1. About the Environmental Studies Minor

What is Environmental Studies?

Environmental Studies is an interdisciplinary field that explores the interconnection between humans, other species and their lived environments. Modern environmental issues reflect the complex interactions of natural and social systems at global and local scales, and the resulting impacts on the Earth have led many to ask whether humankind has entered into a new epoch in the planet’s history, the Anthropocene, one in which humans are now a key driver in the change of Earth systems. The Environmental Studies program fosters the critical, integrative thinking required to better understand the complexities of human-nonhuman-environment relationships and to assess and develop solutions to today’s environmental challenges that meet intergenerational human needs without compromising the natural systems upon which humans and other species depend.

Why was the Environmental Studies minor created?

The Environmental Studies minor was specifically created to provide undergraduates from a broad range of academic backgrounds with a cohesive program offering foundational literacy in the social, cultural, and scientific dimensions of environmental issues, and a cross-disciplinary holistic understanding of the challenges and solutions for creating a sustainable world.

What are the learning outcomes of the Environmental Studies minor?

Students completing the minor will be able to synthesize frameworks, tools, and perspectives from multiple disciplines; master sustainability terminology; understand major environmental issues from multiple perspectives; develop and assess environmental solutions in an informed and logical manner; and convey knowledge and insights about environmental issues in multiple formats.  The specific learning outcomes of the Environmental Studies minor are as follows:

  • Scientific Environmental Literacy: Students will demonstrate a working knowledge of basic concepts and facts in the field of earth science and/or ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation biology; students will be introduced to some key environmental issues; students will demonstrate the ability to apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to evaluate scientific research; and students will demonstrate an understanding of the scientific method.
  • Social and Cultural Environmental Literacy: Students will learn to utilize terms, theories, and concepts from the humanities, social sciences, arts, and architecture and apply them to environmental issues; and students will demonstrate the ability to apply critical thinking and develop long-form cohesive arguments and articulate insights related to the interrelations between social and environmental systems.
  • Cross-Disciplinary Perspective: Students will demonstrate the ability to approach environmental issues from a holistic perspective, synthesizing frameworks, tools, and perspectives from multiple disciplines; students will master sustainability terminology; students will understand major environmental issues from multiple perspectives; students will be able to develop and assess environmental solutions in an informed and logical manner; and students will be able to convey their knowledge and insights about environmental issues in multiple formats (written, verbal, etc.).

Who administers the Environmental Studies minor?

The Environmental Studies minor is administered by CENHS, the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences.  Students seeking advice regarding the Environmental Studies minor should contact Dr. Dominic Boyer (dcb2@rice.edu) or CENHS coordinator Andrea Galindo (cenhs@rice.edu).


2. Course Requirements

Part 1: Core Courses (6 hours; at least three credit hours from each category)

Introductory course in environmental studies (required):

  • ENST 100 – ENVIRONMENT, CULTURE AND SOCIETY – This introductory course in environmental studies helps students to better understand the complex interrelationship between human cultures and their social and physical environments. Lectures and assignments draw upon the methods and expertise of architecture, the humanities and the social sciences. This is a core course of Rice’s Environmental Studies minor.

Introductory courses from natural sciences (pick one):

  • EBIO 124 – INTRODUCTION TO ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY – This course provides a short introduction to the science of ecology and evolutionary biology. The topics covered include the mechanisms of evolution, the origin of species, the history of life on earth, biodiversity, animal behavior, population and community ecology, ecosystems, and conservation biology.
  • ESCI 101 – EARTH – Study of the nature of the Earth and its processes.
  • ESCI 107 – OCEANS AND GLOBAL CHANGE – Overview of the impact of the ocean and ocean evolution on the Earth’s climate. Includes geological, physical, chemical, and biological aspects of change.
  • ESCI 109 – OCEANOGRAPHY – Introduction to the oceans, with an emphasis on how the physics, chemistry, geology, and biology of the oceans are linked.

Note: Current/former EBIO majors are eligible to substitute EBIO 325 in place of EBIO 124 to meet the introductory course requirement from the natural sciences.

Part 2: Electives (12 hours; at least six credit hours from each category)

From the Schools of Architecture, Humanities, and Social Sciences (at least six credit hours):

  • ANTH 332- THE SOCIAL LIFE OF CLEAN ENERGY- This course considers the phenomenon of renewable energy, using a social scientific approach to analyze the various forces and interests involved in the development of renewable energy projects (such as hydropower, solar and wind) in both the global North and South. No prerequisites required.  
  • ARCH 313 – CASE STUDIES IN SUSTAINABLE DESIGN – This course will explore sustainable design from initial sustainable facility concepts and team organizations, to enlisting community support and process assessment. The course will develop into details about sustainable design, lessons learned, processes and outcomes. Space is limited and registration does not guarantee a space in this course. The final course roster is formulated on the first day class by the individual instructor.
  • ARCH 322 – CASE STUDIES IN SUSTAINABILITY: THE REGENERATIVE REPOSITIONING OF NEW OR EXISTING RICE CAMPUS BUILDINGS – This course will explore application of high performance, sustainable design to specific Rice University campus and facility targets. In partnership with Rice University leadership, the team effort will develop “regenerative redesign” approaches based on investigation of other campuses’ case studies. Space is limited and registration does not guarantee a space in this course. The final course roster is formulated on the first day of class by the individual instructor.
  • ECON 437 – ENERGY ECONOMICS – Discussion of key aspects in the supply and demand of energy. Topics include optimal extraction of depletable resources, transportation, storage, end-use and efficiency, and the relationship between economic activity, energy, and the environment.
  • ECON 461 – URBAN ECONOMICS – Deals with the nature and development of urban areas. The analytical sections of the course deal with the location of firms and households in an urban spatial context, the size distribution of urban areas, the theory of land rent, and optimal city size. Various urban problems such as poverty, racial segregation and discrimination, and pollution and environmental quality are discussed. Other policy questions deal with congestion tolls and efficient highway investment, land use regulation, central city fiscal problems, and alternative educational policies.
  • ECON 480 – ENVIRONMENTAL ECONOMICS – The economic theories of externalities and common property resources are used to analyze how markets, legal institutions, regulations, taxes and subsidies, and voluntary activity can affect the supply of environmental amenities, such as clean air, clean water, and wilderness areas. We also discuss methods for determining the demand for environmental amenities.
  • ENGL 358 – CONSUMPTION AND CONSUMERISM – An exploration of the history, philosophy and culture of eating, drinking, shopping and other forms of consuming. Featuring detailed analysis of literatures in English, visual art, music, film and food.
  • ENGL 459 – TOPICS IN LITERATURE AND ECOLOGY – A special topics course that addresses literature and culture from 1750 to the present, with a view to understanding the new geological era that humans have created, and its ecological implications.
  • ESCI 380 – VISUALIZING NATURE – An experimental course combining the scientific disciplines of the earth sciences with the artistic disciplines of creative photography to study the natural landscape and related ecosystems. The course will combine classroom lectures and laboratory demonstrations in geoscience with classes in the use of digital and film-based cameras and illustrated lectures on recognized achievements in landscape photography. Extensive field trips will be scheduled. Students will travel frequently, at times in pairs, other times in larger groups and as a full class, accompanied by one or both professors. The budget for the course includes funding both for travel and for photography expenses.
  • HART 302 – FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE SUSTAINABLE: ART, ARCHITECTURE AND NATURE – This seminar considers theories and narratives of nature in the crafting of modern and contemporary art and architecture in the Americas. Artists and architects will include Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Rogelio Salmona (Colombia); Ana Mendieta, Ricardo Porro (Cuba);Ana Maria Tavaraes, Lina Bo Bardi (Brazil); Mark Dion and Buckminster Fuller(USA).
  • HIST 425 – 20TH CENTURY AMERICAN CONSERVATION MOVEMENT – Exploration of the American conservation movement from Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, Sierra Club founder John Muir, and Chief of the U.S. Forest Service Gifford Pinchot to naturalists John Burroughs and George Perkins Marsh- focusing on their work in context of current issues in global warming and wetlands restoration.
  • HUMA 202 – CULTURE, ENERGY, AND THE ENVIRONMENT: AN INTRODUCTION TO ENERGY HUMANITIES – Humanity faces extraordinary challenges in an era of climate change and energy transition. These challenges are not only technological but also questions of value, power, behavior, and understanding. This course draws upon new research across the arts, humanities and social sciences to help students better understand the cultural and social dimensions of our current patterns of energy use, their environmental impacts, and the possibility of new energy futures. Intended for both STEM majors and humanities and social science students.
  • SOCI 304 – ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES: RICE INTO THE FUTURE – Students use the campus as a laboratory for learning about sustainability through group projects to reduce Rice’s environmental impact or resolve environmental problem.
  • SPAN 403 – LITERATURE AND THE ENVIRONMENT IN LATIN AMERICA – This course aims to offer students a systematic contact with a representative sample of the literature and scholarship about the mutual relationships between human societies and their natural environments, particularly but not exclusively in Latin America. Taught in Spanish.

From the Schools of Engineering and Natural Sciences (at least six credit hours):

  • CEVE 302 – SUSTAINABLE DESIGN – The objective of this course is to develop skills in formulating and solving problems of societal development and advancement in light of increasing material, energy and water demands and decreasing resource availability. Sustainable design requires balancing economic, ecological/environmental and social issues to create physical as well as social structures that will work for current and future generations. In addition to learning to apply sustainable design principles to individual engineering and developing projects, students will be challenged to understand the application of sustainable design thinking a the municipal and corporate level.
  • CEVE 307 – ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT – This course explores the physical principles of energy use and its impacts on Earth’s environment and climate. Topics will include energy mechanics, climate change, and the environmental impacts and future prospects of various fossil fuel and alternative energy sources.
  • CEVE 310 – PRINCIPLES OF ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING – This course covers principles of water quality engineering, air pollution control and solid and hazardous waste management. Elements of risk assessment, global atmospheric change, and pollution prevention are also addressed to contribute to adequate-level competency in Environmental Engineering. Graduate students will write a term paper and prepare a lecture.
  • CEVE 406 – INTRODUCTION TO ENVIRONMENTAL LAW – Introduction to Environmental Law is intended to introduce the student to the methods used by the United States and the international community to regulate and/or allocate air, water and land resources. A key focus of this course will be the emerging area of the law of sustainable development, including the implementation of full price costing, life cycle analysis, carbon cycle analysis, allocation of assimilative capacity and other similar issues.
  • CHBE 281 – ENGINEERING SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES – Students will work in teams to develop sustainable solutions for energy or environmental problems affecting our Houston and Rice communities. Emphasis will be placed on the integration of engineering fundamentals with societal issues, environmental and safety considerations, sustainability and professional communications. Prerequisites: Introductory Engineering Courses, or Permission of Instructor.
  • EBIO 204 – ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY: THE DESIGN & PRACTICE OF COMMUNITY AGRICULTURE – The course introduces the fundamentals of community garden design and practice. Responsibilities will center on developing and improving the Rice Community Garden. A strong emphasis will be on learning and applying ecological principles to the practice of community agriculture. Class has required meetings outside of regular class time.
  • EBIO 270 – ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT – This course will focus on applied ecosystem topics including relations with state and federal agencies, field studies, wetland delineations, permitting compliance, and environmental regulations.
  • EBIO 319 – TROPICAL FIELD BIOLOGY – Examine first-hand the two most diverse ecosystems on earth – the coral reef and the tropical rainforest in this 2-week summer course in the Central American country of Belize. Topics will include the diversity of tropical organisms and habitats, the formation of coral reefs, rainforest ecology, historical biogeography, symbiosis, and conservation of tropical biodiversity. While a background in biology is desirable, individuals lacking this background but having a special interest in the tropics are encouraged to enroll. Students will be responsible for their own transportation and accommodation cost.
  • EBIO 320 – BRAZILIAN WETLAND ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION – This course consists of a 2-week trip to Brazil to examine first-hand the ecology of the largest wetland ecosystem on earth – the Pantanal. Days will be spent in the field making observations and collecting data; lectures in the evenings will cover topics including freshwater ecology, seasonal flooding dynamics, community ecology of wetland species, symbiosis, geology, environmental management, ecotourism, and conservation biology.
  • EBIO 323 – CONSERVATION BIOLOGY – The course is designed to give students a broad overview of conservation biology. Lecture and discussions will focus on conservation issues such as biodiversity, extinction, management, sustained yield, invasive species and preserve design.
  • EBIO 325 – ECOLOGY – Study of population dynamics, species interactions, plant and animal community organization, and ecosystem function.
  • EBIO 327 – BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY LAB – The laboratory course in field ecology focuses on the theory and practice of estimating biodiversity. The goals are to acquaint students with basic techniques for field sampling and quantifying biodiversity as well as some aspects of the natural history of south and east Texas. These will be accomplished through four field trips during the first half of the semester and an independent research project to be completed by the end of the semester. Class has required meetings outside of regular class time.
  • EBIO 372 – CORAL REEF ECOSYSTEMS – This three credit lecture course introduces students to a complex, dynamic and sensitive ecosystem: coral reefs. We will explore the biotic and abiotic components of coral reefs; how reef organisms interact with each other and the environment, and the factors that contribute to reef construction and decline over time and space.
  • EBIO 379 – LAB MODULE IN AQUATIC ECOLOGY WITH SCUBA – Students will learn the fundamentals of aquatic ecosystems, become PADI-certified in the basics of SCUBA, and conduct lab exercises that involve SCUBA-based fieldwork in a nationally recognized freshwater dive site. Certified divers can enroll in a one-credit version of the course that excludes PADI certification. Course has required meetings outside of regular class time. A course fee ranging from $475 to $535 is associated with the class. Please send all enrollment requests to Monica Roberts, mr19@rice.edu. You will be notified of enrollment decisions by December 5th.
  • ELEC 365 – NANOMATERIAL FOR ENERGY – This course will introduce students to the fundamental science of nanomaterials. Many of the concepts will be explained by drawing from applications in sustainability (photovoltaics, solar-to-fuel conversion thermionic, thermoelectric, fuel cells). Students will design a lab demo from scratch using amongst others the infrastructure provided by the photonics measurement lab.
  • ESCI 321 – EARTH SYSTEM EVOLUTION AND CYCLES – This course introduces the systems and processes that shape Earth’s surface including weathering, sediment transport, ocean and atmosphere circulation, accumulation of sedimentary material and organisms, including man. A particular emphasis is placed on how biogeochemical cycles and key interactions link and change systems and processes over space and time. Prerequisite ESCI 301 can be taken concurrently.
  • ESCI 340 – GLOBAL BIOGEOCHEMICAL CYCLES – This course introduces students to the coupled nature of the biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere using as focal points elemental cycles such as those of carbon and nitrogen. This is a writing-intensive class, and will include 3 required Saturday field trips.
  • ESCI 380 – VISUALIZING NATURE – An experimental course combining the scientific disciplines of the earth sciences with the artistic disciplines of creative photography to study the natural landscape and related ecosystems. The course will combine classroom lectures and laboratory demonstrations in geoscience with classes in the use of digital and film-based cameras and illustrated lectures on recognized achievements in landscape photography. Extensive field trips will be scheduled. Students will travel frequently, at times in pairs, other times in larger groups and as a full class, accompanied by one or both professors. The budget for the course includes funding both for travel and for photography expenses.
  • ESCI 407 – INTRODUCTION TO BIOGEOCHEMISTRY II – The interaction between (micro) organisms, minerals, rocks, and aqueous solutions is an important new field of research that requires an interdisciplinary approach between (micro) biology, organic chemistry, and geochemistry. This course provides an introduction and insight into this exciting new field and puts an emphasis on quantitative strategies. This is a graduate level course; with more homework assignments (than ESCI 203) and in-depth discussions.
  • ESCI 424 – EARTH SCIENCE AND THE ENVIRONMENT – Interrelations between humans and the geologic environment. This course explores theories and problems of chemical hazards in the environment; topics, e.g., groundwater pollution, soils, CO2 – sequestration, waste deposits.
  • CHEM 425 – ORGANIC GEOCHEMISTRY – This course covers the organic geochemistry of the natural environment. Topics include: production, transport, decomposition, and storage of organic matter in the marine and terrestrial environments, use of isotopes to track biogeochemical processes and natural and perturbed carbon cycle issues, including past and recent climate shifts.
  • ESCI 450 – REMOTE SENSING – Introduction to electromagnetic remote sensing of the earth and other planets using passive and active methods. The course includes a computer lab component involving processing and interpretation of remote sensing imagery, and an individual project.
  • ESCI 452 – GIS FOR GEOSCIENTISTS – Basic principles of Geographic Information Systems, with a focus on effectively applying the technology to the geosciences. Main platform of the class will be ESRI’s ArcGIS, but a wide array of other tools will also be introduced. Material will be delivered via a blend of lecture and hands-on exercises.

Given the wide range of courses at Rice related to Environmental Studies, students are encouraged to contact the Minor Director to suggest courses to include on the list of approved electives.

3. Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is ENST 100 a distribution course?
    • Yes! ENST 100 counts for D2 distribution credit.
  • Can I count a study abroad class towards the minor?
  • We will review requests for approval of study-abroad classes for credit towards the minor on a case-by-case basis. Requests should be directed to Dominic Boyer (dcb2@rice.edu) and Andrea Galindo (cenhs@rice.edu).
  • Can I add or substitute relevant courses that are not already on the minor’s approved list of electives?
    • We recognize that the curriculum is dynamic, and new environmental courses are created on a regular basis. We will review requests for additions or substitutions on a case-by-case basis.  Please contact Dominic Boyer (dcb2@rice.edu) and Andrea Galindo (cenhs@rice.edu).



Leave a Reply