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Department of Environmental Biology
General Undergraduate Program Information

Keeping Track of Requirements

The ESF College Catalog

The official description of requirements for any of the six degree programs (majors) offered by the Department of Environmental Biology (EB) can be found in the online ESF Catalog. From time to time, the requirements of ESF's various majors are changed, so the ESF catalog is updated and published annually. You can find a link for each major's current description at the ESF catalog web page. However, the official description of YOUR degree requirements is found in the catalog posted for the year that you entered your degree program. Similarly, if you change majors after matriculating, you must fulfill the degree program of the new major as it is described at the time you entered the new degree program. Also, become familiar with the general section on Academic Policies in that catalog; these relate to all ESF students.

Your Curriculum Plan Sheet

Requirements for the majors are also summarized on the individualized Curriculum Plan Sheets. The Plan Sheet is your most important working document, so become familiar with it. It shows what courses you have taken and what core requirements remain. It indicates your cumulative credit-hour totals and your grade-point average. It also tracks your progress toward meeting your General Education requirements and other elective distribution requirements.

You were given a hard copy of your Curriculum Plan Sheet upon your arrival for orientation. Keep that copy of your plan sheet, and periodically (perhaps around advising time) print out and retain a new, updated version. Keep these copies on file in the event there is any future confusion about the program requirements you have completed (or thought you have completed). You and your advisor have "real-time" access to your official Curriculum Plan Sheet at all times, through the ESF Student Portal, MyESF.

A blank Plan Sheet for each of the six majors is included in this handbook, so you can easily compare the six EB programs. The real-time Plan Sheet reflects your official record in the Registrar's office, so if you think you have found an error bring it to the attention of your advisor.

It is important to remember to work with your own plan sheet. Your friends' requirements may differ, even if in the same major, given different curricular requirements on different dates of matriculation.

Transfer Courses

If you are a transfer student planning to enter as a junior, we strongly recommend that lower division (freshman, sophomore) deficiencies be satisfied during the summer before you matriculate at ESF to allow for flexibility in taking upper division biology electives and to prevent delay in graduation. The Typical Schedule, provided in each of the sections detailing the respective major requirements, will help you identify these courses. Four-year students may also have the occasion to transfer credits from another institution. This is accomplished by petition - see your advisor about this process. To help in this process, the Admissions Office provides a list of courses at various Cooperative Transfer Colleges that have been predetermined to fulfill lower division requirements.

A Note about Prerequisites

Several EB courses have prerequisite requirements. It is your responsibility to know and complete all prerequisites before enrolling in a course. A list of prerequisites for EB core courses is listed below (this is not an exhaustive list - see the catalog course descriptions for other upper-division elective courses):

Course Prerequisite
Principles of Evolution (EFB 311) Genetics (EFB307/308), General Ecology
Cell Biology (EFB325) General Biology, Organic Chemistry, Genetics
Wildlife Ecology & Management (EFB390) General Ecology
Applied Wildlife Science (EFB491) EFB 390
Wildlife Habitats and Populations (EFB493) EFB 491
Introduction to Conservation Biology (EFB413) General Ecology, Genetics
Problem Solving in Conservation Biology (EFB419) EFB 413
Senior Synthetic Conservation Biology (EFB414) EFB 413
Organic Chemistry II (FCH 223/224) FCH 221/222 - (NOT FCH 210)
Physics II (PHY 102)  
Senior Project Synthesis in BTC (BTC499) Research Design (BTC497)

General Education Requirements

Any undergraduate degree from the State University of New York requires completing a suite of "general education" courses; for ESF students, this means one course from seven of nine "Knowledge and Skill Areas," totaling 27 credit hours. The requirement is designed to give you the academic breadth necessary to become a well-rounded world citizen, in addition to becoming knowledgeable in your special area of study. Details of the requirement for each major are given on the respective Plan Sheet, but in all majors four subject areas are automatically satisfied by core courses: Mathematics (APM 105 or APM 391), Natural Sciences (EFB 101), Humanities (EWP 290) and Basic Communication (EWP 190). Social Science is satisfied by Global Environment (EFB 120), taken by most students.

American History, Western Civilization, Other World Civilization, Foreign Language or The Arts need to be satisfied by electives in most majors. We recommend that most of the General Education requirements be completed during freshman and sophomore years, leaving the junior and senior years as free as possible for advanced electives.

For each General Education area, the relevant elective courses are listed in the online ESF catalog

Field Experience

A hallmark of the EB curriculum is its emphasis on field study and training. All majors offered by the Department of Environmental Biology are hands-on programs that emphasize laboratory and field experience in addition to classroom studies. To this end, every student in each major except Biotechnology is required to complete at least six credit-hours of approved field-based instruction in biology. Three of these six credits are associated with a required core course, EFB 202 (Ecological Monitoring and Biodiversity Assessment), which is offered each summer at the Cranberry Lake Biological Station (CLBS) in the Adirondack Mountains. We recommend students enroll in EFB 202 during the summer between freshman and sophomore years, or as early as possible if you are a transfer student.

The remaining three credit hours of Field Experience are elective and can be satisfied in multiple ways. The following lists identify recent course offerings that satisfy the EB field elective requirement. Be aware that some of these courses may not be offered every year.

Courses offered at CLBS during summer session

  • Field Ethnobotany (EFB337)
  • Fungal Diversity and Ecology (EFB342)
  • Field Herpetology (EFB384)
  • Adirondack Fishes (EFB388)
  • Wildlife Techniques (EFB496)
  • Ecology of Adirondack Aquatic Ecosystems (EFB496)
  • Wetland Plants and Communities of the Adirondacks (EFB496)
  • Ecology of Adirondack Insects (EFB496)

Courses offered at the Adirondack Ecological Center and Ranger School

  • Mammalian Winter Ecology (EFB484)
  • Forest Technology (FTC204/210/211/236)

Courses offered during Maymester at the Syracuse or regional campuses

  • Forest Health Monitoring (EFB439)
  • Field Ornithology (EFB496)
  • Flora of Central New York (EFB496)
  • Interpreting Field Biology (EFB500)

Other courses offered by ESF faculty

  • Forest Health Senior Synthesis (EFB425)
  • Ecosystem Restoration Design (EFB434, 4-cr)
  • Periodic field trips courses (EFB500) to locations such as Costa Rica, Ireland, Russia, New Zealand, Australia
  • Tropical Ecology (EFB 523)
  • Limnology Practicum (EFB525 - 2 cr)
  • Ecological Engineering in the Tropics (ERE311)

Field courses, approved by petition, from another accredited university, including but not limited to the following affiliated programs:

  • SEA Semester (through Boston University) Note: 'Semester at Sea' is different than 'SEA Semester.' EFB WILL NOT ACCEPT any 'Semester at Sea' courses for upper-division biology or field credits.
  • The School for Field Studies (through University of Minnesota)
  • Wildlands Studies (through California State University Monterey Bay)

An independent research project (EFB 498) or internship (EFB 420) that has received prior departmental approval via petition, and that meets the following departmental criteria.

  • At least 50% of student effort (including contact time with instructor and self-directed study) must be conducted in the field (out-of-classroom, out-of-laboratory, out-of-clinic, out-of-captivity).
  • Student must demonstrate learning gains in organismal biology, ecological theory, and/or application of field methodologies to study populations, ecological communities or ecosystem processes.
  • Students must complete a research or professional product for evaluation.
  • 40 hours of effort will garner 1 academic credit-hour.

Cranberry Lake Biological Station

The Cranberry Lake Biological Station (CLBS) is a focus for field experience courses, as noted immediately above. Cranberry Lake, the third largest body of water in the Adirondacks, and its environs are ideally suited for a biology summer program. The surrounding topography is rolling hill and lake country dotted with numerous small ponds, bogs and stream drainages. Because 80 percent of the shoreline is in state ownership, the lake remains unspoiled by recreational developments and pollution problems. Much of the original forest cover in the region was harvested a century ago; today a rich variety of community types occupy those sites as the vegetation reverts to natural conditions. The remaining late-successional forests also provide students with many examples of less disturbed ecosystems, each type reflecting the particular environmental conditions controlling forest development. The area provides easy access to a wide range of additional ecosystems, ranging from bog to alpine vegetation.

Facilities include four classroom-laboratories; a computer cluster; field and laboratory equipment; a dozen power boats; dining facilities for 120; faculty quarters and cabins; an administration building; 12 cabins housing 6-8 students each; a recreation hall; and several smaller, supporting buildings. The program extends from early June through mid-August and is divided into four sessions. Courses are designed to emphasize and effectively utilize the unique nature of this Adirondack setting, and all involve daily field trips into the surrounding forest and aquatic ecosystems.

Information about the summer program, including courses and fees, may be obtained at the CLBS web site:

Internships and Independent Research

An internship is a valuable way to gain experience and to learn if a field of study is right for you. Also, good recommendations from your internship supervisor can be helpful when you seek real employment. Undergraduate students at ESF take advantage of a wide range of internships during the summer (usually) or academic year. They are arranged in cooperation with the student's advisor and carry course credits under EFB 420, Internship in Environmental and Forest Biology. Internships must be completed at an outside institution, such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Upstate Freshwater Institute, The Nature Conservancy, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. Internships with a local zoo are also common. Several federal agencies (e.g., U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service) have Cooperative Aid agreements whereby students can receive a salary and preferential employment opportunities after graduation. Field-based internships can, with approval, count toward the field experience elective required by most EB majors. To develop ideas for an internship speak with your advisor and visit the college Career Services website for information:

EB students may enroll in 1-5 credits of EFB420 (graded on a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory basis) for any given experience. Forty hours of effort will yield 1 hour of academic credit.

Faculty and graduate students also frequently employ undergraduate students to help with research projects. Students who are inclined toward graduate school should talk to professors in their area of interest about opportunities for undergraduate research (EFB498). EB students may enroll in 1-5 credits of EFB498 for any given experience. Forty hours of effort will yield 1 hour of academic credit.

EB also offers students opportunities to volunteer for credit in faculty labs and on field crews through Research Apprenticeship opportunities (EFB298). These are low-stakes experiences that permit students to gain basic lab and field skills, and which often develop into independent research projects. EB students may enroll in 1-5 credits of EFB298 (graded on a Satisfactory/ Unsatisfactory basis) for any given experience. Forty hours of effort will yield 1 hour of academic credit.

Taking a Minor

You can broaden your education and add to your credentials by electing an undergraduate minor. By definition, these are areas of study - usually involving 15-18 credit hours - that are outside the subject of your major, and can be either complementary to it, or entirely unrelated. Only those formal minors that are described in the ESF college catalog are available. ESF minors may require certain courses at Syracuse University (e.g., the various management minors), but ESF students can formally enroll in only a few SU minors. Students apply for a minor by completing a Minor Enrollment Form obtained at the web page below. Although minors are not formally available during the first semester at ESF this does not preclude electing courses that are required by the minor before you enroll in it. Information regarding descriptions of minors and application procedures can be found online.

Taking Syracuse University Courses

Syracuse University offers a rich variety of undergraduate courses and, in general, you have the same access to such courses as does a student enrolled at S.U. However, there are certain restrictions that are closely enforced by the Registrar.

  1. Each ESF student is provided an allocation of SU credit hours that will be covered by ESF tuition and fees.
  2. ESF students may take SU courses beyond their allocation by paying a tuition supplement.
  3. Some additional limitations may apply.

How many SU credits can you earn?

For Entering Freshmen:

Maximum SU credits in
 1st two full-time semesters

Maximum SU credits in
 1st four full-time semesters

Maximum SU portion of
 total credit hours earned




For Transfer Students based on transferred credit hours applied toward ESF degree at entry

Number of credits at entry

Maximum SU credits in
 1st two full-time semesters

Maximum SU credits in
 1st four full-time semesters

Maximum SU portion of
 total credit hours earned
















































Taking Graduate-level courses

As with undergraduate courses (100-400 level), there are different levels of graduate courses at ESF and Syracuse University. As an undergraduate, you need no special approval to register for 500-level courses, but be aware that these courses will be more demanding. Registering for 600-level courses requires senior standing, a superior grade-point average (3.0 or higher), written permission from the course instructor and an approved (or at least pending) petition. Undergraduates cannot take courses at the 700, 800 or 900 levels.

Your Advisor

Each student is assigned a faculty advisor who must approve course selections and who is the first to sign any petition. An advisor's role is to assist you in program development and decision-making, but they are not responsible for any failure to meet your degree requirements. It is your responsibility to know these requirements and to meet them. Based on available information, the EB Curriculum Director tries to assign each student to an advisor who works in the same area of interest. If your academic direction is uncertain the advisor assignment will be random, but your advisor can be changed if your plans become more focused. To help foster a good relationship, take the time to read the section near the end of this handbook entitled "Being a Good Advisee". You may eventually wish to change advisors as your interests develop or change through time. If so, simply make your request to the EB Curriculum Director.

Although EB offers no specific academic program for students aspiring to careers in formal K-12 science education or in the medical/veterinary fields, we do have pathways to assist students in reaching these professional objectives. If you have an interest in either teaching or medicine, contact the EB Curriculum Director to request that a specialized academic advisor be assigned to you.


Petitions are used to request a variance from established College or Faculty policy or procedure; in other words, this is how you ask for permission to do something out of the ordinary. You can obtain a petition form from the Registrar's office in Bray Hall or from the EB Curriculum Director. With your advisor's guidance, fill it out and append any supporting documents or letters that pertain to your request.

Writing a Petition

  • Be clear, concise, and neat -- no one will approve an illegible petition.
  • Provide all contact information (email, local address to where petition copy will be mailed) at the top of the petition. You will be contacted by email if there are any questions.
  • The Request: Write this section as a specific instruction to the Registrar to apply a certain class, class sequence, or experience to a specific curricular requirement on your plan sheet. Remember, you and your advisor may know what you are asking, but this needs to be written so that your intentions are clear to the Curriculum Coordinator, Associate Provost and Registrar. A couple examples are provided below.
    • "Apply BIO344 (4 credits) from State University to replace EFB307/308 (Principles of Genetics lecture and lab)."
    • "Slot BIO275, 'Coral Reef Ecology,' (3 credits) from Hometown College to fulfill Field Experience Directed Elective requirement."
  • The Justification: Provide rationale for why you believe the course/experience/program you are proposing should fulfill a particular degree requirement.
    • o Attach the course syllabus and catalog description to the petition and highlight the content in the course description that you believe makes it a candidate for fulfilling a requirement.
    • o Sometimes the justification can be as simple as indicating that the course has already been determined to fulfill a particular degree requirement through an existing articulation agreement between ESF and one of several Cooperative Transfer Colleges (NYS community colleges and other local institutions). In such cases, no course description needs to be appended. These are usually referred to as TAG-courses (Transfer Articulation Guidelines). If you want to make up a course deficiency over the summer, this webpage is the perfect place to preview which course from a college close to home will match our requirement.
  • If the petition involves a late drop/late add you must obtain the instructor's signature.
  • Signatures:
    • Your advisor will sign, date and add any necessary comments.
    • Obtain the signature of your major Curriculum Coordinator (see p. 3).
    • Field Study Petitions: IF you are petitioning to replace EFB202 with an alternative experience OR IF you are proposing to apply an Internship (EFB420) or Independent Research (EFB498) experience for you Field Study Directed Elective requirement THEN you must submit your petition for review by the EFB Curriculum Committee. Deliver the petition to the EB Curriculum Director (p. 3) for this review.
    • If your petition does not involve field study, then no other departmental signatures are necessary. After receiving the Curriculum Coordinator signature, deliver it to 227 Bray Hall for approval by the Associate Provost for Instruction.
  • Final action should be completed within two or three weeks. A copy showing the College's action will be mailed to the address you indicate at the top of the petition form; keep this copy in a safe place, perhaps along with this handbook. If the request affects your Plan Sheet, the change will appear on the sheet very quickly after a decision is made. If you wish to appeal a rejected petition, arrange to meet with the Associate Provost for Instruction.

Getting non-Academic Help

Your advisor, the relevant Curriculum Coordinator and the Curriculum Director can help you with many non-academic problems, but the ESF Offices of Student Life and Experiential Learning provide abundant student services. Become familiar with them. Check the links to these important units: