Environmental studies

Environmental studies

Do you enjoy exploring the outdoors? Are you concerned about issues of social justice and sustainability? If so, you may be on your way to an environmental studies degree.  

At Central, environmental studies majors choose from two tracks: environmental science or environmental sustainability. Both tracks include fundamentals of science, economics and politics, plus hands-on laboratory and fieldwork.

Graduates of Central’s program have gone on to careers in the lab, in the field and in management for federal and state agencies, as well as industry and non-profit agencies.

of Central students take a sustainability course as part of their core classes
  • Central offers the first environmental studies major in Iowa
  • Environmental studies majors learn to use GIS, the decision support software used by most natural resource managers and businesses

The Real World


Successful Careers

  • Ted Dirkx ’11, recycling and forestry equipment specialist, Vermeer Corp., Pella
  • Jennifer Daugherty ’11, local foods coordinator, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Iowa City
  • Ryan Schmidt ’12, land stewardship director, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Des Moines
  • Jared Baker ’13, process technician, DuPont, Des Moines
  • Kari Sandage ’15, environmental educator, Peace Corps, Boston
  • Ethan Van Kooten ’15, environmental scientist, Apex, Urbandale
  • Andrew Jackson ’15, conservation laborer, Polk County Conservation, Des Moines


  • Bio-Chem club
  • SCATE (Students Concerned About the Environment)

Rachel Frana

Rachel Frana

Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) recruited Rachel Frana to use GIS mapping technology to identify underserved areas of Des Moines.

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Graduate Placement

  • Sustainable agriculture, Iowa State University
  • Ecosystem management, University of Northern Iowa
  • Environmental science, The Ohio State University
  • Fishery biology, Southern Illinois University
  • Sustainable food systems, University of Montana
  • Urban and regional planning , University of Iowa


  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lake Red Rock
  • Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
  • Iowa Department of Natural Resources
  • Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge
  • Vermeer Manufacturing

Courses & Faculty

The Environmental Studies major consists of a strong background in the sciences, social sciences and an emphasis on developing good research and communication skills. Students in the program examine the interrelationships of science, society and nature in a world with limited resources. Every environmental studies major also proposes and completes a senior project, gaining experience in grant writing and project management along the way.

Students also gain experience with GIS, the decision support software used by most natural resource managers and businesses.

Learn more about environmental studies in the course catalog.

Environmental studies photo
Meet the faculty:
  • Russ Benedict, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Professor of Biology, interest areas include prairie ecology and restoration, conservation biology and natural history, mammalogy
  • Anya Butt, B.A., M.S., Ph.D., Professor of Biology, interest areas include geospatial technologies and applications, water resources, geosciences, natural disaster resilience and global health
  • Paul Weihe, B.S., M.S., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology, interest areas include wetland ecosystems, ethnobotany, ecology and environmental science
  • Amy Young, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Associate Professor of German, interest areas include 20th century German and Austrian literature and culture, women's and gender studies, sustainability and translation
  • Jim Zaffiro, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, interest areas include international relations, African studies and global sustainability

The Central Difference

Sustainability on Campus

Central College is a place that “walks the walk,” putting into action environmental initiatives. All entering students enroll in a sustainability course as part their core requirement. Central College is a member of AASHE, the Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability (UMACS) and a signatory to the Talloires Declaration. Central College has been a leader in environmental design since 2003 and has pledged to go carbon neutral. Learn more about Central's sustainability efforts.

Central College Environmenal Studies Students


Central became a leader in environmental design when the Vermeer Science Center, which houses biology, chemistry, physics, natural science, mathematics and computer science departments, was awarded a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) medal rating from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).  The science center was the first LEED-rated building in the state and the first LEED rated science building in the nation. The building contains 13 high-tech classrooms and a fully equipped GIS laboratory, as well as open computer labs and science labs where students can conduct their own research.

Central’s 79-acre Carlson-Kuyper Field Station serves as an “outdoor laboratory,” allowing students to utilize the nature preserve for labs as well as hands-on management experience in restoring prairie. Located about 12 miles from campus, the field station is adjacent to the extensive wildlife areas managed by the Corps of Engineers around Lake Red Rock, Iowa’s largest lake.  It is also the site of Central’s Biomass Prairie project, engaging students in research and demonstration to promote prairies while working to address the larger global issue of global warming. 

Research Opportunities

Recent projects include:

  • Building a natural playscape, composed of all natural materials
  • Designing and planting a permaculture garden to enhance the organic campus garden
  • Improving fishing habitat and fishing access at Lake Roberts Creek
  • Developing a land management plan for Central College's Carlson Kuyper Field Station

Study Abroad

Students are encouraged to study abroad with Central College to enhance their development as global citizens and many courses taken abroad count toward the major. Academic opportunities and internship programs also are available in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. Learn more about Central’s study abroad programs.

Learn More

Want to find out more about environmental studies at Central? Contact us to learn more about this major and our other strong academic programs. Visit campus to observe classes and experience The Central Difference firsthand.