Sustainability Studies Minor Program

In 2014, Rachel Carson College (formerly College Eight) launched a minor in Sustainability Studies, which is now in a three-year pilot phase from 2014-2017. Not only is this minor designed to be highly interdisciplinary, it is also the first such college-sponsored degree program in several decades. 

As such, the Sustainability Studies minor offers a model for new college-based undergraduate curricula and pedagogies and emphasizes the central academic role of UCSC’s college system on the campus.

Enrollment Sheet link.

Our Pedagogical Rationale (What we Study and Why)
Among the most critical societal challenges of the next 50 years are the rapidly-growing and linked ecological and social crises arising from stresses on supplies of energy, water and food.  These crises are not simply about the adequacy of supply relative to demand, however; they are also the result of the complex social relations within and among societies, in the past, present and future. Dealing with such socio-ecological problems therefore requires robust interdisciplinary collaborations among engineers, social scientists and natural scientists.
Moreover, in today’s rapidly-changing economy, college graduates will need to be flexible and adaptable, able to learn new knowledge and skills rapidly, and cognizant of the complex organization of society and technology. This minor is designed to foster both analytical ability and provide necessary learning.

The pedagogical underpinnings of this minor are premised on relationships between classroom learning, service learning, and research and application. Broad interdisciplinarity and individual facility in both STEM and social sciences are critical, elements at the center of the minor’s core courses. The curriculum is therefore structured to (i) facilitate interdisciplinary academic and research collaborations among faculty and students across multiple UCSC divisions (drawing on but outside of the divisional structure); (ii) teach and train students in the ecology and sustainability of design and application in the built environment, and the use of STEM skills and social science knowledge to these ends; and (iii) meet undergraduate demand for a sustainability curriculum with focuses distinct from those offered in existing UCSC departments.

The minor is designed to be a complement to students’ majors, allowing them to broaden their applied skills and knowledge, and their ability to analyze and understand complex systems and their interactions through society and the environment.  The minor will provide skills useful for work with non-profits, government agencies, small businesses and startups.  Businesses are increasingly interested in sustainability and specific positions are difficult to fill.  Institutions of higher education, government agencies and others are also seeking staff with expertise in sustainability.


Core Faculty: Ronnie Lipschutz (CLEI & POLI), Michael Isaacson (EE), Ben Crow (SOC), Sue Carter (PHYS), Patrick Chuang (EPS)

Affiliated Faculty: Daniel Press (ENVS), Ingrid Parker (EEB), Flora Lu (ENVS), Julie Guthman, (Soc Sci), Andy Szasz (ENVS), Andrew Fisher (EPS), Beth Stephens (ART), Laurel Fox (EEB)

Affiliated instructors: Kevin Bell (CLEI), Katie Monsen (ENVS, EE, CLEI), Susan Watrous (CLEI), Tamara Ball (CLEI, Soc Sci), Thomas Rettenwender (CLEI)


The minor consists of:

  • one required (EE80S) and one elective lower division course (EE80J, PHYS 2, ENVS 23, 24, 25) are required for entry (10 lower division units)
  • a service learning internship (CLEI 55 & 155; 2 LD, 4 Upper Division units)
  • a three quarter research and enterprise practicum (CLEI 150a-b-c; 6 UD units total)
  • an Education for Sustainable Living Program class (CLEI 161; 5 UD units),
  • a three quarter project development course (via Rachel Carson College (formerly College Eight) independent study credit) or
  • two breadth electives (10 UD units).

Learning objectives

Through the program’s learning objectives:

  • Students will understand the causes, features, data, complexities, policies and practices giving rise to and needed to address the contemporary global socioecological crisis; the role of production, consumption, politics, policies, markets and behavior in this crisis; and options and alternatives for moving toward and achieving sustainability.
  • Students will learn basic applied STEM skills needed for dealing with real-world applications including assessments, measurements, technologies, behavior and other factors related to objective a.
  • Students will become cognizant of appropriate social science knowledge and methods needed to design and implement social enterprise and service learning projects in sustainability and ecological design and practice.
  • Students will design and conduct interdisciplinary research projects in issues and topics that are related to sustainability, including energy, food, water, the built environment, life-cycle analysis, waste disposal and recycling.
  • Students will design and participate in service-learning projects in collaboration with on- and off-campus units, agencies and organizations, and apply the knowledge and skills acquired through the minor

Courses (click on the hyperlink to see a sample course syllabus)

(Please note that the courses and requirements for the minor may undergo some changes beginning in Academic Year 2017-18. Changes will be posted here, as they are made.)

1. Lower division gateway courses: These courses offer basic instruction in the social science, physical, biological and engineering aspects of sustainability and environmental science.  Students must take EE80S and at least one of the four additional 5-unit courses listed below. ENVS majors may substitute ENVS 23, 24 or 25 for the minor’s second lower division course requirement.

Required: EE80S (Fall) “Sustainability Engineering and Design.”  Topical introduction to principles and practices of sustainability engineering and ecological design with emphasis on implementation in society. Provides an understanding of basic scientific, engineering, and social principles in the design, deployment, and operation of resource-based human systems, and how they can be maintained for this and future generations. No specialized background in engineering, science, or social sciences is assumed.

And one of the following:

CLEI 81B/EART 81B NOT OFFERED IN 2016 or 2017 (Winter) Fundamentals of Environmental Science.” Addresses major issues in physical and biological environmental sciences and provides tools to critically evaluate, debate, and make informed choices regarding one's own impact on the environment. Topics include: climate change, water resources, air pollution, evolution, ecology (from populations to ecosystems), and conservation. Quantitative problem solving is an integral part of this course.

CLEI 81C/EE 81C  (Spring) “Designing a Sustainable Future.” Introduces key technological solutions to environmental problems; discusses their underlying principles; and examines their societal dimensions. Topics include: conventional and renewable energy; emerging technologies for transportation, energy efficiency clean water; planetary engineering; and lean manufacturing.

PHYS 2 (Spring) “Elementary Physics of Energy.” The physics of energy developed in a course accessible to non-science majors as well as science majors. Fundamental principles and elementary calculations, at the level of basic algebra, developed and applied to the understanding of the physics of energy. Topics include fossil fuels, renewable energy, solar cells and waste energy, waste-energy recovery, nuclear power, and global greenhouse effects.

EE80J ( Spring): “Renewable Energy Sources” Introduction to and advanced concepts in energy storage and conversion with special emphasis on renewable sources. Fundamental energy conversion limits based on physics and existing material properties. Various sources, such as solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and fuel cells described. Cost-benefit analysis of different alternative sources performed, and key roadblocks for large-scale implementation examined. Latest research on solar cells and applications of nanotechnology on energy conversion and storage introduced.

ENVS 23 (Spring): "The Physical and Chemical Environment."  Provides an overview of the physical and chemical environment of planet Earth. Fundamental chemistry and physics is introduced in the process of learning about Earth in a holistic way. The influence of human societies on the global environment is one focus of discussion. Earth's many "spheres" are explored first: the lithosphere; the atmosphere; the hydrosphere, and the ecosphere. Then global cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and several other elements are studied in the context of basic sciences and societal issues. (General Education Code(s): IN.)

ENVS 24 (Fall): "General Ecology." Covers principles of ecology including limits to species abundances, evolutionary ecology, population dynamics, community interactions and patterns, and ecosystem patterns and dynamics. Prerequisite(s): Applied Mathematics and Statistics 2 or 3 or 6, or MATH 3 or higher; or mathematics placement examination (MPE) score of 300 or higher; or AP Calculus AB exam score of 3 or higher; course 23 recommended as prerequisite to this course. (General Education Code(s): SI, IN.)

ENVS 25  (Winter): "Environmental Policy & Economics." Introduces the policy and economic dimensions of some pressing environmental challenges. Uses examples from population, water, climate change, and other topics to examine the economic underpinnings of environmental problems, the process of environmental policy-making, and the trade-offs in different policy solutions. (General Education Code(s): PE-E, IS.)

2. Service learning sustainability internship: This internship sequence provides students the opportunity to undertake internships in participating on- or  off-campus service projects (e.g., CASFS, Homeless Garden, etc. For more information, see the Service Learning Sustainability Internship placement page.) Students must enroll in the lower division introduction (CLEI 55) to service learning and at least two quarters (CLEI 155) of the upper division internship program (2LD + 4 UD units).

CLEI 55 (Fall):  “Introduction to Service Learning for Sustainability.” For students enrolling in the service learning sustainability sequence.  Basic introduction to principles of service learning and participatory action research, and placement in campus and community internships. Students are advised and taught by the College Provost and staff and determine the content of their internship in consultation with Provost, staff and individual supervisors (2 LD units).

CLEI 155 (Susan Watrous, W-S): “Rachel Carson College (formerly College Eight) Sustainability Internship.” For students undertaking sustainability-oriented service learning work in the College, College-related projects, community service organizations, or public agencies, who have already taken CLEI 55 (4 UD units). 

3. Sustainability research & green enterprise practicum: This practicum sequence provides classroom and field instruction in sustainability-related research (Fall), either with faculty or independently, green project design and social enterprise (Winter), and grant-writing and fund-raising for sustainability projects (Spring). Students must take all three quarters at some time during the minor (6 UD units).

CLEI 150A (Fall): “Sustainability Praxis in the Built Environment.” Introduction to the concepts, methods and practices of research on sustainable energy, water and food production and consumption; resources surveying and assessment; building energy auditing; renewable energy systems; water supply, demand and distribution; intensive agroecology conducted at campus sites.

CLEI 150B (Winter): “Tools of the Trade.”  Problem solving in sustainability through basic STEM concepts, statistical tools and analytical methods for engaging in advanced sustainability studies, drawn from physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, engineering, electronics, sociology, economics and public policy. 

CLEI 150C (Spring): “Green Enterprise & Social Entrepreneurship.”  Concepts and principles of developing green enterprises and seeking support for them. How to conceptualize and design projects in applied areas of sustainability studies, to devise a business plan, solicit participation from mentors and prepare funding proposals.

4. Education for Sustainable Living Program ESLP is a student-organized set of 2 and 5-unit classes on sustainability-related topics, and a weekly speaker series, offered for credit through Rachel Carson College (formerly College Eight)  Students must take one upper division ESLP course (5 units). 

CLEI 161 (Supervised by C8 Provost, Spring): “Education for Sustainable Living.” Analyzes sustainability and its application in daily life and on campus, involving collaboration between students, faculty, staff, administration, and the community. Guest lecturers, discussions, an optional UC-wide retreat, and essays allow engagement with aspects of ecological and social sustainability.

5. Other Upper Division courses (10-15 UD units):

Independent studies through Rachel Carson College (formerly College Eight) (at least 10 units)


Two breadth electives:  As feasible, students should take two relevant 5-unit courses outside of their major and, where possible, their division (10 UD units; to be decided in consultation with minor advisors).  Many of the available course require prerequisites or are closed to non-majors.  Students wanting to take such course will be expected to meet prerequisites or receive instructor approval to enroll.

ANTHRO110K: Culture through Food
ANTH 110W: Water & Landscape

ANTHRO 111: Human Ecology

ANTHRO 135A. Cities

ANTHRO 137. Consuming Culture

ANTHRO 146. Anthropology and the Environment

ANTHRO 147: Anthropocene

ANTHRO 160. Reproductive and Population Politics

ANTHRO 161. The Anthropology of Food

ART 125. Environmental Art Studio

CLTE 105. The Making and Influencing of Environmental Policy

CMMU 133. Making California: Landscapes, People, Politics, Economy

CMMU 149. Political Economy of Food and Agriculture

CMMU 156. Politics of Food and Health

CMMU 162. Community Gardens and Social Change

CMMU 186. Agriculture, Food & Social Justice

EART 107. Remote Sensing of the Environment

EART 116. Hydrology

EART 121. The Atmosphere

EART 142. Engineering Geology for Environmental Scientists

EART 146. Ground Water

EART 191. Climate Change Science and Policy

EEB 107: Ecology

EEB 108: Marine Ecology

EEB 147: Community Ecology

EEB 145: Plant Ecology

EEB 155: Freshwater Ecology

ECON 170. Environmental Economics

ECON 171. Natural Resource Economics

ECON 175. Energy Economics

EE 175/L. Energy Generation and Control

EE 176/L. Energy Conservation and Control

EE 177/L. Power Electronics

EE180J. Advanced Renewable Energy Sources

FMST 124.  Technology, Science, and Race Across the Americas

FMST 133. Science and the Body

HAVC 141I. Environments, Installations and Sites

HAVC 141K. Activist Art Since 1960: Art, Technology, Activism

HAVC 143B. History of Urban Design

HISC 139A. Market Crises and the Future of Capitalism

HIST 101C. Oceans in World History

HIST 106C. Food Empires

HIST 151. Science, Medicine and Technology

HIST 177. Smoke, Smallpox and the Sublime

HIST 196F. European Environmental History

LALS 152.  Consumer Cultures Between the Americas

LALS 164. Environmental Justice

LGST 131 Wildlife, Wilderness, and the Law

LGST 132. California Water Law and Policy

LGST 137. International Environmental Law and Policy

LGST 149. Environmental Law & Policy

LGST 159. Property and the Law

METX 101. Sources and Fates of Pollutants

METX 144. Groundwater Contamination

OCEA 101. The Marine Environment

OCEA 102. Oceans and Climate

PHIL 125. Philosophy of Science

POLI 170. International Relations of the Environment

POLI 174. Political Ecology

PSYCH 159E. Peace Psychology

SOCY 115. Green Governance

SOCY 119. Sociology of Knowledge

SOCY 125. Society and Nature

SOCY 130. Sociology of Food

SOCY 132 : Sociology of Science and Technology

SOCY 167. Development and Underdevelopment

SOCY 173. Water

SOCY 177E. Eco-Metropolis

SOCY 177G. Global Cities

SOCY 179. Nature, Poverty, and Progress

TIM 115. Entrepreneurial Organization and Leadership


To enroll in the Sustainability Studies Minor, please print and fill out the form below (or at this link) and make an appointment to see the Rachel Carson College (formerly College Eight) Provost ( to discuss your plan. To declare the Sustainability Studies minor so that it will appear in your records, please see the instructions below the planning sheet, below.

Sustainability Studies Enrollment Work Sheet

Declaring the Sustainability Studies Minor

In order to ensure that the Sustainability Studies minor appears on AIS and your transcript at graduation, you need to do the following.

1. If you have not already done so, fill in the on-line course form at  and bring it to Ronnie Lipschutz in 121 Rachel Carson College (formerly College Eight).

2a. If you have not yet declared your major, when you do so, you will need to fill out the Academic Planning from at and the Major Declaration form at  You will need to fill out both forms.  

2b. If you have declared your major but the minor does not show up on AIS, you will have to fill out the forms again (sorry!).

3. Fill out your schedule of courses to show when you have taken or will take courses required for your major and the Sustainability Studies minor, until your graduation.  

4. Take both both forms to your major department and have them reviewed and signed, and then bring them to Ronnie Lipschutz for signature for the minor.

5. The Rachel Carson College (formerly College Eight) Preceptor will then ensure that the minor is entered on AIS and will show up on your record.

If you have questions about this, please contact Ronnie Lipschutz, 459-2543 or