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 theories learned in the classroom outside of 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. To learn more about research opportunities with program faculty, please visit our research page here.

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


Sample Courses

ENVS 15: Environmental Issues of the Earth's Cold Regions
Ross Virginia

ENVS 15 examines environmental issues in the polar regions – including climate change, natural resource extraction, and indigenous rights – through the complementary lenses of science, policy, and history. With a focus on active learning, students have the opportunity to apply information learned through this course in various way. For example, in spring 2017, fifty-one Dartmouth undergraduates constructed a virtual exhibit on Sir John Franklin and the Northwest Passage. With the assistance of Rauner Special Collections Library staff, students selected items from the private research collection of Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson (1879-1962), wrote informative labels, and worked together to structure the exhibit into sections. The resulting exhibit traces the search for the Northwest Passage from before John Franklin's expedition to the present. The virtual exhibit may be viewed here:

ENVS 25: Agroecology
Theresa Ong

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
Rotating Faculty

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
DG Webster
Flora Krivak-Tetley

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.