Introduction to Environmental Studies: Water

Fall 2020
Winter 2021
Class Size: 50
25% Reserved for Freshmen
Credits per quarter

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Taught by

Native American studies
climate justice, climate policy and politics, political ecology, environment and development
marine science

This program will introduce students to the field of Environmental Studies through the lenses of Marine Science, Native American and Indigenous Studies, and Political Ecology. Our focus will be on marine environments, environmental justice, and a sense of place.

Marine and estuarine resources of Washington constitute some of the most valuable to both the ecology, culture and economy of the state. Concepts in ecology and the relationship between the physical-chemical environment and the biology of living organisms (and vice versa) will be the Marine Science portion of the program. Knowing of the effects of human activities in modifying the aquatic realm and the resultant effects on organisms will be the culmination of our understanding. Students will be introduced to basic physical principles of oceanography, the biology of organisms of importance and the ecology of the nearshore regions of the Pacific Northwest. Students will learn basic quantitative techniques of oceanography and ecology, and learn to identify some local organisms.

Students will learn about placemaking and environmental history within the context of settler colonialism. Using the lens of historical analysis (changes in time) and spatial analysis (changes in place) we will study how place and connection is nurtured, re-imagined and interpreted. We will consider the varied ways that Native nations have engaged with topics such as food sovereignty, climate change, resource extraction, medicinal plant biodiversity, and issues of sustainability and conservation. The fundamental premise of this course is that human beings are embedded in their ecological systems. We will examine themes and narratives of sustainability, restoration, and remediation. 

Students will examine water as a terrain of conflict and struggle in various US and global contexts. We will examine how water resources, pollution, and hazards are unequally distributed, and how these disparities are shaped by the legacies of colonialism. We will learn about different governance structures for water, including common pool systems, neoliberal policies, treaties, and the rights of nature framework. Finally, we will study human dimensions of global warming and its impact on the water cycle (eg. sea level rise, the melting of glaciers, floods, droughts), and critically examine proposed mitigation and adaptation strategies.  

Students will integrate and build analytical critical skills by utilizing extensive readings, lecture notes, films, interviews, and other sources into writing assignments. Students will gain practice formulating positions by writing argumentative essays on these topics and be introduced to a range of relevant quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. 

Registration Options: The program's full-time 16-credit option combines the lecture, lab, and research workshop, and is open to all levels of students. The program's half-time 8-credit option covers only the lecture component, and is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Students may register for either option, but not both. 


To successfully participate in this program, students will need a computer/mobile device with internet and online/installed software capability to do Word processing. Students can expect our remote teaching to be around 13.5 hours of synchronous (scheduled) coursework per week, using Canvas. Students will have access to alternatives to synchronous participation if conditions require.


Greener Foundations:   First-year students who register for the full-time, 16-credit program will experience Greener Foundations, a holistic course designed for college-success. Faculty and staff collaborate to bring study skills, academic planning, health and wellness education, advising, and more into the classroom. More information can be found on the college website at Greener Foundations .

This offering will prepare you for careers and advanced study in:

Environmental studies, government, social policy


Credits per quarter

Online learning:
  • Fall Complete Online Learning - This offering delivers all of its instruction online.
  • Winter: Hybrid Online Learning - This offering delivers < 25% of its instruction online, rather than via face-to-face contact between you and your instructors.
Research Opportunities:

Winter quarter students will have an opportunity to have to do a qualitative research project.

Class Standing: Freshman–Senior
Class Size: 50
25% Reserved for Freshmen

Scheduled for: Day

Final schedule and room assignments:

First meeting:

Tuesday, September 29, 2020 - 9:30 am

Located in: Olympia

2020-08-05This program is now fully remote in fall quarter