Environmental Studies

Environmental Studies is an interdisciplinary endeavour that explores the fundamental drivers of environmental problems, and develops within students the skills and aptitude for creative problem solving. The programme focuses on the local and the global, and draws upon the natural and sciences, social sciences, and humanities to analysze environmental threats to human well-being.  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.  The programme aims to cultivate within students four critical attributes: an ability to analysze the root causes of environmental problems, an openness to a range of responses and solutions, the capacity to work effectively across disciplinary boundaries, and the boldness required to engage complex problems characteriszed by risk and uncertainty.

Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS is structured to foster a broad understanding of environmental issues along with in-depth expertise in a specific topic of area of interest.  To this end, students devise an area of specialiszation within the environmental studies early in their third year of study in consultation with their major advisor. More information on the programme, and the field of environmental studies, is available at the Environmental Studies website

STRUCTURE

For Class of 2017 and Class of 2018, students majoring in Environmental Studies will take eight courses [(40 modular credits (MC) equivalents) ] and complete a final-year 10- MC capstone project, for a total of 50 MC of work.  The requirements are as follows:

• One gateway 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 in Semester 1 of Year 3): This project-based course 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 urged to organise their study abroad plans such that they are on campus in Semester 1 of their third year. Students who are away from campus during this semester will take Applied Environmental Research in the first semester of their fourth year.

• Four courses in a student-designed Area of Specialisation (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 courses) area of specialisation (AoS). The AoS may be in a specific disciplinary sub-field or address a specific environmental problem. All courses 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 are invited to peruse the areas of specialisation of current environmental studies students by visiting the programme website. Academic advisors in environmental studies may also provide working templates for areas of specialisations in a variety of fields.

• Capstone (taken in Year 4): A 10 MC research project, with the final grade awarded at the end of Semester 2. The capstone project must extend and further develop a student’s AoS.

For Class of 2019 onwards, students majoring in Environmental Studies will take nine courses (44-45 MC equivalent) and complete a final-year 10 MC capstone project. They will follow the programme described above for Class of 2017 and Class of 2018 students. In addition, they are required to successfully complete a 5 MC analytic methods course from a list of approved courses maintained by the programme. Conventional data analysis/statistic courses meet this requirement, as do analytic methods courses from other fields, e.g. literary analysis or ethnographic research methods.

COURSES

Gateway Module: required of all majors and minors

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.

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

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.

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, non-human 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.

Social Theory and the Environment: This foundational course 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 course, 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.

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 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.

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

Beginning with the Class of 2019, all students majoring in Environmental Studies must successfully complete a 5 MC analytic methods course from an evolving list of approved courses maintained by the programme. Conventional data analysis/statistic courses meet this requirement, as do analytic methods courses from other fields, e.g. literary analysis or ethnographic research methods. Students from the Class of 2017 and 2018 are strongly encouraged to voluntarily fulfil this requirement.

Area of Specialisation: 19-20 MC (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 MC 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 abroad 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 specialisation (members from Class of 2017 and 2018 may use Energy Humanities and Ecological Economics to fulfill their two-course requirement in Conceptual Approaches to Environmental Studies prior to May 2017):

  • 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 (2 MC)
  • 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

Additional information on these and other upper-level courses is available at the programme website

Applied Environmental Research Module: required of and restricted to majors

The seminar is an interdisciplinary exploration of a contemporary environmental problem. Students conduct research, perform necessary analysis, and present their findings in project teams to relevant stakeholders. The seminar heightens students’ ability to conceptualise and analyse knotty problems, fosters an ability to communicate effectively across disciplines, and develops specific research skills necessary to the final capstone project.

Capstone: 10 MCs in semesters one and two of the student’s fourth year

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.

MINOR

The Environmental Studies minor requires the completion of five Environmental Studies courses, including the gateway course and at least one 2000-level course in Conceptual Approaches to Environmental Studies.

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