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Environmental Science & Policy

Two Smith students stand in tall grass and take specimen samples

The need has never been greater for individuals who can address increasingly complex environmental issues. The Environmental Science and Policy (ES&P) Program seeks to produce future leaders with interdisciplinary analysis and problem-solving skills. ES&P majors work in teams to address sustainability projects on campus or with local community partners. During the summer, ES&P offers the unique interdisciplinary Coral Reef Ed-Ventures Program and supports students participating in the NOAA College-Supported Internship Program. During the summer as well as the academic year, students can conduct research with the ES&P program faculty whose work spans the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.


Presentation of the major and minors

Interested in the environment and sustainability? Find out more about what it takes to major or minor in environmental science and policy or minor in marine science and policy. Meet faculty, staff, and students in the program, and get your questions answered!

Events Calendar

Visit the Center for the Environment’s Events Calendar for even more events of interest taking place at Smith, within the Five Colleges, and in the local community. 

Requirements & Courses

By the time they graduate, Environmental Science and Policy majors should be able to:

  • Understand interconnected earth, ecological, and human/societal phenomena and processes that influence human-environment interactions
  • Use systems thinking to understand how to plan and design social-ecological structures and policies
  • Recognize and address intersecting concerns of social and environmental justice
  • Integrate disciplinary knowledge and methods and identify underlying assumptions when approaching environmental problems
  • Collect, analyze and interpret relevant data and information 
  • Synthesize information and communicate effectively with diverse audiences and across differences
  • Work collaboratively to translate knowledge into meaningful environmental action

The Environmental Science and Policy (ES&P) major is designed for students with interests in the environment and sustainability and a commitment to scientifically based problem solving and policy analysis. The objectives of the major are to prepare students to transcend disciplinary boundaries, combine analytical and communication skills with a well-rounded understanding of the environment and translate this knowledge into meaningful action and innovative solutions. Four integration courses form the core of the major. Each course brings together frameworks, proficiencies and knowledge from natural and social sciences in an explicitly integrative fashion to explore and analyze important environmental topics at local to global scales. Additional introductory courses provide breadth in the natural and social sciences, humanities and policy, and statistics, and to introduce students to fundamental aspects of disciplines important to understanding human-environment interactions. Students gain depth of knowledge by choosing a coherent sequence of electives with a clear environmental focus. Students are strongly encouraged to engage in environmentally oriented internships, independent research or study away opportunities.

Prospective majors should consult with an ES&P faculty adviser in choosing their courses. In their first semesters, students are encouraged to enroll in one of the introductory courses (see the list in the Smith College Course Catalog) and an appropriate core course (ENV 101), as well as statistics.

Requirements checklist for majors and advisers. Please download the file and open it in the current version of Adobe Reader to fill out the checklist form.

The Minor in ES&P

The minor in ES&P is designed for students with an interest in environmental issues and sustainability and a commitment to scientifically based problem solving and policy analysis. The minor consists of six courses chosen with the guidance and approval of an ES&P minor adviser. Interested students are urged to meet with an ES&P adviser early in their academic planning.

The Minor in Marine Science & Policy

The Marine Science and Policy (MS&P) minor permits students to pursue interests in coastal and oceanic systems through an integrated sequence of courses in the natural and social sciences. An introduction to marine sciences is obtained through completion of the two basis courses. Students then choose among upper-level courses that focus on or complement scientific investigation of the oceans and the policy aspects of ocean conservation, exploitation and management. Students should consult with one of the co-directors as early as possible in the course selection process.

To learn more about courses, please see the Smith College Course Catalog.

Students with a strong academic background who wish to conduct independent and original work on an environmental topic are encouraged to pursue an honors project. Interested students should ideally contact potential honors advisers starting in February in the spring semester of their junior year. Please review the ES&P Honors Guidelines document and consult the director of honors for specific requirements and application procedures.

Students interested in exploring a topic, issue or research project independently may propose a Special Studies course with a faculty adviser. Special studies offer students the opportunity to delve into a topic that may not be covered in courses, pursue in greater depth a project begun in a class or in a summer internship, or undertake a new project. Students interested in pursuing special studies should discuss their ideas and course proposal with their faculty adviser in the semester prior to the special studies.

How  To Apply

Applications for special studies courses are due at the beginning of the semester in the first full week of classes, however students may submit their special studies application form in the semester prior to the special studies. Students complete the special studies application in consultation with the special studies adviser and submit the form to the ES&P program director.


Sustainable Smith

The threads of sustainability at Smith are woven into all aspects of the college—academics, operations, research and student life. Learn more about the heart of sustainability on campus.

The Clark Science Center

Environmental Science and Policy curricular activities are enriched by related field and laboratory resources available at Smith. Many ES&P students gain a range of valuable skills and experiences at these facilities. Learn more about the resources available through the Clark Science Center.


Coral Reef Ed-Ventures

Sabrina Cordero ’19 and Coral Reef Ed-Ventures

Sabrina Cordero ’19 says her summer in Belize inspired her to want to go to graduate school for marine biology with a focus on climate change, with a calling to teach children about science.

Coral Reef Ed-Ventures is an innovative, cooperative educational venture between Smith College and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize. This environmental education program for school children began in 2000 as an effort to facilitate community awareness of reef ecology and to support and encourage reef preservation. Reefs provide protection for coastlines and are the basis of tropical marine fisheries. Reefs also attract tourists, providing substantial income to island and coastal communities.

Camp participants explore reef ecology through field trips to the beach and reef, conduct in-class experiments, and participate in creative activities. With support from Hol Chan Marine Reserve’s education coordinator, the program offers meaningful discussions on issues ranging from environmental ethics to the pros and cons of mangrove destruction. By the end of the program, camp participants are able to demonstrate significant knowledge of the coral reef environment by identifying reef organisms, discussing adaptations and symbiotic relationships, and understanding threats facing the reef.


The Meso-American Barrier Reef

The Meso-American Barrier Reef lies off the coasts of southern Mexico, Belize and Honduras. The reef extends for 625 miles form north to south, from the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula to the islands of the Gulf of Honduras. The reef is second in size only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Off the northeast coast of Belize, Ambergris Caye’s close proximity to the reef allows this small island to boast the title of Belize’s premier vacation destination. Hol Chan is Belize’s first marine reserve, and its mission is to monitor the health of the reef for sustainable fisheries and environmental and economic stability. The island’s economic and ecologic dependence on the reef necessitates a local understanding its central role in everyday life on Ambergris Caye.

Program Structure

An interdisciplinary team of Smith College undergraduate students serve as the teachers for the program. During the program, children explore reef ecology through field trips to the beach and reef, conduct in-class experiments and participate in creative activities with arts and crafts projects, stories and games. With strong collaborative support from Hol Chan Marine Reserve’s education coordinator and a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, the program is able to offer meaningful small group discussions on issues ranging from environmental ethics to the pros and cons of mangrove destruction. Guest speakers whose livelihoods depend on the reef, ranging from tour guides to dive masters to environmental volunteers, emphasize the importance of the reef as a critical resource to everyday life. By the end of the program, the children are able to demonstrate significant knowledge of the coral reef environment by identifying reef organisms, discussing adaptations and symbiotic relationships, and understanding threats facing the reef. The program concludes with a graduation ceremony, during which the school children perform skits using their learned knowledge of the coral reef and receive "Coral Reef Expert" cards.

Application Information

Interested in participating in Coral Reef Ed-Ventures? Read the application information below for details on how to apply and to access the link to the online application. For additional information please contact Joanne Benkley, assistant director.


Environmental Science & Policy
Center for the Environment,
Wright Hall 005

Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
Phone: 413-585-3951
Fax: 413-585-3333

Program Chair: Leslie King
Assistant Director: Joanne Benkley

Individual appointments can be arranged directly with the faculty.