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Environmental and Ecological Science

The need for professionals with the scientific expertise to monitor, manage and remediate unintended environmental degradation is increasing. Whether it’s due to global climate change, tropical deforestation, overfishing or environmental disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the practical management of these large-scale environmental problems will require coordinated teamwork from environmental scientists, resource managers, policy makers, legislators, the media and the general public.

In view of this reality, environmental scientists need to not only be technically proficient but also understand the social, political, ethical and economic dimensions of environmental problems that can only be managed or solved through societal support. The Environmental and Ecological Science major provides just that by preparing the next generation of graduates interested in careers or graduate education in environmental science, wildlife ecology, conservation biology, ecosystem/resource management, and ecology.

First-rate facilities

The Department of Environmental Studies and the Elon University Center for Environmental Studies are housed in the McMichael Science Center, which has computer laboratories with the latest geographic information systems (GIS) and ecological analysis software. Students also have access to teaching and research laboratories that maintain a full range of the technologies, scientific instruments and facilities.

Environmental and Ecological Science majors conduct laboratory research using a variety of professional-grade laboratory instruments such as a scanning electron microscope, ultra centrifuge, atomic absorption spectrometer, nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer as well as field research in environmental assessment, wildlife monitoring, and ecosystem restoration.

The Elon University greenhouse and plant growth chamber provide the facilities to study the effects of drought, global warming, and CO2 enrichment on plants. Undeveloped university-owned properties adjacent to campus provide “natural laboratories” to study, monitor and sample meadow, forest, stream, and pond wildlife. Students also conduct studies at the Environmental Education Center (Loy Farm) where they lean about important issues including agroecology, urban ecology, wildlife biology, and sustainability.

Engaged faculty

At Elon University, Environmental and Ecological Science majors learn from and work alongside dynamic faculty with expertise in a variety of disciplines. Faculty members from fourteen departments support the Environmental and Ecological Science curriculum.
Among the faculty are a wildlife biologist who publishes extensively on reptile and amphibian ecology and conservation; a plant eco-physiologist who publishes on wetland plant responses to environmental changes including global climate change; a forest ecologist who studies forest community responses to disease and invasive species; an environmental geographer who uses GIS to address regional water resource management issues; and an environmental scientist who is a regional leader in the study and protection of stream and riverine ecosystems.

Faculty members blend professional experience, academic training, creativity and a passion for teaching. They will help you identify your goals and help you achieve them. Their attention extends beyond graduation; professors have built strong contacts with industries, research companies and academic institutions, and they use those contacts to help students find postgraduate positions in their areas of interest.

" It is extremely important to make an effort to understand environmental issues in a broad sense... I have experienced a curriculum that along with the knowledge and passion of my professors has enabled me to think clearly and confidently about these topics. Because of my education [at Elon] and unique perspective, my family, friends, and coworkers are now turning to me for information and to ask my opinion."

Alexandra Kay G’10

Structured interdisciplinary curriculum

The first year of this four-year degree program begins with disciplinary courses in biology, chemistry and environmental science to develop a solid foundation in the sciences. In the second year, the elective structure of the major provides students with the freedom to continue their disciplinary study in chemistry and biology or add additional disciplinary courses in physics, statistics and geography to better support career paths involving chemical, physical and biological monitoring of the environment.

After completing their foundational disciplinary studies in the sciences, students choose elective coursework in the social sciences and humanities that have an environmental focus. These courses provide breadth by educating students about the social, political, cultural, historical, economic, ethical and communication dimensions of environmental study.

In the junior and senior years, the students also complete elective courses focusing on the ecology of natural and impacted ecosystems. This focused coursework provides both depth and technical expertise in current-day approaches to studying, monitoring, and managing natural populations, landscapes and ecosystems. The program culminates in a capstone senior seminar experience that requires students to apply their knowledge and technical skills to address a real-world local environmental issue.

Honors and scholarships

Exceptional high school students planning to major in Environmental and Ecological Science could qualify for the Elon College Fellows or Honors Fellows programs. These programs offer scholarship support, study abroad grants, special courses and much more. Visit the Elon Fellows Web site for more information.

Environmental and Ecological Science majors have the opportunity to live in a living/learning community and join organizations such as the Student Sierra Coalition, the Biology Club, the American Chemical Society Student Affiliates, the Physics Club, Beta Beta Beta – the national biological honor society, and the Eco-Reps Program.


Environmental and Ecological Science majors may choose to complete an internship experience or a research experience to satisfy the experiential requirement of the major. Internships provide an opportunity to observe and participate in professional environmental work.

Recently, students have completed internships with organizations including:

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. Park Service
  • New England Aquarium
  • Carnivore Preservation Trust
  • Conservator’s Center
  • Bald Head Island Conservancy
  • New Hampshire Department of Environmental Studies
  • Narragansett Bay Foundation
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • GEO-Technology Associates      

Local, national and international research

Students with an interest in a research career or the desire to pursue graduate work in environmental science may choose to complete the experiential requirement of the major by conducting research under the supervision of a faculty member rather than an internship experience.

The program offers students opportunities to conduct original research and to present their findings at on-campus and off-campus conferences. Students work with faculty members on projects in many areas, from water resource management to ecosystem restoration to biodiversity conservation. Many students have spent part of their summer conducting research in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in the riparian corridor surrounding the Haw River, in the Elon greenhouse, or in the environmental science lab in the McMichael Science Center.

The winter term also provides an opportunity to conduct on-campus research or field research while studying tropical ecology in Belize or Peru. Recently, an Elon student conducted a water quality assessment project of a public water system during Elon’s semester-abroad program in Costa Rica. His final report was submitted to local officials in Spanish. Environmental and Ecological Science majors are eligible to receive financial research support through the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program, grants from the Elon Undergraduate Research Program, and the Lumen Prize competition.

After graduation

An array of options awaits Environmental and Ecological Science graduates. Since the program has a strong scientific grounding, it will prepare students for careers in the sciences. Also, since it includes an emphasis on human activities and needs, it prepares students for fields such as environmental assessment and remediation, wildlife conservation, natural resource management and environmental education.
Recent alumni have secured positions with organizations including:

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • VISTA-Americorps
  • International Center for Tropical Agriculture
  • Danville Virginia GIS Department
  • Southern Teachers Association
  • City of Durham, Department of Water Quality

Environmental and Ecological Science majors may elect to attend graduate school. Recent graduates have attended the following graduate and professional institutions:

  • Rutgers University
  • University of Delaware
  • University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • North Carolina State University
  • University of Tennessee
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Cape Town, South Africa

Our graduates have successfully competed for graduate financial support including the Udall Scholarship to support environmental career development and the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to support international graduate study in resource/wildlife management.

Visit the Department of Environmental Studies Website.

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