Natural History and Interpretation
Environmental and Forest Biology, SUNY-ESF


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"The methods of
were forged by


Advising Faculty
Elizabeth Folta
356 Illick EFB
1 Forestry Drive
Syracuse, NY 13210
(315) 470-4938


           EFB’s Natural History and Interpretation major offers students the best of all possible worlds:  broad-brush training in the natural sciences combined with effective strategies for interpreting this new knowledge.  The major provides an unusual opportunity to impact society, to work with audiences of all ages, and for those who choose to do so, to work outdoors.  Students will study nature in its entirety, e.g., plants, animals and other organisms, their adaptations, relationships, and the processes at work among them.  This “big picture approach” makes biology more interesting and meaningful, bypassing a relevance now missing from many of biology’s narrower sub-disciplines.  The major keeps doors open to students to accommodate changing career directions as interests mature, and equips them with practical skills for the workplace.

          The Natural History and Interpretation major includes exposure to the great naturalists, their contributions and writings, and for some, their workplace: today’s natural history museums.  This aspect of the major provides a rare glimpse of the adventurous, colorful characters such as Charles Darwin, John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, and Florence Merriam Bailey, who have fashioned the foundations of natural history, who continue to inspire, and who serve as role models.  They offer a rich historical perspective and a comfortable sense of place for new practitioners.

          The “interpretation” component of this major has a strong record of energizing science education through a practical “learning-by-doing” format; a preferable alternative to passive pedagogy.  Following rigorous introductions to the latest concepts and processes distributed among four courses, students practice their skills by preparing products and presenting programs to audiences, ranging from peers to school children and the general public.

          Following a meteoric rise in popularity during the 19th century, natural history declined as new experimental and quantitative approaches came to dominate biology.  In recent years, however, both the recognition of the role of biology in an holistic view of the planet, and the increasing emphasis on the value of education as the key to a sustainable future, have brought about a resurgence of interest in natural history and, crucially, its interpretation.  Interpretation is defined as a communications process that reveals meanings and relationships about natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources.  While interpretation may be viewed as a process to communicate any subject matter, historically it has always been linked with natural history.  The methods of interpretation were forged by naturalists.

           This major equips graduates with the essential skills to work as science interpreters, a vocation long recognized for its career satisfaction, and to work in places such as science and nature centers, museums, zoos, arboreta and public gardens, and resource agencies.  The Natural History and Interpretation major provides graduates with a competitive edge in finding employment in these areas.  For graduates who head into other areas of science, the major, at the very least, couples a robust foundation in biology with powerful communication skills, and the deeper awareness of biology that leads to enhanced decision-making and enlightened policy.  Graduates will be poised to reach a public clamoring for natural history programs and information. 


For more information, contact Elizabeth Folta (Coordinator) at
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