with VP of Administration
Week 11, Fri - Building restrictions and codes.
Teams present plans: -constraints, goals, needs, anticipated problems
Week 12, Mon - Heat transfer, heat loads, windows
Week 12, Fri - Air conditioning and heating. Team progress reports and research coord.
Week 13, Mon - Solar energy: passive, collectors, storage, electricity
Week 14, Mon - Water usage - lighting systems
Week 14, Fri - Team progress reports and research coordination
Week 15, Mon- Final reports and class presentations
Week 15, Fri - Presentations to the Administration

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