Community and Experiential Learning

In the Environmental Studies Program (ENVS), we seek to motivate and prepare students to rise to the challenges and opportunities associated with human-environment interactions. To do this, we offer students academic and research opportunities to experience and engage with real-world environmental problems, to practice applying outside of the classroom theories learned in the classroom, and to critically reflect on those experiences and individual learning. Termed experiential or action-based learning, this model of education has been core to Dartmouth’s Environmental Studies Program since its inception in the early 1970s. From our foundation courses through to our capstone and thesis experiences, we purposefully build activities into our curriculum to help students develop the skills necessary to engage in this form of deep, transformative learning. Whether it be through engaging experts in the classroom, taking field trips that complement the curriculum, telling human stories through community-engaged video development, conducting research in an ENVS faculty’s lab, or by conducting community-based research in a local or global community, we offer numerous opportunities for students to learn and practice how to address environmental problems. Below are selected highlights of experiential learning in our program. 

For more information or to explore future partnership opportunities, contact Karen Bieluch, ENVS Practice-based Learning Specialist, at [email protected]


ENVS 7.03: Ecopsychology
Terry Osborne

The “Ecopsychology” course examines both the role our psyche plays in affecting the health of the planet, and the effect the degradation of natural world has in return on our psyche. While students learn about ecopsychological concepts and apply them in scholarly activities throughout the term, they also divide into groups that work with community partners whose mission involves the interaction between humans and the more-than-human world. Each student group learns about its community partner and its needs, and, based on those needs, undertakes a project that results in a short video the community partner can use. At the end of the course the groups present their projects to the community partners during an on-campus, student-facilitated event. Click here to view video projects.

 ENVS 7.04: COVER Stories
Terry Osborne

In “COVER Stories” students study three complex, overlapping ideas—nonhuman environment, human community, and story—and then apply them to one local organization, COVER Home Repair. COVER, a nonprofit begun in part by Dartmouth students almost 20 years ago, facilitates home repair and reuse projects in the Upper Valley; its mission is to “build community and foster hope through cooperation and fellowship.” Students participate in a COVER home repair project early in the term. Then, responding to a need COVER has articulated, they interview members of the COVER community (homeowners, volunteers, staff and board members), record community members’ stories and create videos to meet COVER’s needs. Finally, at the end of the term, students present their projects to members of the COVER community while sharing a meal during an on-campus, student-facilitated class. Click here to view video projects.

ENVS 19: Encountering Forests
Nick Reo

In “Encountering Forests” students build an introductory understanding of northern forest ecosystems and discuss the opportunities and challenges of working with diverse teams of people on environmental, natural resource, and land management projects.  They attempt to see forests through different cultural and professional lenses, including those of American Indian resource practitioners and natural resource managers.  One class each week takes place at a field site to explore course concepts experientially.

ENVS 25: Ecological Agriculture
Pallab Sarker

In “Ecological Agriculture” students use an evidence-based experiential-learning approach to answer questions such as:  What is ecological agriculture?  What are the impacts of agroecological management on ecosystem services and environmental and human wellbeing?  Is it feasible for ecological agriculture to sustainably feed the planet?  Class activities include:

  • Research Projects at the Dartmouth Organic Farm
  • Farm Practicum at the Dartmouth Organic Farm
  • Field Observations at Local Farms, Farmers’ Markets (including an information booth), and a Farm-to-Table Restaurant
  • Inquiry-Based and Student-Led Team Teaching Case Studies

ENVS 80.08: The Practice of Science Policy and Diplomacy
Melody Brown Burkins

In “The Practice of Science Policy & Diplomacy,” students explore the methods, best practices, and art of advancing the best, most current, and most credible scientific knowledge to decision-makers and leaders of both policy and diplomacy. Issues to be discussed range from climate change to international security, healthcare access, sustainable food production, energy security, and space exploration. The course is highly interactive, designed to introduce students to emerging opportunities in which the integration of science, technology, policy, and diplomacy is key to finding solutions to complex issues at the local, national, and global level.  Students in the class will engage in experiential learning activities at the national and international level while also having an opportunity to focus more locally. In partnership with Dartmouth's Center for Service Social Impact Practicum (SIP), W17 students will have the opportunity to advance science-informed policy communications and recommendations serving a local community organization’s efforts to advance informed policies for social justice, diversity, and conflict resolution.

Culminating Academic Experiences

ENVS 50: Environmental Problem Analysis
Nick Reo

This culminating course for the ENVS major (and culminating option for the Sustainability Minor) provides students with the opportunity to practice their academic and professional skills through a community-based research project. Student teams drive their own learning and interact with real-world actors to conduct research that is both meaningful to the students and their community partners. The professor is mentor, facilitator and final evaluator. As stated in the ORC:

“The purposes of this coordinating course are to (1) give students an opportunity to see how the disciplinary knowledge acquired in their various courses and departmental major programs can be integrated in a synthetic manner; (2) provide a forum for an in-depth evaluation of a significant environmental … problem; and (3) give students the experience of working [in] a project team . . .”

In addition, a central goal in this course is that the students produce work that is meaningful to one of our local community partners. We find that this synergistic relationship creates a better learning experience for students, faculty, and community members. Topics addressed vary yearly. In many cases, students’ recommendations and research have led to concrete action, such as:

  • A pilot study with the Upper Valley Land Trust and Ascutney Outdoors on user recreation experiences in the West Windsor Town Forest
  • Design contributions to Ascutney Oudoors’ warming hut (to be built)
  • Contributions to the success of Thetford Academy’s Environmental Science and Outdoor Education Initiative through projects, such as food sustainability and aquaculture, trail design, and outdoor education curriculum. See related press releases:
  • Establishment of the Dartmouth Organic Farm
  • Design and Implementation of Dartmouth’s Green Revolving Loan Fund

ENVS 50 class reports may be found here.

Africa FSP (ENVS 40, 42, 84)
Doug Bolger, FSP Director
Michael Cox

This foreign study program gives students firsthand experience with issues of conservation, population, land and water use, and resource management in southern Africa, focusing on the intersection of conservation and human development. Three courses involve learning via field visits and interactions with a diversity of local people (very little time in a classroom). This involves considerable travel through South Africa, Lesotho and Namibia, camping much of the time. The climate of the region is dry, the environment is fragile, and too many people need scarce resources (e.g., land, water, jobs, and education). These conditions magnify environmental issues and offer powerful learning opportunities. The majority of lectures and field-guidance are by Africans with first-hand experience with the issues.

ENVS 84 (another culminating experience option) involves a community-based research project in the Namib Sand Sea in partnership with the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre. Students partner with Gobabeb and work with members of a local indigenous community, Topnaar, to address a problem, identified by the community. Past projects include:

  • Socio-ecological study of the !Nara plant and its commercial and subsistence harvest
  • GIS mapping of ecological landscape using drones
  • Livestock ecology
  • Livestock livelihoods and climate change
  • Survey of Topnaar community livelihoods
  • Socio-political analysis of Topnaar-Gobabeb relationship
  • Assessment of Gobabeb/Topnaar capacity development initiatives
  • Designed environmental curriculum for local school

Please visit the AFSP webpage to read the ENVS 84 reports here.

Participants are also able to apply for a Paulson Fellowship to return to Southern Africa to pursue their own research, innovation project, or senior thesis research.

Please visit the AFSP webpage to read the Paulson Fellowhip Reports here.


In collaboration with ENVS faculty, environmental studies students have numerous opportunities to get hands-on experience with research. Students work alongside fellow undergraduates, graduate students, post-docs and faculty on ongoing research, and they also have the opportunity to design their own projects. Many of these students later write a senior thesis.

Faculty also offer unique opportunities for students to engage with local, national, and international communities and organizations to conduct their research. For example, students in Professor Nick Reo’s lab work with the US Forest Service and local nonprofits, such as the Rochester Area Sports Alliance, to study the environmental and social impacts of cutting backcountry ski and snowboard trails in the Green Mountain National Forest.

Students working with Professor Michael Cox have the opportunity to conduct research on the social and ecological dynamics of fishing communities and marine ecosystem management in the Dominican Republic. This research is a collaboration between Professor Cox, Tyler Pavlowich (graduate from Dartmouth's Ecology, Evolution, Ecosystems, and Society PhD program) and AgroFrontera, a Dominican NGO. In the field, students have helped determine fish abundances, quantify fishers' catch, and interview fishers about their perspectives on sustainable fishing. Back at Dartmouth, students have analyzed the data they or other members of the team have collected, as well as led analyses on land cover change and spatial distribution of fishing effort in the study area.

Ross Virginia’s lab group studies how rapid environmental change affects ecosystems of the polar regions, with current projects focused on plant-soil interactions, insect diversity and soil erosion in Western Greenland.  Students who work with Professor Virginia are immersed in an active and collaborative lab group and typically conduct projects that give them significant laboratory experience.  Some students who want to develop a more robust project may also have the opportunity to travel to Greenland to gain a greater understanding of the study system and conduct field research critical to their project’s success.  

These are just a few examples of the innovative, collaborative, and interdisciplinary research being conducted in environmental studies. Learn more by visiting faculty lab pages at