Program Description

A. Overview

The Bachelor of Arts Major in Environmental & Sustainability Studies (ENS) is an important addition to the University’s Degree possibilities. Students can obtain the ENS B.A. as a stand-alone degree or as a second Major with any other department or discipline-specific B.A. or B.S. degree. Importantly, the ENS B.A. will be a means by which humanities and social science students can obtain a basic understanding of natural and physical science content relevant to a broad range of environmental and sustainability topics.

Environmental & Sustainability Studies is a relatively new academic program. The term “sustainable development” formally appeared for the first time in 1980 and obtained its modern definition in 1987 in the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development (known more commonly as the Bruntland Commission after the Chairman, Gro Harlem Brundtland). ENS as an academic discipline hasn’t really changed but has evolved over the years to reflect the interdependence and relationships among economics, environment, and society. These are called the three “pillars” of sustainability and correspond to the three Areas of Expertise within the ENS B.A Curriculum. While sustainability subjects are appropriate within disciplinary degrees there is a significant need for students to obtain a deep understanding of this subject and the ramifications of unsustainable activities towards the future of humanity and the ecosystems of the earth. The ENS B.A. degree will educate students in a broad range of fundamental environmental studies subjects with concepts of sustainability integrated throughout the curriculum. The programmatic focus on sustainability will place the University at the forefront of degree programs offering courses in this new, critical area of academic endeavor.

Flexibility is one of the more important attributes a college graduate will need “given the dynamic nature of the U.S. labor market and ongoing technological change.” (Jobs of Tomorrow). The ENS B.A. is designed so that students can select thematic clusters of courses specific to their own career aspirations. These courses, along with the Core requirements, will provide ENS graduates with the expertise in sustainability and broad-based knowledge of environmental issues necessary to pursue meaningful careers in a job market where “flexibility is key”. 

ENS students will obtain the fundamental knowledge required to understand the relationships that exist between the global economy, societal problems and needs, and the natural world. The program will develop the critical thinking, communication, and independent study skills necessary for students to pursue lifestyles and careers that are ecologically viable, socially desirable, and economically feasible. ENS students will be uniquely prepared to participate in the rapidly expanding “Green Economy” (see Careers). The ENS Program will be an important component of the College of Arts & Sciences goal of being defined by the characteristics: innovative preparation for life and career, multidisciplinary scholarly research, connectivity with the world, and substantive community involvement (Ampersand: Envision 2020, Fall 2010).

B. Importance of ENS Program

There is an immediate, imperative need to prepare students for a 21st century that will be more significantly impacted by environmental issues than any of the previous generations of students. It has become clear that the world’s resources cannot continue to be utilized in a manner that leads to their depletion and the consequent environmental degradation and ecosystem losses. Society must learn how to manage the world’s limited resources in a more sustainable manner. Sustainable development is defined minimally as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Bruntland Commission). The next generation of graduating students will need to have a fundamental understanding of the following issues related to environmental and sustainability studies:

  1. The ecological, social and political impacts of energy consumption
  2. Natural resource consumption and commodity products
  3. Climate change impacts on ecosystems and society 
  4. Population growth to nine billion by the end of this century
  5. The ecosystem and social impacts of common consumer products
  6. Educating the general public on current and impending environmental problems

Future college graduates must be able to implement sustainable development, specifically, and understand sustainability in its broadest meaning, to be able to succeed in a world with less abundant resources. In doing so, they will become the new leaders of their generation in achieving success while limiting the impacts of society on the carrying-capacity of the Earth. Sustainability is not a separate discipline of academic endeavor but a means of using fundamental academic environmental concepts to solve societal environmental, and by extension, human and economic problems. Sustainability creates and emphasizes inter-relationships among typically separate fields and departments of environmental studies, in recognition that appropriate solutions to environmental problems require the erasure of divisional boundaries. When applied to ecosystem protection sustainability “is intended to complement, not replace, the more familiar effort to preserve biological diversity through the creation of national parks, wilderness areas, and nature preserves. The idea is to adapt human economic activity to the existing ecosystem rather than destroy those ecosystems...” (Earth’s Insights (1994) Callicott, p. 136). Adaptation is a key term in this quotation, but successfully adapting to a world undergoing environmental change requires knowledge and expertise in the relevant environmental subjects, and sustainable activities to limit or forestall catastrophic environmental changes. 

The new Environmental & Sustainability Studies Bachelor of Arts Degree represents the logical, and essential, evolution from department-specific studies, through cross-disciplinary studies, to one that emphasizes sustainability within the context of fundamental environmental concepts. The ENS Program will be among the first in the nation to provide a transdisciplinary, holistic approach to understanding, and making changes in, the relationship between humans and their environment.

C.  Program Advisory Board

The ENS B.A. Program was created through the combined efforts of the ENS Advisory Board members within the College of Arts & Sciences and in consultation with faculty and staff throughout the University. The Advisory Board developed the ENS B.A. from summer 2010 until it was approved in Dec. 2012. The Advisory Board was comprised of an Executive Committee and other ENS participants at UK. The Advisory Board members represent all the A&S College Departments in which relevant ENS elective courses are currently being taught. It is currently comprised of faculty members with

Executive Committee

  1. David Atwood (Chemistry)*
  2. Shannon Bell (Sociology)*
  3. Lori Tyndall (Staff Support)
  4. Lisa Cliggett (Anthropology)*
  5. Alan Fryar (Earth & Environmental Sciences; Director of Undergraduate Studies)*
  6. Rebecca Glasscock (BCTC, ENS 201)
  7. Jim Krupa (Biology)*
  8. Tad Mutersbaugh (Geography)*
  9. Jeff Osborn (Biology; AMSP)*
  10. Eric Reece (English)*
  11. Bob Sandmeyer (Philosophy)*
  12. Ted Schatzki (Associate Dean, A&S)
  13. Shane Tedder (Sustainability Coordinator)
  14. Alice Turkington (Geography)*
  15. Ernie Yanarella (Interim director; Political Science)*          *Members of the Executive Committee

academic appointments at UK (the Executive Committee) and two UK employees (Tyndall and Tedder). The Advisory Board will steadily evolve over time to include faculty representatives from other environmental programs, administrative officials, student representative from environmental clubs and organizations, and other participants in the ENS Program. (ENS Faculty Directory). 

D. Brief Description of Curriculum (ENS Coursework Checklist included here)
  1. Coursework Requirements

    The coursework requirements consist of 18 credits of core courses and 24 credits of electives from courses organized in the Areas of Economics, Environment, and Society. In order to ensure depth of knowledge and expertise 15 credits of courses will be taken within one Area. To provide breadth of knowledge, six credits of courses will be taken in a second Area and three credits of courses in the third Area. This requirement is called the “5:2:1 Rule” to indicate how many three-credit elective courses the students would take in the three Areas.  The Areas were selected in recognition that any type of sustainable activity, resource, or product must balance economic, environmental, and social considerations.

  2. Thematic Concentrations

    The grouping of courses in each Area provides students the possibility of selecting thematic clusters of courses according to their own interests, educational, and career aspirations. These could also originate from the expertise and interests of faculty participating in the ENS Program. Examples of ENS Themes include, Environmental Justice, The Built Environment, and Environmental Journalism. The flexibility to organize thematic clusters of courses either inspired by students or based on faculty expertise is a unique feature of the new ENS B.A. program.

  3. ENS Double-Majors

    UK students can earn a double major by completing all university, college, and major requirements for the Primary Major, and all major requirements in the Secondary Major.  Students choose which major is their Primary Major.  Depending on the majors, work in the Primary Major may be applicable to the Secondary Major.  The student must indicate the double major to the student records office in his or her college(s). 

    The student will have an advisor in their primary major who will be responsible for lifting their advising hold, if necessary.   They can contact the department for their secondary major to determine whom to see for any questions they may have regarding the second major.   The student who completes the requirements for a double major receives a degree from the college of his or her Primary Major and has the successful completion of the Secondary Major entered on his or her transcript. A Secondary Major may be completed after the degree for the Primary Major has been awarded. A secondary (“double”) major does not result in an additional degree.

E. Student Skills Development
Active learning will be employed as the basis of the ENS Core courses. This will be promoted through each student’s independent research for the assignments in the Core courses, various engagement activities (on and off campus), through the optional Independent Study course, ENS 395, and the required Capstone course, ENS 400. Environmental subjects and issues are ideally suited to be taught by active learning techniques given the rapidly changing developments that take place. However, these must be examined critically, particularly with regard to how the issues are portrayed in popular publications and the news media. Thus, a primary outcome of the program will be to produce graduates with the ability to think critically and independently. This will be an attribute the students can employ throughout their lives and will make them more successful in their careers.
Another important outcome will be to train the students to communicate effectively through written and oral media. These skills will be developed throughout the Core courses, but specifically in ENG 205 and PHI 336. The best of the students’ written documents and presentations will be incorporated into the Program Website to educate the public about existing and emerging environmental issues.
The abilities to think critically and to communicate effectively will require a rigorous academic foundation. The factual basis for the social, scientific, economic, and policy issues facing society today will be provided through the new courses, ENS 201 and ENS 202, ideally taken by the students in their first year. Greater expertise in subjects of the students’ own interest will be provided by the courses listed in the five areas of expertise following the “5:2:1 Rule”.
The lives of the students and those around them will be substantially improved by training in the concepts and practice of Sustainability. This will be manifested, for example, by the graduating students having a clear understanding of the social problems and ecosystem impacts associated with the world’s current use of non-renewable resources through energy and water consumption, land use, and commodities used on a daily basis. This will result in Environmental & Sustainability Studies graduates who make wise decisions about the activities they conduct in their lives and work, making them well-informed, global citizens. 
Student Learning Outcomes:
  1. Development and utilization of critical thinking skills
  2. Ability to work independently in the creation of new knowledge 
  3. Demonstration of excellence in communication, with an emphasis on writing
  4. Factual academic knowledge in a broad range of environmental issues
  5. Expertise in a specific area of environmental and sustainability studies
  6. Understanding sustainability as the means to a healthy, productive, equitable quality of life for future generations. 


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