I have always had a strong interest in science but I chose to major in environmental studies because I believe that how humans relate to the world around us is incredibly important to understand. Originally, I entered Santa Clara University as a chemistry major, but I switched to environmental studies as a sophomore. I enjoy this track and it has given me more time to relax and be social.
At Santa Clara University, we study a broad environmental studies curriculum that typically takes students 4 years to complete. We begin our curriculum by taking the same core classes as all science students. For example, we take introductory classes in chemistry, biology and environmental science during the freshman year. My degree program also requires electives related to the natural sciences and social policy development.
The most valuable classes that I have taken so far are Introduction to Geographic Information Systems and Conservation Psychology. In the GIS class, we analyzed data from an Excel database and converted the data into a spatial format so that it can be overlaid on a map. GIS is a very interesting tool for data analysis, so that was definitely one of my favorite classes. Additionally, I enjoyed my class about conservation psychology, which taught us how to persuade people to be more conservation-oriented, especially when it comes to energy and water use. In other words, we examined different strategies that you can utilize to be more successful in a conservation campaign. I think that class will be very useful in the future when I am trying to get a job.
Overall, I would say that my classes are difficult, but the expectations are not unreasonable. You don’t have to work as hard in my program as you might in some other tracks. But you should do all of the mandated reading so that you are well-informed about the field.
The biggest strength of my program is that it allows me to pursue interesting topics and course material without being so rigorous that I have to spend all my time buried in books in the library. But the major weakness of the environmental studies program is that it doesn’t delve very deeply into specific topics. For example, we never choose a specialization in a certain area of environmental science, so I worry about how my lack of focused knowledge will affect my job prospects.
For the most part, the professors are incredibly knowledgeable. They have to compete for their jobs about every 2 or 3 years and there may be around 150 applicants for their jobs from all over the nation that they have to surpass. That system ensures that Santa Clara University gets some of the best candidates in the country. For example, the director of my program conducts field work in Sierra Leone, which gives the program an interesting global perspective. And my Capstone professor is a high-profile researcher who is the chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy.
Because of the affluence of the student population and alumni, Santa Clara University is constantly building new facilities. There is a brand new library and a new business school, as well as new dorms, all of which can be considered resources that add to student success. When I first enrolled in school here, I was surprised by how much money people have. But it is used to build stellar facilities for the students.
One internship is required in order to graduate, but I have actually completed 2 internships. My first internship happened to be through the business school. I went to Indonesia for 5 weeks and worked for a Water and Rural Electrification NGO in Indonesia, which was really cool. They paid for my airfare and everything. I wish I had stayed longer because I had a great cultural experience. My second internship also took place abroad. I went on a trip through my department to Costa Rica to do field research, which involved collecting data first-hand, analyzing it, and writing it up according to scientific standards.
The best study tip I can offer relates to the classes that you choose. Santa Clara University requires all students to take religion classes, but if you aren’t religious, I recommend sidestepping that requirement by taking classes that focus on both your major and religion. For example, one of the electives that I took explored the overlap between science, religion and global warming. Another one of my electives covered sustainability and spirituality. Both of these classes examined how environmentalism interacts with religious ideology, and it is some interesting academic territory. Classes like that contribute to the broad education that we are provided at my school.
Students in the environmental studies program can expect to be challenged by the amount of analytic papers and presentations that are required for homework. But we don’t have an overwhelming amount of homework. I would estimate that I only need to spend about 6 hours each week engaged in independent study. I appreciate that I don’t have to spend as much time studying as some other majors because I work 10 hours each week on campus in addition to school.
I am interested in environmental consulting, so I have been looking for internships that might lead to a job in that field. Eventually I want to attend graduate school, but I have heard that you should get out into the world for at least a year to figure out what aspects of a subject you enjoy most.
Students need to understand that it is worth putting in the effort to develop professional connections and gain relevant career experience, even as an undergraduate. You should talk to your professors and try to work out some kind of internship or volunteer opportunity outside of school. Do everything you can while you are in school to build your resume because graduating with professional experience is valuable.