Ramapo’s Environmental Studies Program was founded in 1974, just after the National Environmental Policy Act was signed. A pioneer program in the field, we are located at the gateway to the New Jersey Highlands, with incredible parks and trails at our doorstep yet a short hop from New York City. Over more than 45 years, we have prepared more than 2,500 graduates to be leaders for a sustainable future. They are pathfinders who can address climate change and all of the emergent, interconnected crises of people and the environment. As cross-disciplinary thinkers who are able to draw upon the wisdom of many fields, our graduates uniquely understand the transformation needed to achieve a sustainable world. They work across all sectors of society in myriad ways, flexibly able to follow the opportunities that rapidly emerge in a world so in need of their skills and wisdom.
Following the distinctive pillars of Ramapo’s education mission, we promote an integrative interdisciplinary mode of learning, simultaneously local and global in focus, experiential in form, protecting and promoting social and ecological diversity.
Given our distinctive Social Ecological approach, our program was a forerunner in recognizing sustainability as our central focus of study given the inseparability of environment and society (including the economy). Transcending siloed and narrow disciplinary thinking, we emphasize the interplay of ecology, society and policy throughout a truly integrative and diverse curriculum.
Students take a common core program. After our gateway course World Sustainability, they study physical geography, environmental policy, the history of humans’ impact on the earth, field ecology, energy, water and the climate crisis. This is all foundational knowledge to prepare Environmental Studies students for their advanced coursework.
Students then individualize their advanced study by selecting their own path through a wide array of upper-level electives. They sample courses from four categories: Nature, Social Dynamics, Environmental Ethics and Basic Skills (either Geographic Information Systems, Environmental Writing or Environmental Law) and complete the Environmental Internship courseor another field placement. These courses are designed to help the student determine their direction within this broad and expansive field. Students are free to take additional electives that build their capacity around a specialized interest. Some of these areas of interest are sustainable communities, environmental education, environmental policy and law, environmental impact assessment ecological restoration and cleanup, natural resource and wildlife conservation and park management, outdoor recreation, recycling and waste management, food and farming, water management, renewable energy including solar and wind, energy conservation, ecological landscape management, ecological economics, sustainable entrepreneurship, climate mitigation and adaptation and much more.
Capstone courses are taken in the senior year. These include a topical seminar designed to hone academic research skills, writing and presentation. A second experiential capstone experience combines two courses on Environmental Assessment. This unique sequence has students forming their own consulting firm and responding to a request for proposal from a real-world client to complete an environmental impact assessment or comparable study of a real contemporary regional issue of significance. Students learn to organize, manage and collaborate, to conduct quality field research, to deliver professional presentations technical writing and professional quality work to their clients. This program generates learning that will translate directly to graduates’ future experiences.
Among the unique features of our program is our constant use of experiential real-world learning across the curriculum. Students have the opportunity to work at the world-class Meadowlands Environmental Education Center, a tidal wetlands facility, or at the upland forest Weiss Ecology Center—both managed by Ramapo College. They can learn vertical farming at our partner Greens Do Good urban farm or soil-based farming at our own Sustainable Agriculture garden or the partner MEVO farm just down the road. We encourage our students to participate in study abroad programs, offering our own life-changing programs in South India and the Peruvian Amazon. Many of our students complee short-term work in a Macaw Sanctuary in Costa Rica and pursue minors in such fields as public policy, public health, plant science, food systems and sustainability.
Many of our classes are held in Ramapo’s Sharp Sustainability Center, a model green building.
Our faculty and students actively participate in the continuing work on global sustainability focused around the United Nations. Our proximity to the UN and New York allows us to serve as a global crossroads of the best critical thinking in our areas of interest. Global leaders often teach courses in our program. Given the importance of local sustainable communities of place, we use as our local laboratory the beautiful Ramapo Mountain/Highlands region of New Jersey and New York, its diverse communities and its ecological and historical wealth. We partner with the best local and regional organizations, including our neighbors, the Ramapough-Lenape Tribe, to promote the restoration and preservation of the region.
Faculty bring a blend of academic accomplishment and real-world professional experience to our program. They engage in research locally but also work across the globe. Our faculty are active environmental stewards, working for sustainable innovation. They work on campus sustainability, run statewide sustainability initiatives and environmental non-profits. As a group, through our Environmental Institute and Center for Sustainability, we offer frequent seminars, workshops, lectures, MOOCS and conferences, bringing diverse models of sustainable practice and innovative thinkers from around the world to enrich our learning environment. The result is a dynamic educational context, matching local and global. Few have been doing this longer than we have, and few do it as well.
Our success is reflected in a student body active on campus and in the community, already engaged as change agents and innovators. A growing number of student clubs address issues of sustainability, environmental activism, beekeeping and animal rights and diet. Many of our students are part of Ramapo’s Sustainable housing project. A fledgling Sunrise Movement chapter is underway. Students share a Facebook page where internship, job and event opportunities are shared. Ramapo Green is a web portal maintained for all college activities and programs related to the environment and sustainability.
Our graduates are prepared to move fluidly into the work world, often forging their own opportunities. Many of our students elect to do advanced study at the Master’s level and some at the doctoral level. Doctoral theses by our graduates include such topics as the impact of wind energy on native peoples, the potential for environmental education to counter nature deficit and the shift to renewable energy. Our graduates have pioneered in such fields as hospital sustainability, solar design, environmental impact assessment, environmental and sustainability education, sustainable building, sustainability education, ecological landscaping, environmental law, local food, climate and energy policy, environmental engineering, sustainable land use planning and design, and local business development. Graduates lead a statewide energy agency, serve as head of recycling at a global beverage corporation, work in government at the federal and state level, teach outdoor education, own green businesses, conduct research and scores of other roles.