Environmental Studies

  • Degree Type Bachelor of Arts
  • Department Interdisciplinary
  • Academic Division The College
  • Offerings Major Minor

Students in canoes on a river Students in canoes on a river

Environmental Studies is a holistic approach to studying interactions between humans and the natural environment. This interdisciplinary program comprises core courses augmented by courses in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. A culminating capstone experience draws upon this diversity of coursework to examine causes, consequences and solutions to environmental problems.

Why Study Environmental Studies at W&L?

  • The curriculum draws on the strengths of W&L faculty across several departments and the outstanding natural setting of Lexington to offer a truly unique undergraduate experience with an emphasis on place-based learning.
  • The faculty are accomplished scholars and teachers from diverse environmental disciplines. Students can take courses in applied ecology, environmental economics, Native American culture and anthropology, geology and eco-writing, among other topics.
  • Interdisciplinary courses put professors from different departments in the classroom together. They demonstrate how their respective fields are brought together to better understand the nature of environmental problems and their solutions. Philosophers team with ecologists, economists with anthropologists, and so on.
  • We emphasize place-based learning, putting course subjects in context with the local environment; examples include examining how land use around Lexington influences the health of the Chesapeake Bay coastal ecosystem, traveling to South Dakota to study how culture and economics intersect in the history of the Lakota people, or studying ecotourism in Central America.
  • Our study abroad program in Brazil offers immersive experiences where students learn about human-environment relationships in a uniquely different cultural, political, economic and ecological setting.
  • The capstone experience encourages students to complete independent research or work as part of a collaborative team to study a particular environmental issue from an interdisciplinary perspective and offer insightful, often creative solutions.
Opportunities

Collaborative research with faculty: Students can work with program faculty on applied environmental research during the academic year for credit or as paid research fellows during the summer months. Students often travel to national or international conferences to present their research and co-author publications with faculty in peer-reviewed journals.

U.S.-Brazil Exchange Program: In this six-month or one-year cultural immersion experience, students learn Portuguese, live in Brazil, take courses and perform research related to energy and the environment.

Internship opportunities: Faculty grants and collaborative research have led to student summer internships with the U.S. Geological Survey, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and similar offices. The A. Paul Knight Fellowship program offers internships with the Henry’s Fork Foundation in Idaho and the Nature Conservancy.

After W&L

Environmental Studies alumni have gone on to work in a variety of fields including environmental consulting, alternative energy industries, corporate environmental sustainability, federal and state environmental agencies, legal services, education and academia.

We cultivate connections with our alumni to offer opportunities for students to learn from their experiences and expand their professional networks.

“The Environmental Studies Department taught me to think more holistically about the connections between social justice and science, as well as how the environment shapes every aspect of human life.”

Kerriann Laubach
Class of 2013, ’16L

Robert Humston

Program Head

Debra Frein

Program Coordinator

News


Lending a Healing Hand

With the support of a Johnson Opportunity Grant, Sofia Iuteri ’27 is expanding the reach of the nonprofit she founded at 16.

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W&L Earth and Environmental Geoscience Professor Publishes Peer-Reviewed Article

Margaret Anne Hinkle collaborated with additional authors to produce an article focused on manganese exposure in spring and well water in the Shenandoah Valley.

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W&L’s Ian Kinney ’24 Selected for U.S. Teaching Assistantship to Austria

Kinney will teach English in Austria at an agricultural research institute, blending his interests in German and environmental studies.

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Meet Emma Scott ‘26

Scott’s passion for the environment carries over from the classroom to opportunities on campus and beyond.

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Washington and Lee Names Four Faculty Members to Endowed Professorships

These faculty have been recognized for their outstanding teaching, scholarship and service to the university.

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Meet Katherine Hudson ’26

Environmental humanities classes introduced Hudson to new ideas on how humans interact with the world.

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Meet a Colleague: Mauricio Betancourt

Mauricio Betancourt is an assistant professor of environmental studies.

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Pablo Abufom to Deliver Lecture on Latin American Politics

The Chilean activist’s talk will be held Feb. 12 at 5 p.m.

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Six W&L Students Awarded Gilman Scholarships to Study Abroad

The Gilman Scholarship Program offers awards of up to $5,000 to U.S. undergraduate students who are Pell Grant recipients.

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W&L’s Greer Featured in bioGraphic Magazine Article about the Coral Gardens Reef

Professor Lisa Greer has been taking students to Belize since 2011 to study the thriving reef corals located there.

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Lucy Worthy '24

W&L Student Co-Authors Paper Published by the Pain Medicine Journal

Lucy Worthy ’24 assisted in the research and helped publish the results alongside two W&L alumni.

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Sample Courses

At W&L, we believe education and experience go hand-in-hand. You’ll be encouraged to dive in, explore and discover connections that will broaden your perspective.

ENV 202

Society & Natural Resources

A foundation in the natural sciences for environmental studies students, this course emphasizes understanding how socio-economic conditions are studied to inform and shape environmental policy. Local, regional and global environmental case studies are considered.

BIOL 325

Ecological Modeling & Conservation Strategies

This course is an intensive introduction to foundational methods in ecological modeling and their application, with emphasis on the dynamics of exploited or threatened populations and developing strategies for effective conservation. Topics include managing harvested populations, population viability analysis, individual based models, and simulation modeling for systems analyses.

ECON 255

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics

The course serves as an introduction to environmental and natural resource economics. Economic principles are used to evaluate public and private decision making involving the management and use of environmental and natural resources. Aspects pertaining to fisheries, forests, species diversity, agriculture and various policies to reduce air, water and toxic pollution are discussed.

GEOL 141

Global Climate Change

A study of Earth’s complex climate system and the impact of human activities on future climates. Through readings, discussions, data analyses and modeling exercises, the past and future changes in temperature, ocean circulation, rainfall, storminess, biogeochemistry, glacial ice extent and sea level are explored.

PHIL 150

Ethics & the Environment

This course is a philosophical exploration of one’s responsibilities to the natural world. It has three main objectives: first, to provide an understanding of different dominant ethical theories and their application to animals, plants and ecosystems; second, to provide an understanding of major environmental issues in current political debates, such as climate change, species preservation and sustainable development; and third, to facilitate the development of a student’s own ethic towards the environment.

ECON 259

Environment & Development in Amazonas

Amazonas is a huge Brazilian state of 1.5 million square kilometers which retains 94 percent of its original forest cover. This course examines the importance of the forest for economic development in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy, and how policies can be developed to promote both environmental protection and an increase in the quality of life in both the urban and rural areas of Amazonas.

Meet the Faculty

At W&L, students enjoy small classes and close relationships with professors who educate and nurture.

Robert Humston
Robert Humston

Robert Humston

John Kyle Spencer Director for Environmental Studies and Professor of Biology

Humston teaches Introduction to Environmental Studies, Aquatic Ecology and Ecological Modeling, among other courses. He has researched fisheries management, fish ecology and dispersal/movement behavior of animals and plants.

Curriculum Vitae

Mauricio Betancourt
Mauricio Betancourt

Mauricio Betancourt

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies

Betancourt teaches Intro to Environmental Studies, Environmental Sociology, and the Commodification of Nature. His research has focused on agroecology, nature-society interactions, imperialism, and unequal ecological exchange.

Paul Cabe
Paul Cabe

Paul Cabe

Professor of Biology

Professor Cabe teaches a number of genetics courses, as well as ornithology. His research interests focus on using modern molecular methods to collect data useful in answering questions in the areas of population genetics and evolutionary biology. He is also interested in ornithology, ecology and conservation biology.

Curriculum Vitae

Jamie Casey
Jamie Casey

Jamie Casey

Professor of Economics

Casey is a 1991 W&L graduate who teaches courses that focus on the relation between the economy and the environment. His research centers on environmental funding and the economics of agriculture.

Greg Cooper
Greg Cooper

Greg Cooper

Emeritus Faculty, Professor of Philosophy

Cooper’s teaching and research interests are wide ranging but often meet at the intersection of philosophy and ecology. He has researched and published on the philosophy of biology and general environmental philosophy.

Curriculum Vitae

Leah Naomi Green
Leah Naomi Green

Leah Naomi Green

Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing and Environmental Studies

Green’s courses include Eco-Writing, “Wilderness, Wildness, & Cultivation," and topics for first-year writing seminars. She has researched creative writing (poetry), environmental literature, Buddhist practice, and food justice.

Website

Lisa Greer
Lisa Greer

Lisa Greer

Department Head, Professor of Earth and Environmental Geoscience

Professor Greer teaches general geology, global climate change, oceanography, history and evolution of the earth, and sedimentation and stratigraphy. She is a core member of the environmental studies faculty. She has spent years researching the health, abundance and history of the endangered Staghorn coral in the Caribbean.

Joseph Guse
Joseph Guse

Joseph Guse

Professor of Economics

Joseph Guse teaches Microeconomic Theory, Game Theory, and Statistics and Environmental Economics. He co-teaches Spring Term courses on the Lakota and Tohono O’odham tribes. His research focuses on credit in American Indian communities.

Curriculum Vitae

Bill Hamilton
Bill Hamilton

Bill Hamilton

Biology Department Head and Professor of Biology

Hamilton teaches courses in biology and environmental studies, such as Yellowstone Ecology and Experimental Botany. His research pertains to ecosystem dynamics with a focus on animal-plant-soil interactions in Yellowstone National Park.

Rebecca C. Harris
Rebecca C. Harris

Rebecca C. Harris

Professor of Politics

Harris teaches applied American Politics courses in government, public policy and environmental policy. Her interdisciplinary work focuses on genetic science and partisanship in food politics.

Curriculum Vitae

Andrew Hess

Andrew Hess

Ehrick Kilner Haight Sr. Term Professor of Business Administration and Associate Department Head of Business Administration

Hess is a 1997 alum who researches and teaches in areas of social innovation, strategy and international business. Before returning to W&L, he worked for Fleet National Bank and Silicon Valley Bank in Boston.

Curriculum Vitae

Megan F. Hess
Megan F. Hess

Megan F. Hess

Associate Professor of Accounting

Hess is a 1997 alumna who teaches courses in auditing, accounting ethics and corporate sustainability. Before becoming a professor, she spent 12 years working in the industry with a focus on investigating financial statement fraud.

Curriculum Vitae

Margaret Anne Hinkle
Margaret Anne Hinkle

Margaret Anne Hinkle

Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Geoscience

Professor Hinkle teaches general geology, water resources, environmental field methods, hydrology, and earth and environmental geochemistry. She is an affiliate member of the environmental studies faculty. Her research is aimed at understanding how biogeochemical processes at the mineral-water interface affect water composition.

Lawrence E. Hurd
Lawrence E. Hurd

Lawrence E. Hurd

Herwick Professor of Biology

Hurd teaches zoology, ecology and biodiversity conservation. His research is on tropical biodiversity and entomology.

Curriculum Vitae

James Kahn
James Kahn

James Kahn

Emeritus Faculty, John F. Hendon Professor of Economics and Professor of Environmental Studies

Kahn is a 1975 alumnus who teaches courses on the economics of the environment and development. He also teaches a Spring Term study abroad course in the Amazonas and researches environmental policy and resource economics.

Curriculum Vitae

Elizabeth Knapp
Elizabeth Knapp

Elizabeth Knapp

Director of the Johnson Program in Leadership and Integrity; Professor of Earth and Environmental Geoscience

Professor Knapp teaches general geology and introduction to the geology of Hawaii. She is an affiliate member of the environmental studies faculty. She has researched low-temperature aqueous geochemistry and water quality/contaminant transport.

David Marsh
David Marsh

David Marsh

Professor of Biology

Marsh teaches Intro to Behavioral Ecology, Microbiome, Field Herpetology, Animal Behavior and Statistics for Biology and Medicine. His research includes effects of climate change on endemic mountaintop salamanders, effects of roads and land use on frog and toad populations across the Eastern and central U.S., and population dynamics of terrestrial salamanders.

Curriculum Vitae

Kary Smout
Kary Smout

Kary Smout

Associate Professor of English

Smout teaches courses on the literature of the American South, American West and business in American literature. His research interests include language and culture, writing instruction and the politics of higher education.

Curriculum Vitae

Alice Tianbo Zhang
Alice Tianbo Zhang

Alice Tianbo Zhang

Assistant Professor of Economics

Zhang teaches Statistics for Economics and Introduction to Economics, and she is interested in developing courses on the economics of climate change, migration and gender. She is an environmental economist and her current research focuses on energy infrastructure, climate change, migration and natural disasters.

Website

Mauricio Betancourt
Paul Cabe
Jamie Casey
Greg Cooper
Leah Naomi Green
Lisa Greer
Joseph Guse
Bill Hamilton
Rebecca C. Harris
Megan F. Hess
Margaret Anne Hinkle
Lawrence E. Hurd
James Kahn
Elizabeth Knapp
David Marsh
Kary Smout
Alice Tianbo Zhang
Robert Humston