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Sustainability Education

Sustainability Curriculum

Princeton University provides a rigorous course of study, combined with immersion experiences, to educate the next generation of innovators, leaders, and citizens for a sustainable planet. The University’s sustainability curriculum encourages students to investigate and understand the environmental, economic, social, and cultural impacts of natural resource use, and to develop practices that conserve these resources when pursued over generations. Through their experiences at Princeton, students gain an understanding for how sustainability applies to their major and an appreciation for the interconnectedness of sustainability issues across disciplines. Princeton offers a combination of sustainability-focused and sustainability-related courses across 21 academic departments.

  • Sustainability-focused courses concentrate on the concept of sustainability, including its social, economic, and environmental dimensions, or examine an issue or topic using sustainability as a lens.
  • Sustainability-related courses incorporate sustainability as a distinct course component or module, or concentrate on a single sustainability principle or issue.

Undergraduate Program in Environmental Studies

Sustainable education

PEI offers multiple educational opportunities for students with interest in environmental sustainability.

Undergraduate students wishing to achieve proficiency in environmental sustainability may elect to pursue a Certificate in Environmental Studies. The Program in Environmental Studies (ENV) offers a diverse range of courses as well as opportunities for independent study. The curriculum is experiential with emphasis on field research and hands on learning.

Freshman Seminar Courses taught by PEI faculty enable incoming students to delve deeply into environmental topics. Several provide unusual field study experiences that powerfully impact student perspectives on sustainability topics. Among the offerings are:

  • FRS 111: Water: Keystone for Sustainable Development
  • FRS 113: Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes
  • FRS 115: Agriculture, Food, and the Environment
  • FRS 125: Global Environmental Change: Science, Technology, and Policy
  • FRS 163: Science, Technology, and Public Policy
  • FRS 187: Earth's Environments and Ancient Civilization 

The ENV Program’s core introductory course (Fundamentals of Environmental Studies: Population, Land Use, Biodiversity and Energy) features student projects assessing campus energy consumption and the tradeoffs between eating conventionally grown, local food versus organically grown, imported food. In the optional lab, students assess local water quality, the efficiency of making biofuels from different feedstocks, and different modeling techniques for understanding climate and ecosystems.

An upper level course, Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Solutions, examines the University’s sustainability plan with implications for improvements in energy efficiency, resource conservation, and other sustainable systems on campus. Other upper level ENV courses explore topics including food, agriculture, infectious disease, land use, biodiversity, alternative energy, climate change, and global impacts on natural resources.

Internships

Through PEI’s internship program, undergraduates from diverse disciplinary backgrounds engage in sustainability research and service projects on the Princeton campus and around the globe. Past internships have focused on issues including land stewardship, energy efficiency in low income housing, urban transportation, water scarcity, sanitation, and food purchases.

Independent Research Projects

PEI provides generous funding to support undergraduate students who wish to pursue independent field research projects with a focus on sustainability. Students from diverse academic backgrounds representing as many as 25 academic majors including those pursuing a Certificate in Environmental Studies and others have received support for field projects focused on sustainability. A sample of recent topics includes:

  • Agricultural Nitrogen Pollution in the Mississippi Delta, Devika Balachandran '14
  • Environment and Measures of Happiness in Contemporary Bhutan, Isabel Bonnyman '14
  • The Effect of Marine Protected Areas on Coral Reef Regeneration, Robert Castelo '14
  • Developing Sustainable Water Use Practices in Kenyan Subsistence Agriculture in Response to Climate Change, Sally Goodman '14
  • The Impact of Social Dominance Hierarchies and Associated Stress on the Epigenome of Yellowstone Grey Wolves, Eskander McCoy '14

For more information and additional projects, see the Program in Environmental Studies Senior Thesis Titles and the Senior Thesis Research Project archives.

Graduate Study

PEI offers funding to support graduate students who are interested in pursuing sustainability research.  The PEI-STEP Graduate Fellowship Program enables graduate students from multiple disciplines to explore the environmental policy dimension of their graduate research. The Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars group is an honorific fellowship society for Ph.D. candidate students whose graduate work focuses on dimensions of challenges in energy and climate. This interdisciplinary group meets twice monthly with faculty and visitors to discuss relevant topics. Application is open to students from diverse academic backgrounds. Selection is competitive.