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Department of Environmental Studies
About Environmental Studies at ESF

Departmental History

The State University of New York College of Forestry at Syracuse University established a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies degree program in the 1950s. Since then more than 1500 students have received a BS Environmental Studies degree from what has become SUNY-ESF. In 1986, the Faculty of Environmental Studies was established as one of eight academic departments of the College, joining together the Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies degree program to constitute an interdisciplinary approach to environmental education and research at three degree levels: BS, MS/MPS, and PhD.

In the mid-1990s, The Faculty of Environmental Studies added two new dimensions to its palette of graduate instruction in efforts to bringing environmental thinking into multiple disciplines. A Certificate of Graduate Study in Environmental Decision Making commenced in Fall 1995; it is a 15 credit-hour program available to Syracuse University graduate students enrolled in Law, Management, Public Administration, and Information Studies degree programs. The Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) in Environmental Science was approved and implemented in Fall 1996.

The ESF Writing, Rhetoric and Communications Program was created in 1990. The Writing Program oversees a group of related activities to identify and address the literacy needs of the ESF campus and provide courses in the humanities. The Writing Program has been engaged in four phases of assessment (1990-present), created the Writing Resource Center (1991). In 2002, a Service-Learning section of Technical writing was established, and the Writing Program began playing an instrumental role in ESF in the High School. A Writing Program Council was established to help coordinate program development and delivery in 2008.

In 2007, the Faculty of Environmental Studies was renamed the Department of Environmental Studies. The same year, following the recommendations of an external program review, the department submitted for approval to SUNY System Administration a proposal for the establishment of two new master's degree programs (M.S. and M.P.S.) in Environmental Studies; and GPES was reestablished as an interdepartmental graduate program, with continuing participation by Department of Environmental Studies faculty and graduate students. The proposed new degree programs were approved, with graduate students in Environmental Studies first entering ESF in Fall 2008. The department continues to review and update its core mission, related to advancing knowledge of the social and cultural dynamics of ecological sustainability.

Today, the Department of Environmental Studies has 14 full-time, permanent core faculty members. Faculty from the College's Department of Environmental Forestry and Biology participate in the undergraduate Environmental Studies program's Biological Science Applications option. And approximately 18 visiting faculty lend their expertise to a wide range of courses in cultural ecology, American history, environmental communications, writing, and other fields. Altogether, approximately 30 faculty contribute collectively to the Department of Environmental Studies and its programs.

A $600,000 endowment underwrites the department's research and service organization, the Randolph G. Pack Environmental Institute, derivative of an earlier organization called the Institute for Environmental Policy and Planning. The institute has had formal cooperative relationships with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and New York State Department of State (DOS), as well as with several academic units at Syracuse University and Cornell University, which strengthen the unit's instructional and research base. The Institute has formal relationships with several international institutions, most recently including CINVESTAV, in Merida, Mexico. A smaller endowment of $40,000 supports unit outreach activity. In Fall 2008, the Department launched the John Felleman 21st Century Environmental Challenge Fund to sustain and further develop its programs in the new millennium endowed funds, committed faculty, and engaged students.

These developments represent an upward direction for the unit, built upon a foundation of endowed funds, faculty commitments, improved staffing, dedicated physical space, rationalized programs, and the institutionalized ability to function cooperatively with kindred organizations locally, across New York state, and around the world.

Mission Statement

The Department of Environmental Studies seeks to advance knowledge of the social and cultural dynamics of ecological sustainability. It does so through interdisciplinary research, teaching, and outreach, focused on environmental policy, communication, and decision-making in the scientific community, government, business, non-governmental organizations and citizens, locally, globally, and internationally.

Our Objectives

The Department of Environmental Studies promotes and builds effective environmental citizenship locally to globally. Our teaching, research, and service seek to enhance understanding, build communication skills, and provide forums and programs that:

  • Facilitate linkages between environmental policy and the social/ biophysical sciences;
  • Act as catalysts to integrate the social sciences, humanities, and biophysical sciences on the ESF campus;
  • Engage communities outside the institution to build civic capacity and involvement;
  • Address the special challenges and opportunities of the human built, urban environment;
  • Provide support for productive decision making and dispute resolution processes;
  • Reflect the diversity of world views and environmental philosophies;
  • Facilitate better understanding of diverse interests within and beyond the institution;
  • Engage and critique environmental policies and trends, e.g., environmental justice, sustainable development, global climate change, wilderness preservation; and
  • Celebrate the wonder of the natural world.


A top-ranked, cutting-edge, environmental studies program that integrates the social sciences, humanities, and biophysical sciences to enhance environmental policy and decision-making processes in order to achieve ecologically sustainable societies.