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Research & Education


Through courses, independent study, internships and discussion forums, Princeton aspires to connect the academic experience to sustainability research and the inner-workings of the campus. 

Figure 16: Home Departments of Environmental Studies Certificate Students
Certificate students
The number of students who have received the environmental studies certificate and their majors from 2002 to 2011.

Goal, Strategies & Progress

Goal: Develop leaders among students to advance global sustainability.

Strategy: Broaden and increase interdisciplinary academic and research opportunities in sustainability in graduate and undergraduate education.


  • A total of 192 registered undergraduates representing 19 academic disciplines participated in the Program in Environmental Studies in 2011, up from 162 undergraduates in 2010. Fifty-seven undergraduates received environmental studies certificates in 2011, up from 45 in 2010 and quadruple the number in 2002 (see Figure 16).
  • Princeton currently offers 60 unique undergraduate and graduate courses among four academic areas that address sustainability by exploring some aspect of the intersection between the environment, economics and society (see Figure 17).
  • During the 2010-11 academic year, eight Ph.D. candidates participated in the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy. This program provides fellowship support for students to develop the environmental policy dimension of their graduate theses. A total of 49 students have enrolled since the program's advent in 2000. 
  • A new accelerated environmental certificate track is being developed for undergraduate students pursuing science, policy and engineering disciplines. The new curriculum will launch in 2012.
  • In 2011, the University's Council on Science and Technology committed funds to support the development of two laboratory modules involving "real-world" applications for two "Fundamentals of Environmental Studies" courses, ENV 201 and ENV 202.
  • Students, leading scholars and guest speakers participated in 11 dinner discussions in the past year held under the auspices of the Environmental Affairs Forum. Twenty-seven such discussions have taken place since the forum was initiated in 2009.
  • The Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars Program, made up of eight prominent faculty members and 12 nominated Ph.D. candidates, met twice per month for conversation on energy and climate issues in 2010-11. Since the program's inception in 2008, 14 faculty and 28 Ph.D. candidates have participated.
  • Students met weekly for dinner during the 2010-11 academic year to discuss current issues in sustainable energy at an "Energy Table" at Mathey College, a forum initiated in 2009. 
  • A new professorship in environmental studies and the humanities has been established with appointment targeted for 2016.
  • About 20 percent of graduating seniors in 2011 participated in PEI's undergraduate program during their four years at Princeton, including combined experiences pursuing certificates, coursework, internships and independent research.

ENV_certificate holders
The 2011 recipients of environmental studies certificates — a class four times the size of the group that earned cerificates nine years ago.

Strategy: Instill awareness in students regarding their responsibilities as global citizens through international study, research and service.


  • During the 2011 summer PEI/Grand Challenges season, 111 Princeton undergraduate students from 22 majors interned in 21 countries around the globe, researching and working to address a variety of environmental- and sustainability-related topics. In total, the Grand Challenges program has sponsored 402 undergraduates on internships since the program’s inception in 2007.
  • The Summer of Learning (SOL) colloquia, in which students share from their summer internship experiences, was established in 2008 in order to provide forums for information exchange about global environmental challenges.

Strategy: Support research endeavors that use the campus as a laboratory, linking operational and academic departments.


  • Since 2008, assisted by the High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund, the Princeton Sustainability Committee, together with the Office of Sustainability, has awarded support for 11 often multiyear faculty research projects, and 37 grants to students and staff, to investigate sustainability solutions using the campus as a laboratory. Each faculty research project has engaged undergraduate and graduate student research teams.
  • A new listing of more than 60 research opportunities has been compiled for potential junior paper, senior thesis and graduate research studies to assist students who wish to explore and advance sustainability using the campus as a laboratory. The information has been posted on the Office of Sustainability website and will be the focus of an event sponsored by the Princeton Sustainability Committee for faculty in fall 2011.
  • In fall 2011, Elie Bou-Zeid, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering who conducts research on how local environments affect and are affected by the global climate, was named academic co-chair of the Princeton Sustainability Committee.

What's Next

Short Term:

  • Work with faculty to more specifically define what a sustainability-focused or -related course is.
  • Enhance "Fundamentals of Environmental Studies" courses, ENV 201 and ENV 202, and expand community research dimension.
  • Continue to develop ongoing financial support for research fellowships, course-related fieldwork, internships and undergraduate research.

Long Term:

  • Continue to define the role of sustainability in the existing University curriculum, both graduate and undergraduate, and explore how to develop a more cohesive curriculum around the environment and sustainability.
  • Continue to investigate metrics to track the broad influence of Princeton faculty research on societal-scale sustainability progress.
  • Develop courses at the intersection of the environment and humanities; appoint a new faculty chair in environmental studies and the humanities with appointment targeted for 2016.
  • Establish an annual call for proposals to encourage faculty to redirect research to target areas and develop courses and opportunities for mentoring undergraduate and graduate students; recruit faculty scholars in target areas.

"At Princeton, there is a growing interdependence among researchers in the environmental and sustainability fields, more faculty are engaging in interdisciplinary work, and many more faculty are thinking across disciplinary perspectives."
Lars Hedin, professor and director, Program in Environmental Studies


"PEI (the Princeton Environmental Institute) and the environmental studies program took me from the fundamentals of climate science my freshman year, to cutting-edge research on biofuels in Costa Rica for my senior thesis. The blend of world-class professors, passionate students and opportunities for hands-on learning that the programs bring together is what makes Princeton truly extraordinary."
Danny Growald, Class of 2011


Figure 17: Distribution of Sustainability Courses


At Princeton, there are 60 undergraduate and graduate courses, among four academic areas, with significant sustainability components.


Campus Environmental Awards

  • Peter W. Stroh '51 Environmental Thesis Prize
    Brooks Barron, 2011, Woodrow Wilson School
  • Environmental Studies Thesis Prize
    Hannah Barkley, 2011, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
    Samuel Borchard, 2011, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Becky Colvin '95 Memorial Award
    Madelon Case, 2011, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
    Sara Nason, 2011, Geosciences
  • T.A. Barron Environmental Leadership Prize
    Daniel Growald, 2011, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

More details are available about 2011 environmental studies certificate graduates.



Elie Bou-Zeid, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is using the Princeton campus as a base to study how local environments affect and are affected by the global climate. He is standing here in front of a meteorological station that is part of the wireless sensor network deployed across campus to monitor the microclimate of Princeton. Bou-Zeid was named academic co-chair of the Princeton Sustainability Committee in fall 2011. Read a story and view a video about his work.

PEI class

In the course "Communicating Climate Change," students learn about using multimedia to report on climate change and its potential consequences in a compelling and scientifically rigorous way. The course was co-taught in spring 2011 by visiting lecturers Heidi Cullen and Michael Lemonick, shown here with Ogechi Oparah, a member of the Class of 2013.