Environmental Health, Humanities, Science, and Studies

If you are interested in and/or care about the environment, the University of Rochester has options for you! I’m going to be focusing on environmental health, environmental humanities, environmental science, and environmental studies in this post because distinguishing between them can be challenging at first. How do you choose which one is right for you? Read on for more information about how these fields differ and input from students majoring in those fields!

Environmental Health (BA)

Keywords: natural science, public health, health sciences, biology, chemistry, philosophy, microbiology, sustainability

The environmental health major is part of the Undergraduate Program in Public Health. To complete the major, you have to take four prerequisites, 13 courses, and a single-credit lab. Environmental health approaches environmental issues from a public health point of view. How does exposure to pollution affect humans? What are the social, economic, and cultural factors that cause and resolve environmental health issues?

If you major in environmental health (or epidemiology), you can be part of the Health and Epidemiology Advanced Learning (HEAL) program. This allows you to skip the GRE before going into your fifth year for a master’s.

You can also join the Society of Undergraduate Public Health Students (SUPHS) to connect with students of similar interests, as well as help educate the campus community. I reached out to the president of SUPHS to find a member studying environmental health.

Insight from an environmental health major

Erin, a junior double majoring in environmental health and economics, said:

“I chose to major in environmental health because it allows me to study the impact that our environment has on human health on many levels. From the biology and chemistry requirements, I was able to learn about the properties of the chemicals and other exposures we face in daily life, and from the public health core classes, I was able to understand what effects these exposures have on populations at large, not just the individual. It combines my love for pure science with my passion to help people in a perfect balance.”

Her favorite aspect of her major is how versatile and interdisciplinary it is. What’s special about the environmental health major? “Not many schools offer undergraduate degrees in environmental health, and here at Rochester, our program uniquely integrates public health into the curriculum.”

Environmental Humanities (DIY BA or minor)

Keywords: humanities, multidisciplinary, culture, history, creativity, imagination, art, communities, advocacy

This is perhaps Rochester’s newest official field of study and has seen significant growth over the last few years. Although there is not yet a predetermined major you can declare, you can propose an interdepartmental major in environmental humanities to the Multidisciplinary Studies Center. An interdepartmental major usually has 10 courses from two departments, and potentially four courses to supplement your study. The minor requires four courses, up to two of which can be from social science courses and one of which may be a natural science course.

Environmental humanities examines environmental issues using humanities-based methodologies. You can take classes in history, art, philosophy, anthropology and more. We’re used to viewing ecological problems through statistics and data. Environmental humanities aims to contribute different perspectives. This is a good option for you if you’re interested in community building, advocacy, and, of course, the environment.

My experience with environmental humanities

I came to Rochester planning on doing my humanities cluster in sustainability. I later realized that with just a couple more classes I wanted to take anyway, I could fulfill my humanities requirement with an environmental humanities cluster instead. My experience with environmental humanities has been great so far. It has made me think about environmental issues from different perspectives. Right now I’m taking History of Nature, which is about environmental history, or how nature and mankind have influenced each other over time. It’s super interesting and has made me think more critically about my environment, from the rise of suburbia to how American conceptions about wilderness could be an issue.

Words from an environmental humanities major

Here’s why Mitch, a senior, chose to major in environmental humanities:

“I had taken two classes with Leila Nadir, and I loved them. I came to realize that just learning about environmental science wasn’t enough for me—science has already proven that climate change is real, so where’s the disconnect, why can’t we communicate this information in a way that makes people want to stop it? How do we change the minds of the people actively casting doubt about climate change?”

Her favorite thing about her major is how it values culture, literature, art, and creativity as it relates to environmentalism.

Environmental Science (BS)

Keywords: natural science, Earth science, Earth resources, math, biology, chemistry, physics, climate, geology

Environmental science is the most natural science-y of these fields of study. With a BS in environmental science, you can go into environmental or geological consulting, environmental law, governmental advising, and more. The prerequisites for environmental science are biology, chemistry, math, and physics, for a total of 8 courses. You also need to complete an introductory core course, three elective core courses, two “skills courses”, four technical electives, and a “closure course.” Two of those courses must be upper-level writing courses. Read what specific classes are available.

Here’s what an environmental science major had to say

Skylar is a junior majoring in environmental science. Here is why she made that choice:

“Growing up in an environmentally conscious city/state, I was raised to critically think about how my actions affect my surroundings and what choices I could make to better my environment. When I came to college I knew I wanted to major in a STEM field that provided me with fundamental knowledge and skills for a future job in the environmental science field. The major requirements for EES were very broad and flexible in that each student could choose to specialize in biology, chemistry, geology, or climate and I liked how the major encouraged students to explore more specific areas that they are curious about. After taking a few classes in this major I learned that one of the most important skills in this field is creative problem solving and I found that I really enjoyed coming up with possible creative data-based solutions to some human-caused environmental issues.”

Environmental Studies (BA)

Keywords: natural science, social science, public health, law, public policy, environmental management, urban planning, chemistry, math, variety, linking

Environmental studies is a less math- and science-heavy approach than environmental science. However, it’s also certainly more math- and science-heavy than environmental humanities. This is a good option for you if you’re kinda STEM-y, but not completely. The major requires two prerequisites (chemistry and math), three core courses, a “skills course,” five elective courses (two natural science and three social science/humanities), and a “closure course.”

From the desk of an environmental studies major

Solen is a sophomore who started out as an environmental science major, but is going to switch to environmental studies soon. He made the switch because he “wanted to learn more about the humanities side of climate change and environmental action.” Here’s what he had to say about the field:

“I feel like there is real power in learning multiple schools of thought because it allows people to communicate knowledge in ways that more than one specific group of people can understand, which is something we need right now with current climate change denial. It’s really a useful tool for understanding why people may do and think the way that they do.”

There are other majors and minors related to the environment available at Rochester too. Check them out on the Majors and Programs page!

About the author

Kayla Zilke

I'm a member of the Class of 2021 from Seattle, WA majoring in psychology with minors in business and environmental humanities. I'm involved with Quidditch, GreenSpace, EcoReps, intramural sports, the Student Association of Vegan and Vegetarian Youth, and Hatha Yoga.

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