University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400123
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4123
(434) 924-7761 Fax: (434) 982-2137
Overview The interdisciplinary field of environmental sciences is concerned with the interaction of physical and biological processes that shape our natural environment. The Department of Environmental Sciences offers instruction and conducts research in the areas of atmospheric science, hydrology, geoscience, ecology, environmental chemistry, and land and resource analysis. It offers students the opportunity to understand how these processes interact in time and space, and how a change in any one may affect others. The research efforts of faculty and students deal largely with understanding the fundamental science of physical and ecological processes, and to a lesser extent with applications of this understanding to environmental problems. Majors can specialize in one area or diversify across all areas depending on career goals.
The environmental sciences major provides strong preparation for several post-graduate paths. The program’s in-depth training in the theory and methods of atmospheric science, hydrology, geoscience, and ecology prepares students for graduate school in either environmental sciences or one of the disciplines it involves. Moreover, with its focus on reasoning and analytical skills that involve natural processes, the program provides a strong foundation for professional schools. It also furnishes students with the liberal arts science training necessary for post-graduate employment in natural resource fields. Many environmental sciences majors concentrate their programs in one or two fields with graduate or professional schools in mind. Others use the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum to prepare for careers in science writing, scientific methods, mathematical modeling and computing, teaching, or environmental management.
In 1998, the Department of Environmental Sciences initiated the Environmental Literacy Program at the University of Virginia. The purpose of this program is to bring together studies of the physical, biological, and social environment to provide students and faculty the opportunity to expand their understanding of the environmental issues facing society today and in the future. The program’s mission is to identify, facilitate, and develop activities within the University and the community at large that enhance the understanding of the environment. This mission is accomplished by supporting a variety of activities, both in and out of the classroom, including seminars, field trips, and community and educational outreach.
As part of the Environmental Literacy Program, the department’s 1000- and 2000-level courses provide introductions to the geologic, ecologic, atmospheric, and hydrologic processes that are frequently managed, planned, financed, litigated over, and involved in health considerations. For science majors, as well as non-science and pre-professional students, these courses provide solid training in the interactions of biological and physical processes, and the procedures of interdisciplinary research and discovery.
Faculty There are more than thirty faculty members in the department. Many of these faculty are world-renowned for their research in such areas as forest ecology, atmospheric chemistry, transport of bacteria and other contaminants in groundwater, isotope geochemistry, and coastal processes. All of the faculty are committed to teaching and working with students.
Recognizing that environmental processes and concerns are among the most important issues of our time, the University has enabled the department to link its research with scientists and others worldwide who deal with global environmental change.
Students There are currently about 150 students majoring in environmental sciences. In addition to the core curriculum, students may specialize in one area or select work from two or more of the four areas of studies. Majors who aim for continued education in graduate and professional schools or specific job paths generally concentrate in one or two areas. Those interested in such careers as science writing, computing, or teaching choose advanced courses from a broader range. Majors are employed in consulting, government agencies, forestry and agricultural firms, lobbying, weather forecasting, and many other exciting and enjoyable careers.
Introductory courses are usually conducted in a lecture format; some are large, but faculty members are easily accessible. Advanced courses are quite small, and all are taught by faculty. The department encourages all majors to explore opportunities to work with faculty and graduate students in research projects that provide practice in using the tools and concepts of various disciplines and help to develop career goals and opportunities.
Special Resources Departmental facilities include field vehicles, boats, electronics shops, greenhouses, environmental chambers, extensive computing facilities, a Geographic Information Systems laboratory, aerial photographic interpretation equipment, the Office of the State Climatologist, Internet access to the McIDAS-X and GEMPAK weather information services, and several environmental research sites, including the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center at Virginia’s Eastern Shore; a site in the northern Shenandoah Valley, the Blandy Farm Experimental Research Station at Front Royal, Virginia; a site in the Piedmont, the Pace site near Charlottesville; and the Mountain Lake Biological Research Station in Giles County, Virginia. Majors are encouraged to take advantage of all of these facilities.