Environmental Studies

Course Catalog: Environmental Studies

The environmental studies major provides students with an interdisciplinary opportunity to investigate the relationship between humans and their environment. As distinct from environmental science, the curriculum in environmental studies is based in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, emphasizing the political, economic, and social organization of human cultures in relation to the natural world, as well as the artistic, philosophical, and experiential responses to natural and built environments.

Learning Outcomes

Students who graduate with a major in environmental studies will:

  1. Demonstrate environmental literacy through studying, from an interdisciplinary perspective, social issues that underlie contemporary environmental problems;
  2. Demonstrate effective communication and critical thinking skills regarding environmental issues;
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of ethical dimensions of environmental issues.

Major in Environmental Studies

A minimum of 44 semester hours is required, including:
ESC 105 and ESC 106: Environmental Science: Sustainable Communities with laboratory
EST 103: Introduction to Environmental Studies
EST 490: Seminar
GPY 102: World Regional Geography
GPY 118: Montana Rivers
GPY 226: Energy and Society

Also required:
COM 319: Environmental Communication
HST 365: American Environmental History
PHR 304: Environmental Ethics
PHR 378: Philosophy of Technology and Modern Culture
POL 313: Environmental Politics

Choose two of the following:
ART 222: Art History Survey III
ART 243: Digital Photography
ART 247: Digital Nature Photography
ART 322: Topics in Art History II
ART 323: Topics in Art History III
ENG 244: Literature and the Environment
HST 260: Montana and the West
HST 311: History of Western America
PHR 303: Ethics

Choose one of the following:
BIO 410: Conservation Biology
ECO 354: Environmental Economics
ESC 209: Field Survey Techniques in Zoology
ESC 314: Range Ecology
ESC 317: Bird Conservation and Research
ESC 330: Wildlife Management and Conservation
ESC 436: Yellowstone Winter Ecology
GPY 224: Environment and Society
GPY 321: Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
GPY 302: Sustainable Development Policy and Practice
GPY 491 and 492: Geography Capstone with laboratory

ART 222 - Art History Survey III

Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 3

This is a general survey of art historical periods and movements during the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Study focuses on the materials, techniques, style, historical context, aesthetics, and criticism of this wide variety of art. Traditional art historical methods of slide lecture, discussion, written exams, and papers are de rigueur as well as exploration of relevant topics on the Internet and via the course website. Though sequential, ART 220, ART 221, and ART 222 may be taken separately.


ART 243 - Digital Photography

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 3

This course introduces students to the process of digital photography. Camera handling, editing techniques, and the elements of design are covered. Students are encouraged to pursue this art form in the surrounding community and landscape.


ART 247 - Digital Nature Photography

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 3

This course explores the practice of digital photography as it relates to the field of nature photography. Camera selection, technology, and use are covered, as are field practices, editing techniques, elements of composition, and trip planning. Students are encouraged to pursue this art form in the surrounding area including a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Students will create, critique, and present original works of art.


ART 322 - Topics in Art History II

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 3

The topic for this course is chosen from Western artistic traditions ranging from the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, the 19th, or the 20th centuries. Study focuses on art materials, techniques, style, historical context, aesthetics, and criticism. While traditional methods of studying art history are used (e.g., slide lectures, discussion, written exams, and papers), students are expected to authentically replicate an objet d'art from the studied historical periods as a major project. This course is also web-enhanced, with an interactive class website and required web research and project presentation. This course may be taken twice, with up to six credits counting toward the art major or minor requirements.


ART 323 - Topics in Art History III

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 3

This is a study of the peoples and their art from the non-European traditions. Topics vary and may include Native American cultures such as the Anasazi, Mogollon, or Mimbres and/or the art of Africa or Asia, among others. Study focuses on art materials, techniques, style, prehistorical and historical context, aesthetics, and criticism. While traditional methods of studying art history are used (e.g., slide lectures, discussion, written exams, and papers), students are expected to authentically explicate an objet d'art from the studied historical periods as a major project. This course is also web-enhanced, with an interactive class website and required web research and project presentation. This course may be taken twice, with up to six credits counting toward the art major or minor requirements.


BIO 410 - Conservation Biology

Semester: Spring; Odd years
Semester hours: 2-3

Students experience a multi-disciplinary approach to conservation encompassing genetics to ethics. Discussions emphasize biological diversity, extinction probability theory, reserve design, management, and reintroduction strategies. Written and oral presentations are required.

Prerequisite: BIO 306


COM 319 - Environmental Communication

Semester: Fall; Even years
Semester hours: 3

This course investigates how symbols are used to construct and reflect nature and its relationship with humans. It examines intersections between the environment and humanity through a variety of communicative lenses, including theories of social-symbolic discourse, mass media, rhetoric, and public advocacy.

Prerequisite: COM 102 or permission of instructor


ECO 354 - Environmental Economics

Semester: Fall; Even years
Semester hours: 3

This course introduces the multidisciplinary field of environmental economics. Students will employ a critical geographic framework to examine the basic implications of economic theory related to ecosystems and environmental problems involving water, air pollution, energy, climate change, natural resources, and human health and development.

Prerequisite: None; ECO 205 is recommended


ENG 244 - Literature and the Environment

Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

This course is a comparative study of the environmental imagination as expressed in literature. By reading and discussing a wide range of literary texts, students investigate timeless and more urgent questions, such as “What is nature?”; “What is our responsibility to the environment?”; “How do various cultures express their relation to the natural world?”.


ESC 105 - Environmental Science: Sustainable Communities

Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 3

An introductory course designed for students entering the environmental sciences and studies program and for other students who would like to take an ecology course. Topics address the central concepts of ecology including the physical environment in which life exists. Students will explore the properties and processes of populations and communities, ecosystem dynamics, biogeography and biodiversity, as well as issues in conservation and restoration ecology. Three hours of lecture per week. This course may fulfill a natural lab science core curriculum requirement if taken concurrently with ESC 106.


ESC 106 - Environmental Science: Sustainable Communities Laboratory

Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 1

In the laboratory, students will apply environmental science concepts to ecological studies in the natural environment and learn how to present their results in a scientific report. One two-hour laboratory session per week.

Corequesite: ESC 105


ESC 209 - Field Survey Techniques in Zoology

Semester: Spring; Even years
Semester hours: 4

A field and laboratory course covering basic field techniques to survey and inventory areas to assess biodiversity, with an emphasis on Montana mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish fauna. Topics include species identification, survey and trapping, experimental design, data analysis, and report completion. Once identification and survey skills are learned, field teams will be formed and assigned to survey and inventory local habitats of concern with the goal of helping guide local management and restoration of these habitats. An additional fee is required.

Prerequisite: ESC 105 and 106, or BIO 120


ESC 314 - Range Ecology

Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4

This course is the study of mixed grass prairies of the West and an introduction to ecological concepts applicable to that area. Topics include historical and current land use, ecosystem responses to change, methods for maintaining natural prairie habitats, the use of prairies as rangelands, and determinations of ecological conditions and trends on rangelands. The laboratory focuses on identification of common prairie plant species and their importance for both wildlife and domestic animals. Three hours of lecture and one two-hour laboratory session per week.

Prerequisite: BIO 120 or ESC 223


ESC 317 - Bird Conservation and Research

Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4

This is a field and laboratory course covering bird evolution, life histories, behavior, populations, and conservation. Laboratory time will focus on survey techniques and bird observations and identification in the field. The primary objective of this course is to teach students the role of evolution in the development of special adaptations of bird characteristics and systems as well as the importance of conservation of populations and bird habitats around the world. Specific case studies will examine complex conservation issues of North America species. Students will be required to design a field study project to address a bird conservation question.

Prerequisite: ESC 105 or BIO 120 and ESC 209


ESC 330 - Wildlife Management and Conservation

Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 4

A multidisciplinary approach to conservation and management issues encompassing genetics to ethics. Topics include population genetics, evolutionary mechanisms, biodiversity, reserve design, and re-introduction strategies. Written reports and oral presentations are required. An additional fee is required.

Prerequisite: BIO 120 or ESC 223; and ESC 105 and ESC 106


ESC 436 - Yellowstone Winter Ecology

Semester: Spring; Alternate Years
Semester hours: 4

This course focuses on the ecology of Yellowstone National Park, emphasizing the complex interactions of large mammals with the forest and range plant communities. Students explore the methods used by the National Park Service to establish natural resource policies and examine the Park’s scientific research priorities. Two extended weekend laboratories provide research opportunities that include topics in winter ecology and aspects of the role of large mammals in the Yellowstone ecosystem. An additional fee is required.

Prerequisite: ESC 317 or ESC 330; and ESC 314 or ESC 325 or ESC 347; or permission of the instructor


ESC 490 - Seminar

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 2-3

Selected topics in environmental sciences or environmental studies are explored.


EST 103 - Introduction to Environmental Studies

Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4

This course explores the complexity of environmental issues as approached from the perspectives of the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Since environmental issues are inherently complex, attention is focused on how human beings perceive, understand, and respond to environmental change. Emphasis is placed on developing students’ abilities to investigate matters critically and to respond in original, thoughtful, and imaginative ways. The laboratory portion of this course introduces students through field experience to some of the landscape and environmental issues in our region. Students will be involved in some combination of various activities, such as backpacks, a river cleanup, a film festival, special speaker events, among other activities. They will be expected to keep journals, write papers, take exams, and learn basic photography and watercolor techniques.


EST 299 - Independent Study

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 1-3

This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater.


EST 490 - Seminar

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 2-3

This capstone course for environmental studies majors will explore selected topics in environmental humanities through common readings and student research projects.


EST 499 - Independent Study

Semester: Offered at discretion of department
Semester hours: 1-3

This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater.

Prerequisite: junior or senior standing


GPY 102 - World Regional Geography

Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3

This introductory geography course is a requirement for students in the environmental programs and may be used to satisfy a core curriculum requirement for the social sciences. The course provides students with tools and knowledge from the social and physical sciences that will help them to think critically about how global systems work and how they connect and transform social activity and bio-geophysical landscapes around the world. Students will learn the cultural, political-economic, and bio-geophysical characteristics that distinguish the world’s diverse regions; how place-specific characteristics shape and are shaped by global processes; and the role of policy in shaping global flows and their local expressions. Formerly EMP 102.


GPY 118 - Montana Rivers

Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 3

This integrative, field-based course introduces students to the environmental programs at Rocky Mountain College and is a required course for geography, environmental science, and environmental studies. Through hands-on experiences in the outdoor classrooms of the Yellowstone and Missouri River watersheds, students will gain a geographic perspective on key regional environmental issues. Activities include a multi-day canoe trip on the Missouri River or Yellowstone River and outdoor service learning activities, such as the annual Yellowstone River Cleanup. Students will read and keep journals, write papers, examine basic ecology and geology, analyze and communicate effectively about patterns of landscape change and management, and work as part of a team of outdoor professionals. Students will learn basic GPS and mapping (GIS) skills. Formerly EMP 118.

Corequesite: EST 103, ESC 105, and 106; or permission of instructor


GPY 224 - Environment & Society

Semester: Spring; Odd years
Semester hours: 3

This course presents a geographic perspective on environmental problems and introduces students to the core ideas, terminology, major controversies, complexities, and scholarly context surrounding contemporary socio-environmental problems. Topics include landscape as a dynamic artifact of human-environment interaction; roots of (mostly American) political ecology thinking; social, environmental, and political-economic factors shaping human environment interaction and environmental problems; and the roles of consumers, markets, governments, policies, science, and collective action in use and conservation of ecosystem resources. This course may be used to satisfy a core curriculum requirement for the social sciences. Formerly EMP 224.


GPY 226 - Energy & Society

Semester: Spring; Even years
Semester hours: 3

This course introduces students to knowledge, theories, and analytical techniques that will help them better understand and communicate effectively about the scientific, technical, economic, social, political, and environmental dimensions of Earth-Energy-Society interactions. While other energy sources will be discussed, the course focuses primarily on human use of energy from hydrocarbons (fossil fuels). Particular attention will be given to policy tools and technical options for addressing problematic or unsustainable patterns of energy production. Patterns of Earth-Energy-Society interactions will be examined from a historical-geographic perspective. Formerly EST 226.


GPY 302 - Sustainable Development Policy and Practice

Semester: Fall; Odd years
Semester hours: 3

This course provides students with an understanding of key themes of sustainable development policy and practice. Course materials and activities will track the theory and practice of development as it has evolved from the empire-building focus of the colonial period of human history to the present era of "sustainable development," which, in theory, proposes to meet the needs of the current generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Students will critically examine common assumptions regarding sustainable development, and study the effects of particular development theorizations as well as the spatial processes and linkages leading to development outcomes. Students will consider whose needs are best met by orthodox approaches to sustainable development, how to define development success, and how development success can be achieved through policy and practice. Formerly EMP 302.

Prerequisite: GPY 102 or permission of instructor


GPY 321 - Introduction to Geographic Information Systems

Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 4

This course introduces students to the theory and practical application of geographic information systems (GIS). Topics include fundamentals of cartography, GIS data types, data input, GIS database structure and management, analysis of spatially distributed data, and report preparations using GIS. Formerly ESC 321.


GPY 491 - Geography Capstone

Semester: Spring; Even years
Semester hours: 3

This is a seminar-style capstone course for geography majors in their last year at Rocky Mountain College. Course discussions will explore production and contestation of environmental knowledge; the use of environmental (particularly spatial) knowledge in decision-making; and understanding the historical, scientific, and policy contexts that shape responses to local and global environmental problems. The theme of the seminar may vary depending on research or service-learning projects chosen.

Prerequisite: senior standing
Corequesite: GPY 492


GPY 492 - Geography Capstone Laboratory

Semester: Spring; Even years
Semester hours: 1

In this laboratory-style course, students will participate in long-term research or service learning projects facilitated by geography faculty. Students will critically analyze qualitative and quantitative data, apply appropriate geographic research tools and techniques in order to investigate problems and research questions from a spatial perspective, and communicate information in oral and written formats.

Prerequisite: senior standing
Corequesite: GPY 491


HST 260 - Montana and the West

Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

Students survey the history of Montana in its regional context, focusing on the 19th and 20th centuries.


HST 311 - History of Western America

Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

The development of the American West from the first explorations to the 20th century is examined.


HST 365 - American Environmental History

Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

This course examines the interrelationship of human society and nature in American history. Topics will include ecology as it relates to European conquest of the Americas, Native American peoples, public lands policies, American national character, technological society, conservation, and the modern environmental movement.


PHR 303 - Ethics

Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3

A study relating ethics, as traditionally conceived in philosophy, to one or more current philosophical works in ethics. This course will provide students with a solid background in ethics, from Plato to Nietzsche. A discussion of a contemporary work in ethics will introduce students to topics that may be covered in depth in later seminars.


PHR 304 - Environmental Ethics

Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3

This course will address issues such as whether natural beings and the natural world have rights or whether only humans have rights. Students will determine what is ethically appropriate for humans in their relationship with the environment as well as what environmental ethics must take account of to be consequential in the world today.


PHR 378 - Philosophy of Technology and Modern Culture

Semester: Fall; Alternate years.
Semester hours: 3

It is often a difficult task to understand one's own culture and age. Recent philosophical work offers profound insights into our age and places these insights within a much wider context.


POL 313 - Environmental Politics

Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3

This course explores the political problems associated with the human impact on the natural environment: pollution, natural resources, public lands, land use, energy, cultural/social justice, and population.


  • David Strong, Professor
  • Timothy Lehman, Professor
  • Kayhan Ostovar, Associate Professor
  • Megan Poulette, Associate Professor
  • Lucas Ward, Associate Professor