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 include the Elon Forest, the Elon Lodge property, and the Piedmont prairie at the Elon Environmental Education Center at Loy Farm. These areas serve as “natural laboratories” to study, monitor and sample meadow, forest, stream, and pond wildlife. Students also conduct studies at on-campus developed land such as the Elon Community Garden and the agricultural fields at the Environmental Education Center at Loy Farm as well as in nearby towns and cities where they lean about important issues including agroecology, urban ecology, restoration ecology and sustainability.

Engaged faculty

At Elon, the Environmental Studies Department is staffed by a dynamic faculty with expertise in a variety of disciplines.  Faculty members from 12 departments deliver the environmental studies curriculum. Among the faculty are a geographer who uses GIS to address regional water resource management issues, an agro-ecologist with extensive farming experience who pioneers sustainable food production techniques both locally and globally, an architect who explores the boundaries between the natural and build environments, a forestry biologist who focuses on human impacts on forest dynamics, a wildlife biologist who uses GIS to study climate effects on animal biogeography, an aquatic botanist who studies wetland plants and their response to rising sea levels, an entomologist who studies hybridization and sonic communication in insects, and a marine ecologist who focuses on microalgal communities living on ocean beaches and stream banks, and a soil scientist who studies development impacts on stream bank and railroad soils and who has won awards for her local conservation efforts.

Exceptional courses, independent research and varied internships in the Elon Environmental Studies Department encourage hands-on learning and provide valuable experiences that help students grow as individuals and young professionals. Through an extended undergraduate research project focused on my personal interests, I was able to discover my passion within the field. Thanks to the guidance of supportive professors and the plentiful opportunities offered by the Environmental Studies Department, I feel prepared to enter the workforce and am confident that my experiences here have prepared me for a successful future.

Hannah Rolland ’16

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.

  • U.S. Forest Service
  •  U.S. Park Service
  •  Brookhaven National Laboratory
  •  North Carolina Department of the Environment and Natural Resources
  • North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
  •  Massachusetts Audubon Society
  •  Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
  •  Conservator’s Center
  •  New York Power Authority

Local, national and international research

Students with an interest in a research career or the desire to pursue graduate work in environmental or ecological 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, in the Piedmont prairie or the agricultural fields of the Environmental Education Center at Loy Farm, in salt marshes on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, or in the environmental science lab in the McMichael Science Center analyzing soil and water samples.  Many of these students receive financial support through the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (include link).

Other students have secured paid positions in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program of the National Science Foundation and conducted their summer research under the supervision of a scientist at a research institution.  Environmental and Ecological Science majors have conducted their summer research at a variety of REU sites including oceanographic research at the Lamont Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University and herpetology research at the University of Arkansas.

The winter term also provides an opportunity to to explore the ecosystems of Peru or Costa Rica in an international study course or examine conservation and sustainability practices in Miami in a study USA course taught by Environmental Studies faculty members. Our students can also participate in semester-long study abroad experiences across the globe in places like Ghana, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Turks and Caicos Islands, Australia, South Africa, and Cambodia where students can engage in research projects with local researchers. . Recently, an Elon student completed a coral and microalgal survey study under the supervision of a marine ecologist in a marine protected area on the coast of Panama which indicated that the current management practices in the MPA are not preserving the unique ecosystem of the surrounding archipelago. 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. A current Lumen Prize winner is working with a department faculty member on a study the effect rising sea-levels on the wetland plants of Atlantic Coast Marshes.

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:

  • NJ Department of Environmental Protection
  •  Oakridge National Laboratory
  •  Guilford County Department of Public Health
  •  Urban Offsets
  •  Norfolk Southern
  •  Lockheed Martin
  •  Kbi Biopharma

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

  • University of California at Santa Barbara
  •  Stanford University
  •  Emory University
  •  North Carolina State University School of Veterinary Medicine
  •  Ohio State
  •  University of Florida
  •  Indiana University School of Public Health and Environmental Affairs
  •  Clemson University
  •  University of Pennsylvania
  •  Washington University
  •  Georgetown University
  •  University of New Hampshire
  •  University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

Our graduates have successfully competed for undergraduate and 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, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and the Goldwater Scholarship to support undergraduate study in the natural sciences.