FAQs for Environmental Studies - Declared Students

Why are there so many changes to the majors offered under the new Environmental Studies Department?

In 2019, the Environmental Studies department assessed its four primary majors: Environmental Studies, Environmental Policy, Geography, and Environmental Education. We found that while most students were doing well, some were having trouble accessing courses. Others were picking and choosing from such a large set of electives that they were missing out on developing a learning community with a cohort of other students.

Starting Fall 2021, we will take a holistic approach to these majors. All students will take a robust set of foundation and core knowledge area courses. This set of shared coursework provides key knowledge, skills and experiences that will help students achieve many of their post-graduation goals. Students will then specialize in one of six emphases. Some of these emphases mirror popular majors we offered in the last; two are brand new emphases in areas students have consistently requested. Environmental Studies majors in the College of the Environment Extensions program will be able to choose from three emphases, giving them a choice of specialization for the very first time. 

We are excited about these changes! We think the new approach will increase coherence and interdisciplinarity of every students’ studies, reduce waitlists, and help you all form a stronger learning community. We can’t wait to teach and learn together with you!

What are these new Environmental Studies emphases all about?

The new Environmental Studies major with six distinct emphases is an exciting development that allows the department to cater to increased student interest in GIS and social and environmental justice. Geography, policy, and environmental education will also continue to be core areas of course content.

All our majors will take an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to understanding human-environment systems and environmental challenges. No matter which emphasis you choose, you will take core classes in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities to prepare you to integrate knowledge from multiple fields of study. You will learn to analyze and interpret complex environmental data and communicate environmental information for diverse stakeholders.

To learn more about these new emphases, have a look at the AY 2021-2022 University Catalog:

  • Education & Eco-Social Justice Emphasis, BA
  • Geography Emphasis, BA
  • Policy Emphasis, BA
  • Geographic Information Science Emphasis, BA
  • Justice & Community Resilience Emphasis, BA

What do the new majors in Environmental Studies look like?

Revised ENVS Major (81-86 credits)

(no courses may be double counted)

Environmental Studies Foundations (27 credits)

  • ENVS 201: Understanding Environmental Data and Information
  • ENVS 203: Physical Geography
  • ENVS 204: Human Geography
  • ESCI 225: Beginning Ecology
  • ENVS 302: Navigating Environmental Studies (1 credit, new)
  • ENVS 303: Introduction to Environmental Studies
  • ENVS 305: Introduction to Environmental Studies II
  • ENVS 499A or ENVS 499A: Environmental Speaker Series

Environmental Studies Core Knowledge Areas (24-29 credits)

Environmental Data Analysis & Communication (6-8 credits)

The Biophysical Environment (8 credits)

Socio-ecological Systems (3-4 credits)

Social Justice and the Environment (4 credits)

Institutions and Environmental Governance (3-5 credits)

Depth and Specialization (22 credits)

Complete a minor in a related department/field (from provided list)


Pre-defined Emphasis (within and across current programs)

Culminating Experiences (8 credits)

Qualifying courses may include: 

  • ENVS 437: Faculty-Led Study Abroad
  • ENVS 498A: Senior Thesis
  • ENVS 498B: Internship
  • ENVS 498C: Senior Project
  • ENVS 498D: International Study

See the University Catalog for degree-specific details.

What if I am an Environmental Studies pre-major?

If you are already an Environmental Studies pre-major and were considering the Environmental Studies, Environmental Education, Geography, or Environmental Policy degrees, we hope that you will be excited about the new Environmental Studies curriculum in the 2021-2022 catalog! We hope you will choose one of the new degrees there. However, if your specific circumstances that make it important or necessary to obtain a degree in the 2020-2021 catalog, you will be allowed to do so. You can explore your options with a College of the Environment professional adviser at your next advising appointment. There is no rush or need to worry.

What if I’ve already declared my major?

If you already have declared your major in one of the current Environmental Studies majors, you do not need to do anything. You can remain in your current major until graduation. Both new departments will support the courses you need to graduate.

I can’t find my major in the Catalog anymore. What happened?

You will not find these majors listed below under the Environmental Studies Department programs in the AY 2021-2022 Western Washington University Catalog.  However, your major still exists and you may still graduate under it. To view your major and its degree requirements, look in the appropriate archived catalog from the year in which you declared your major (e.g. AY 2019-2020). A dropdown menu of catalogs from past years is available on the right side of the Catalog webpage:

  • Environmental Education, BA
  • Environmental Policy, BA
  • Environmental Studies, BA
  • Geography, BA
  • Urban Planning and Sustainable Development, BA

What if I like one of the new majors better than my declared major?

In Fall 2021, you will be able to declare under one of the new majors. Speak with a College of the Environment academic adviser to declare under a new major. The change can happen any time after July 1, 2021.

If I am close to graduation, should I change my major?

For students who are within a couple of quarters of graduation, it will likely make the most sense to keep your existing major. However, you are welcome to change if it makes sense to you. Talk with your faculty and academic adviser more.

I’m already a declared major. What would be the advantages or disadvantages of declaring under one of the new degree offerings?

For students who have few ENVS credits, we encourage you to consider declaring under the new Environmental Studies BA, with one of the new emphases. Switching to a new major may reduce the number of high-demand, bottleneck courses you need. It may also give you better depth and interdisciplinarity, and help you form a stronger connection to other students in the department. 

Here are the department’s AY 2020-2021 majors and minors, and what you might want to consider for Fall 2021 and beyond

Degrees that are substantially similar, with little reason to switch:

  • Environmental Education, BA 
  • Geography, BA 
  • Environmental Policy, BA 

Degrees with no change, there's no need to do anything:

  • Business and Sustainability, BA
  • Economics/Environmental Studies, BA
  • Environmental Studies – Elementary, BAE
  • Environmental Studies/Journalism, BA
  • Geography – Elementary, BAE
  • Geography/Social Studies, BA
  • Student/Faculty Designed, BA

Environmental Studies, BA 

While the title of this major did not change, its courses did. Under the new major, your depth and specialization courses will be in a minor from other departments or a specialization you self-design with your faculty adviser. Consider switching to the major to get better depth and coherence out of your degree.

If you are within a couple quarters of graduating, consider staying where you are; switching could delay time to degree.

GIS Certificate or Minor

You may want to switch to the new major emphasis to have more depth in GIS and have GIS listed as your major on your transcript.

If you are within a couple quarters of graduating, consider staying where you are; switching could delay time to degree.

Disaster Risk Reduction Minor or Environmental Justice Minor 

Switch to the new major emphasis to expand breath of study and have justice and resilience listed as your major on your transcript.

If you are within a couple quarters of graduating, consider staying where you are; switching could delay time to degree.

I'm a Environmental Policy Major or pre-major. Should I be staying in the Environmental Studies Department or going to the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Department?

Current Environmental Policy majors or pre-majors can continue with their current major until graduation and stay in the Environmental Studies Department. They may also want to look at the Environmental Studies' Department new degree emphasis focused on policy in the 2021-2022 university catalog. This degree is called Environmental Studies-Policy Emphasis. It is substantially the same as the older Environmental Policy degree, but aligns Foundations courses and Core Knowledge area courses with the new curriculum. While the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Department does have policy in the title, the department has not yet developed a policy-focused degree.

If I have been accepted into the Urban Planning and Sustainable Design major, what should I do?

You do not need to do anything. To learn more about the UEPP department, go to:

FAQs for Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEPP) Students

Additional questions?

Contact the future Department Chair, Rebekah Paci-Green at Rebekah-Paci-Green@wwu.edu