Courses of Study 2017-2018 
    Sep 25, 2020  
Courses of Study 2017-2018 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Environmental and Sustainability Sciences

In the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences .


Course Offerings  

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ major in Environmental and Sustainability Sciences (ESS) combines and augments two prior majors: Natural Resources (NTRES) and the Science of Natural and Environmental Systems (SNES).  ESS emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of all environmental challenges facing society today and prepares students for a wide range of careers and life-long learning.  Over 70 faculty in 20 different departments and four of Cornell’s colleges participate in this program.  The major seeks exceptional students capable of engaging multiple disciplines in order to confront and explore sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.

The ESS Core Curriculum is rigorous. In the first two years, students are expected to develop fundamental knowledge of biological, chemical, and physical sciences, mathematics, environmental social sciences and humanities, and develop critical reasoning skills. Students simultaneously explore a range of environmental topics including biodiversity conservation, global change biology, sustainable communities, wildlife and aquatic resources management, land degradation, and ecological agriculture.

Understanding fundamental dimensions of environmental challenges will allow students to select a concentration within the ESS major. In the latter two years of the curriculum, students develop depth in one of four faculty-designed concentrations or, in collaboration with their advisor, design an individualized concentration related to their interests. The four faculty-designed concentrations are:

  • Environmental Biology and Applied Ecology (EBAE)
  • Environmental Economics (EE)
  • Environmental Policy and Governance (EPG)
  • Land, Air and Water Resources (LAWR)

Examples of topic areas in which students might develop their own concentration include biodiversity conservation and natural history, environmental agriculture, environmental communication, environmental education, environmental health, environmental information science, marine science, sustainability science, and wildlife or fisheries biology.

The Future for ESS Majors
The major prepares students for a wide variety of careers, including environmental work with state and federal government agencies, non-governmental conservation organizations, environmental consulting firms, and private industry.  It also prepares students for entry into a number of different professional and graduate degree programs, including environmental law, fisheries and wildlife management, global change biology, environmental policy and management, international conservation, environmental and nature education, and applied ecology.

Academic Advisors for ESS

A. Agrawal, S. Allred, C.L. Anderson, C. Barrett, R. Bezner Kerr, B. Blossey, D. Bonter, J. Cerra, H. Chong, E. Cooch, P. Curtis, D. Decker, A. DeGaetano, A. DiTommaso, L. Drinkwater, J. Elliott, S. Ellner, G. Evans, T. Fahey, A. Flecker, M. Goebel, C. Goodale, N. Hairston, A. Hajek, M. Hare, D. Harvell, P. Hess, I. Hewson, R. Howarth, K. Kassam, B. Knuth, C. Kraft, M. Krasny, J. Lassoie, B. Lauber, J. Lehmann, B. Lewenstein, S. Li, I. Lovette, E. Madsen, N. Mahowald, C. E. Martinez, P. McMichael, S. Morreale, P. Nadasdy, M. Pfeffer, S. Pritchard, J. Regenstein, S. Riha, A. Rodewald, P. Rodewald,  L. Rudstam, R. Schneider, J. Schuldt, P. Smallidge, J. Sparks, R. Stedman, P. Sullivan, J. Tantillo, J. Thies,  P. Trowbridge, T. Walter, T. Whitlow, D. Winkler, S. Wolf, D. Wolfe, W. Wolford, M. Wysocki, J. Yavitt, J. Zinda

Curriculum Requirements

Introductory Courses:

  • Two introductory courses designed specifically for the ESS major: NTRES 1101  and NTRES 2201  
  • Two introductory biology courses – Ecology and Environment (BIOEE 1610 ) and Evolutionary Biology and Diversity (BIOEE 1780 ), both also taught in the summer at Shoals Marine Lab
    (BIOSM 1610  and BIOSM 1780 )
  • One introductory field-based course – Introductory Field Biology (NTRES 2100 )

Quantitative Proficiency:

  • One calculus course
  • One statistics course
  • One other highly quantitative course from approved list

Biological, Chemical, and Physical Sciences:

  • Two courses in chemistry
  • One course in physics
  • Two additional approved courses in natural sciences

Social Sciences:

Environmental and Sustainability Sciences:

  • One colloquium (ESS 2000  or BEE 2000 )
  • A junior-level course in sustainability science (NTRES 3301 )
  • Multidisciplinary, integrative, and/or experiential learning experience recommended. Some options include a research honors thesis, an integrative upper-level 3- or 4-credit course, or an internship that is interdisciplinary in its subject or approach to environmental science and sustainability. Student initiative and planning is crucial for success with this requirement.
  • Five upper-level courses in the student’s selected concentration.


Many of the Environmental and Sustainability Sciences (ESS) requirements also meet the distribution requirements for CALS, and credits earned abroad frequently can be applied to curriculum requirements.

The total set of ESS requirements includes relevant elective credits, flexibility to pursue greater depth in specific areas of environmental and sustainability sciences, opportunity to expand knowledge outside the major by selecting courses offered throughout Cornell’s seven colleges, and options to take advantage of the study-abroad experience or research honors program.