Majoring or Minoring in Environmental Studies

Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS offers students a Bachelors of Science or a Bachelors of Arts degree (see FAQs for more).  Our major combines elements of the world’s strongest ES programmes with the opportunities provided by a liberal arts college in a vibrant and unique Asian city. Our students and faculty work together on environmental topics both local and global, drawing upon the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Coursework and applied experience expose students to a range of environmental issues from the familiar, such as energy choices and climate change, to the less well-studied, like the rise of consumerism and the impacts of changing settlement patterns.

To make all this happen, the major is organised around an area of specialisation (AoS) designed by students in consultation with their advisor in the third year of study. The AoS is supplemented by a rigorous one-year research or practitioner project, and is often informed by study abroad and internship experiences. Students prepare for their AoS by completing introductory and follow-up courses that interrogate the range of approaches to Environmental Studies while developing key concepts and approaches in the field. The College’s common curriculum also informs the AoS, as do independent readings and other close work with the environmental studies faculty.

Click on the nearby flow-chart for a full-page overview of how to make your way through the programme.

For the Eco-curious

Many Environmental Studies modules are open to students from all fields of study. Introduction to Environmental Studies (YID 1202) is especially appropriate for students who may take just one or two courses in the subject. Other modules offered by the programme usually have YID 1202 as a prerequisite, but this can be waived or modified for good reason by the instructor. Please sample our courses without feeling the need to major or minor in the programme. Just keep in mind that the Introduction to Environmental Studies module, which is typically offered every semester, is usually your best first choice.

Minoring in Environmental Studies

Yale-NUS students receive a minor in Environmental Studies by completing five ES courses.  The gateway course the (YID 1202) and at least one 2000-level  “Conceptual Approaches” course are required.  One-half of this 25-module-credit requirement may be met by courses taken outside of Yale-NUS, subject to approval by the Head of Studies for Environmental Studies.

Majoring in Environmental Studies

Students may pursue a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Environmental Studies.  Degree designation in environmental studies depends upon the composition of the modules in a student’s 20 MC Area of Specialisation (AofS).  A preponderance of natural-science modules in the AofS leads to a BS in environmental studies.  When social-science and/or humanities modules dominate, a student receives a BA.  Additionally, the BS degree requires that students complete a capstone project centered on the natural sciences.

Students majoring in Environmental Studies will typically complete 45 MCs of coursework, usually satisfied by nine 5-MC modules. Students may apply one 4-MC module to major requirements with their advisor’s permission and thus fulfill this coursework requirement with 44 MCs.  Students also complete a final-year 10-MC capstone project, for a total of 54 – 55 MCs of work for graduation in environmental studies.

The requirements are as follows:

  • One introductory course (taken in Year 1 or 2)Introduction to Environmental Studies
  • Two courses in Conceptual Approaches to Environmental Studies (ordinarily taken in Year 2): Courses numbered at the 2000-level in environmental studies satisfy this requirement
  • One course in Applied Environmental Research (offered only in first semester of each academic year): This project-based module focuses on a campus or local environmental challenge. It models the interdisciplinary, collaborative research process typical of the field and fosters specific skills necessary to the successful completion of the Capstone research project.   Students majoring in environmental studies are strongly urged to organize their study-away plans such that they are on campus in semester one of their third year so that they may take the course.  Fourth-year majors will be admitted only under unusual circumstances (e.g. declaring the major late or an urgent need to study away in semester one of a student’s third year), subject to approval by the Head of Studies.
  • Four courses in a student-designed Area of Specialization (taken in Years 3 and 4). By the beginning of their third year of study, students will develop and declare, in consultation with their faculty advisor, a 20-MC (typically four 5-MC modules) area of specialisation (AoS).  The AoS may be in a specific disciplinary sub-field or address a specific environmental problem.  All modules for the AoS must be upper-level or advanced courses; prerequisites for these upper-level courses do not count toward the 20-MC requirement for the AoS.  Prospective majors may peruse the areas of specialization of current environmental-studies students elsewhere on this website.  Academic advisors in environmental studies may also provide working templates for areas of specializations in a variety of fields.
  • Methods (taken in Year 2 or 3): An analytic methods course appropriate to a student’s area of specialisation and capstone project, selected in consultation with the student’s academic advisor.  Conventional data analysis/statistic courses meet this requirement, as do analytic methods courses from other fields, e.g. literary analysis or ethnographic research methods.  Congruence with a student’s chosen area of focus is key.
  • Capstone (taken in Year 4): A 10-MC research project, with the final grade awarded at the end of semester two. The capstone project must extend and further develop a student’s AoS.

1. Gateway Module: required of all majors and minors

YID 1201 Introduction to Environmental Studies.  An introduction to the central concerns and dominant analytic and policy approaches of scholars and activists working in the field of environmental studies. Insights from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities are used to interrogate an array of environmental problems, from climate change and energy technologies to consumerism, the formation of environmental values, and theories of social change. Special emphasis is placed on issues of regional concern, including waste management, biofuels, escalating energy use, and competing environmental value sets, which will be used to understand and illustrate a distinctive ‘environmental studies’ approach to these challenges (Professor Maniates/Professor Montefrio). Generally offered every semester.

2. Conceptual Approaches to Environmental Studies: required of all majors and minors (majors must complete a minimum of two of the following four modules while minors must complete a minimum of one). All 2000-level courses in Environmental Studies fall into this category.

YID 2201 The Theory and Practice of Environmental Policymaking. Environmental problems frequently arise from asymmetries in political power that result in policies that benefit some groups at the cost of environmental integrity. Likewise, addressing environmental problems often involves the redistribution of power and influence, with new policies that reflect or cement these political-economic changes. How might we best understand those dimensions of political power and policy change that relate to environmental quality and human health? What models of political and social change best inform our thinking as we try to understand systems of power, policy, and politics consistent with prevailing notions of environmental sustainability? What can we learn from successful and failed attempts to implement effective and efficient environmental policies at the local, state, national, and/or transnational level?  (Professor Maniates) Generally offered every second or third semester. Prerequisite: Introduction to Environmental Studies or permission of instructor.

YID 2203 Ecology and Ecosystems. Ecology investigates the complex interactions of organisms with one another and their environment at different levels of organisation, from populations up to ecosystems. This course does not try to cover as many topics within the broad field of Ecology as possible, but rather focuses on three broad ecological questions: 1. What limits and regulates the growth of populations? 2. What drives the coexistence of species in natural communities (biodiversity)? 3. How are trophic interactions, diversity and the dynamics and resilience of ecosystems related?  We study ecological theory related to each question, after which we use our newly gained knowledge to explore the role of ecology in a range of applied topics. The questions go from the level of populations, to the level of communities and subsequently that of ecosystems. Each question introduces new concepts while explicitly building on what we learned previously (Professor Van Breugel).  Generally offered every second or third semester.  Introduction to Environmental Studies recommended but not required.

YID 2207 Social Theory and the Environment.  This foundational module in environmental studies introduces students to social theories applicable to socio-ecological problems. It equips students with the theoretical knowledge for social scientific analysis expected in upper-level environmental studies courses and the capstone project. As an interdisciplinary module, students are introduced to concepts and theories in environmental sociology, environmental anthropology, political ecology, and science and technology studies, among others (Professor Montefrio).  Generally offered every second or third semester. Prerequisite: Introduction to Environmental Studies, and Modern Social Thought or permission of instructor.

YID 2208 Foundations of Environmental Humanities. A survey of the contribution of humanities disciplines—literature, art, history, religious studies, and philosophy—to understanding the relationships among human beings, nonhuman beings, and the techno-natural world we inhabit. Students read influential works in ecocriticism and environmental humanities and analyse relevant texts, such as novels, films, art, and music. Specific topics include the role of art, literature and popular culture in shaping and reflecting beliefs about ‘the environment’; bioregionalism; environmental ethics and values; animals; posthumanism; climate change fiction; and the Anthropocene (Professor Schneider-Mayerson).  Generally offered every second or third semester.  Prerequisite: Introduction to Environmental Studies or permission of instructor.

YID 2209 Biogeophysical Systems. To better understand the effects humans are having on the Earth, this course explores how the Earth functions as a complex system with a solid lithosphere interacting with an atmosphere and hydrosphere in a way that sustains the biosphere.  We investigate how these different spheres interact, and how scientists measure the changes in these realms. Topics include the theory of plate tectonics, the dynamics of atmospheric circulation, and the fundamentals of biogeochemical cycling as the foundation of ecosystems. Students will engage in data collection and analysis, and compare their analyses to current knowledge as documented in the scientific literature.

 3. Analytic Methods Module: required of all majors beginning with Class of 2019

Students must consult with their academic advisor to determine an appropriate course.

4. Area of Specialisation: 19 – 20 MCs (typically four upper-level courses) of upper-level coursework focused on a specific topic, question, or field of inquiry, as approved by a student’s academic advisor and the Head of Studies of Environmental Studies.

All students majoring in environmental studies must complete a minimum of 20 MCs in this category drawing from the most relevant courses across the curriculum.  Students move through a planning process beginning in their third year of study, and arrive at a binding list of courses by the beginning of their fourth year.  Students are encouraged to include relevant advanced courses at NUS or from study-away programmes, subject to approval by their academic advisor.  Students may also draw from the following upper-level courses offered within the environmental studies programme when designing their area of specialization:

  • Agrarian Change and Environmental Transformation
  • Another World is Possible: Science Fiction and the Environment
  • China’s Sustainability Challenge: Energy, Climate and Environment
  • Climate Science and Policy
  • Conservation Biology
  • Ecological Economics
  • Energy Humanities
  • Environmental Conflict Management
  • Environmental Movements: Past, Present, and Future
  • Global Environmental Governance
  • Powering the Planet
  • Special/Advanced Topics in Environmental Studies
  • Systems of Sustainable Consumption
  • Urbanisation and the Environment

Examples of Environmental Studies areas of specialisation include but are not limited to the following (NOTE — thesejabuticabeira-300px are examples to inspire your creativity, and AoS titles of current students can be found elsewhere on this website):

  • Tropical Forest Degradation and Revitalisation
  • Air Quality in Southeast Asia
  • Public Health and Environment
  • Global Environmental Politics
  • Ecological Economics
  • Global Consumption and Consumerism
  • Natural Hazards and the Human Condition
  • Biofuels in Southeast Asia
  • Biodiversity and change in Southeast Asia
  • Waste and Water in Singapore
  • Global Food Transitions
  • The Interplay of Science and Politics in Climate Change
  • Environmentalism and the Poor

5. Applied Environmental Research Module: required of and restricted to majors

The seminar, restricted to environmental-studies majors, is an applied, interdisciplinary exploration of a contemporary environmental challenge. Students conduct research, perform necessary analysis, and present their findings to relevant stakeholders. The seminar heightens students’ ability to conceptualise and analyse knotty problems, fosters an ability to communicate effectively across disciplines, and develops research skills for the capstone project. The module is offered in semester one of each academic year and is required of all 3rd-year environmental-studies majors. Fourth-year majors will be admitted only under unusual circumstances (e.g. declaring the major late or an urgent need to study away in semester one of a student’s third year), subject to approval by the Head of Studies.  Offered in semester one each academic year.

6. Capstone: 10 MCs in semesters one and two of the student’s fourth year (Go here for more)

In consultation with a research advisor, environmental studies students must complete a two-semester capstone project. This project may focus on original academic research, or it may involve analysis of an environmental problem or policy. The capstone project must further develop and extend the student’s area of interest.  As such, it serves as the culminating experience of the student’s work in the major.  Students enroll in a small-group capstone seminar guided by a member of the environmental-studies teaching faculty.  Students receive an “in progress” grade at the end of semester one and an overall project grade at the end of semester two.

Illustration credit: Drawing of Jabuticabeira tree by jpenrici, used under Openclipart rights.

Updated 14 August 2018