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IBES announces revisions to environmental science curriculum

New curriculum includes more interdisciplinary A.B., four modified tracks for Sc.B.

<p>Students who have already declared ENVS as a concentration can choose to proceed with the former curriculum or switch to the new one.</p>

Students who have already declared ENVS as a concentration can choose to proceed with the former curriculum or switch to the new one.

The Institute at Brown for Environment and Society announced a holistic set of curriculum revisions to the Environmental Studies and Sciences concentration on Feb. 21, according to an email sent to all concentrators and affiliated faculty reviewed by The Herald. 

Beyond seeking to offer more interdisciplinary course requirements for A.B. students, the revisions include four revised Sc.B. tracks, such as “Climate and Energy” and “Environmental Justice and Health,” for more focused study options. Other key changes include a reduction in core requirements from four courses to two courses, as well as a one-course decrease in the total number of required courses for all concentrators, according to the email sent by IBES. 

Students who have already declared ENVS as a concentration can choose to proceed with the former curriculum or switch to the new one.

Dawn King, a senior lecturer in Environment and Society and the director of undergraduate studies for Environmental Studies and Sciences, told The Herald that the revisions come after more than a year of conversations between IBES faculty, students and the University. The discussions were led by IBES’ Curriculum Revisions Committee.


The committee held an undergraduate town hall and sent out surveys to gather student opinions throughout the revision process. The IBES Curriculum Revisions Committee then met with the College Curriculum Committee in February, and the College Curriculum Committee voted to approve the revisions.

According to King, the previous A.B. curriculum required students to take five courses in one of five specialized tracks. The new curriculum removes the track options, instead requiring students to take one course in each of the five different focal areas. The focus area Environmental Justice and Equity was created largely in response to undergraduate student feedback, King shared. 

“We couldn’t guarantee that (students were) getting any kind of in-depth knowledge in a track when (they were) only taking five courses,” King said. “Why were we trying to shoehorn these tracks when really what we want is for our students to be knowledgeable about all different aspects of the environment?”

A.B. students are also now required to take a tools course, which is “focused on building qualitative or quantitative research tools,” according to the revised curriculum. 

“The A.B. was redesigned to really demonstrate that all of our students have an interdisciplinary knowledge of the environment,” King said.

Isaac Slevin ’25, an ENVS concentrator pursuing an A.B., worked as one of the two undergraduate representatives on the IBES Curriculum Revisions Committee. In an interview with The Herald, he said that the A.B.’s interdisciplinary focus will provide students with “exposure to a lot of different subjects, ways of thinking, professors who are affiliated with different departments and classes of different sizes.”

Slevin, who is currently pursuing the previous curriculum’s Sustainability in Development track, added that he is “interested to see if I can restructure my concentration to adhere to the new opportunities.”

“I think it’s helpful, especially for people who are double concentrating,” said Riley Stevenson ’26, an Sc.B. ENVS concentrator.

Instead of exploring one area in detail, students can now “balance (ENVS) with another concentration and get that environmental background,” Stevenson said.

Like the A.B., the previous Sc.B. curriculum required students to choose one of the five tracks. The revised Sc.B. curriculum removed the Land, Water, & Food Security track and incorporated it into four “streamlined” tracks: “Climate and Energy,” “Conservation Science and Natural Systems,” “Environmental Justice and Health” and “Sustainable Development and Governance.”  


According to King, the changes in requirements and listings within the individual tracks allow for “a true deep dive” into the topics. For instance, student requests for computer and data science foundations within the Climate & Energy track have led to the inclusion of related courses to the track’s listings.

The revisions also aim to resolve issues surrounding course availability. “For example, if you have to choose one Ecology and Conservation topics course (and) none of those courses have been offered for a year … that really handcuffs our students,” King said, explaining how the revisions will provide more options and flexibility for students. 

King pointed to the growth of IBES, established in 2014, as the main reason for the comprehensive curriculum rewrite. Growing faculty numbers and student interest have allowed IBES to create more stable course offerings and streamlined pathways, according to King.

“The last curriculum was created when IBES looked very different than it does now,” Slevin added. “So I feel like it was in need of a change, and we changed it well.”

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