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The Urban Environmental Studies Program at BSC

The Urban Environmental Studies Program at BSC

Go green in the big city!

UES Students in the wetlands

A new generation of leaders who understand the complex relationship between human welfare and environmental sustainability will make much needed strides toward environmental sustainability. With its liberal arts focus and commitment to academic excellence, Birmingham-Southern provides an ideal setting to train socially- and environmentally-literate leaders.

Come study with us and change the world.


    Program Information

    Our world needs a new generation of leaders and problem-solvers who understand the complex interrelationships between human welfare and environmental sustainability. Today's students are those who must implement the most sweeping strides towards environmental sustainability. With its liberal arts focus and commitment to academic excellence, BSC provides the ideal setting to train socially and environmentally literate leaders. To this end, BSC launched its Urban Environmental Studies major in fall 2008.

    Here and throughout the world, social and environmental concerns intersect dramatically in the urban landscape. Given that over half of the earth's people live in cities, and most population growth in the coming decades will be urban, finding sustainable solutions for urban environmental problems will define our progress towards sustainability this century. Thus, urban sustainability is the theme for BSC's environmental studies program.

    BSC is well-positioned to offer a distinctive Urban Environmental Studies program. Birmingham is located within the most biologically rich region of the most species diverse state in the eastern United States. Our urban campus is surrounded by a city with a rich culture whose history and future are closely tied to its natural resources. Birmingham has its share of environmental problems, including air quality and sewer regulation, but there are many initiatives underway in Birmingham to improve the "livability" of our city. These include the construction of LEED certified buildings, urban redevelopment projects, an urban farm initiative, and the establishment of one of the largest networks of urban parks in the U.S.

    The interdisciplinary UES major involves faculty and courses from the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Several of the courses for the major use the city and its diverse natural landscape as a living laboratory to study environmental problems through research, class projects, and internships. Many UES students participate in our summer-long internship program where students work with local NGOs, agencies, or businesses whose interests are tied to the environment. UES majors finish their degree with a senior capstone research experience during the UES senior seminar. Spring 2012 marked our first full graduating class of UES majors, and we estimate that 20 students will graduate with the degree.

    The campus, itself, has become a living and evolving laboratory to study the path to urban sustainability:

    The campus is home for the Southern Environmental Center, whose mission is to educate children and tomorrow's leaders about sustainable living. In addition to hosting thousands of students each year, the SEC runs the acclaimed Ecoscape program where forgotten, blighted lands in the urban center are converted to verdant gardens that become a source of pride in local neighborhoods.

    On the campus we have the first LEED certified residence halls in Alabama. The dorms have been designed to minimize heating, cooling, and water needs, plus use of VOC and formaldehyde-laden materials. There is even a 50,000 gallon cistern that collects rainwater for landscape irrigation.

    We have the beautiful Urban Environmental Park designed with green landscape architectural principles. It includes a water catchment system that filters and cleans stormwater runoff in a 1.5 acre lake, attending rain gardens, and vernal pool.

    In partnership with the Southern Environmental Center and others, the College runs the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. The Center runs educational programming in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the region – just 25 minutes from campus.

    Other sustainability features on campus include: highly-reflective white roof on the campus library; use of porous pavement in a new parking lot; an 8-acre preserve of mature pine-oak-hickory forest which is used by biology and UES students; the first of Birmingham's Ecoscape Gardens; a newly expanded recycling program; upgrading of various physical plant features that reduce energy and water usage (e.g., variable frequency drives on HVACs); campus police use of hybrid vehicles and mountain bikes; a natural gas-powered maintenance truck; increased use of drought-hardy perennials and native plants in landscaping; and significant reductions in the use of office paper.

    BSC was named one of the 286 "Greenest Colleges" by The Princeton Review. According to the review, BSC is one of the nation's 286 "Greenest Colleges." The New York-based education services company, in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council, features the college in its 2010 "Guide to 286 Green Colleges."

    In April 2011 the UES program launched the TrekBirmingham website, an educational and recreational resource for greater Birmingham. Trek Birmingham pinpoints and describes destinations in the city where visitors can experience and learn about the city's natural environment. The website offers authoritative information about each destination's ecology, geology, biodiversity and watersheds and links them together to provide new ways to explore.


    The Urban Environmental Studies Major

    Birmingham in the distanceThe Urban Environmental Studies major provides students with an opportunity to study the problems and potential solutions related to the accelerated degradation of our environment, including water and air quality decline, increasingly unhealthy urban landscapes, loss of forests and farmlands, growing numbers of imperiled species, and climate change.

    Such problems pose a threat to human health, safety, prosperity, and well-being in complex and pervasive ways. Students in this major will develop the skills necessary to understand the complex interrelationships between human welfare and environmental sustainability.

    Major Requirements

    The following courses are required (10-12 units):

    • UES 150 Introduction to Urban Environmental Studies
    • UES 160 Environmental Earth Sciences
    • UES/PS 210 Environmental Problems and Policy
    • EC 202 Principles of Microeconomics
    • BI 225 Evolutionary Ecology
    • PL 307 Environmental Ethics or RE 320 Religion and the Natural World or EH 325 Natural, Wild, and Free: American Environmental Literature
    • three elective units from BI 314 Conservation Biology, BI 411 General Ecology, EC 340 Economics of Natural Resources and the Environment, PH 103 Energy and the Environment, UES 206 Special Topics in Urban Environmental Studies
    • UES 470 Senior Seminar in Environmental Studies
    • BI 314, BI 411, EC 340, EH 325, PL 307, and UES/PS 210 have prerequisites not included in major requirements.

    With approval of the UES faculty committee, students may repeat UES 206 when the focus or methodology differs. Transfer, study abroad, or environmentally themed courses not currently listed among UES requirements may also be approved for fulfillment of major requirements. Students should seek prior approval when possible.


    The Urban Environmental Studies Minor

    The minor in Urban Environmental Studies is an interdisciplinary program designed to foster a broad understanding of both environmental science and policy.  The program provides students with opportunities to explore scientific, economic, political, cultural, and ethical concepts as they relate to human-environment interactions, and explore what is necessary to ensure a sustainable society for future generations.

    The following courses are required (2 units)

    • UES 150 Introduction to Environmental Studies
    • UES 160 Environmental Earth Science

    Three courses from the following:

    • BI 411*General Ecology or BI 314 Conservation Biology
    • EC 340* Economics of Natural Resources and the Environment
    • PL 307* Environmental Ethics
    • RE 320 Religion and the Natural World
    • UES/PS 210 Environmental Problems and Policy
    • PY 220 Environment and Behavior
    • SO 376 Environnmental Sociology
    • BI 225* Evolutionary Ecology
    • UES 206** Special Topics in Urban Environmental Studies

    *These courses have prerequisites other than UES 150

    **UES 206 may be taken only once for credit toward the minor

    Water testing

    Courses used to satisfy environmental studies minor requirements may count towards major requirements in biology, economics, philosophy, political science, and psychology.

    The set of courses required in the minor comprise the essential components of an interdisciplinary environmental studies program. In addition to these courses, students are encouraged to apply knowledge learned in other courses to the examination of environmental issues.

    Further study in the natural sciences (chemistry, field biology, and physics) and economics, specifically microeconomic theory and applications, would provide greater depth to the knowledge acquired in the environmental studies minor.

    Additional courses recommended for the Urban Environmental Studies minor:

    • BI 206 Field Botany
    • BI 232 Vertebrate Field Zoology
    • CH 101 Introductory Chemistry
    • EC 202 Principles of Microeconomics

    Internship and Projects

    UES Internships

    UES Internships provide paid, summer positions for students to work with environmental organizations to improve environmental policy, address environmental concerns, develop plans for green spaces, and further efforts to protect our rivers and streams. Previous interns have worked at organizations such as the Freshwater Land Trust, Five Mile creek Greenway Partnership, Jones Valley Urban Farm, and Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve in Alabama; Green America in Washington, DC; the Tennessee Clean Water Network in Knoxville, Tennessee; and Technology 20/20 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

    OAre you living in a food desert?utreach and research are key components of the Urban Environmental Studies program. Many initiatives in Birmingham are underway to improve the livability of our city and reduce our environmental impact. These include the construction of LEED-certified buildings, numerous urban redevelopment projects, a growing urban farm initiative, and the establishment of one of the largest networks of urban parks in the United States.

    Recent Projects

    Birmingham-Southern students participate in a number of environmental projects around the Birmingham area and abroad. The variety of topics covered in the Urban Environmental Studies major allows for a wide array of projects in which students participate. Some of these projects have included:

    • Developing an ecotourism plan for Morgan County, TN
    • Surveying visitor attitudes and perceptions of Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
    • Creating an interactive map of gardens and farmers' markets in Birmingham
    • Launching a pilot program to replant hybrid American Chestnuts in Birmingham
    • Invasive species removal at Ruffner Mountain Nature Center
    • Development of the seed 2 plate curriculum with Jones Valley Urban Farm
    • Using camera traps to document wildlife in a local urban nature preserve
    • Studying endemic endangered fish whose range is confined to only five Birmingham-area springs
    • Documenting the ecology of a rare endemic herb in the mountains of Northeast Alabama
    • Studying amphibian and herbivore ecology with BSC faculty in Costa Rica
    • Comparing water quality and macroinvertebrate abundance between developed and undeveloped creeks
    • Studying seed germination of rare plants
    • Studying the environmental impacts of proposed interstate expansions
    • Creating an inventory of threatened natural areas near Birmingham with a local land trust
    • Encouraging retro-fitting of campus buildings for energy conservation

    Recent January Term Courses

    At the fallsEvery January, BSC students have the opportunity to expand their studies outside the classroom during Exploration Term. Several UES-related Exploration term courses have been offered recently, and include: 

    • Experiencing the City: An Exploration of Urban Land-Use Policies
    • Amazon to Andes: Experience the Peruvian Rainforest
    • Science, Public Policy, and the Environment: A Service-Learning Trip to the Everglades
    • Environmental Mathematics
    • Service-Learning Interim in Ecuador with the Foundation for Sustainable Development
    • Coral Reef Ecology and Dolphin Behavior
    • Costa Rica: Are Ecotourism and Sustainability Compatible?
    • Costa Rica: Sustainability, Spirituality, and Service
    • Exploring the Galapagos Islands: Wildlife, Ecology, and Conservation
    • Disasters and Mass Emergencies: The Politics of Vulnerability Response, Relief, and Reconstruction
    • Discovering the Pacific Northwest: A City/Nature Exploration


    Dr. Duncan & students

    A truly interdisciplinary program, the faculty members teaching core courses for the UES major span the entire campus and include the following:

    UES Coordinator

    William G. Holt
    Assistant Professor of UES & Sociology
    Harbert 203C

    UES Affliated Faculty

    Jane Archer
    Professor of English
    Humanities 324

    Larry Brasher 
    Adjunct Professor of Religion
    Humanities 316

    Daniel Coyle
    Visiting Assistant Professor of Asian Studies & Philosophy
    Humanities 311

    Scot Duncan
    Professor of Biology
    SSC 248

    Jessica Eckhardt
    Assistant Professor of Sociology
    Harbert 211

    Andrew Gannon
    Professor of Biology
    SSC 230

    Vince Gawronski
    Professor of Political Science
    Harbert 314

    Megan Gibbons
    Professor of Biology
    SSC 236

    Bill Myers
    Professor of Philosophy
    Humanities 222

    Rebekah Parker
    Instructor of Urban Environmental Studies
    Harbert 203B

    Kathleen Greer Rossmann
    Associate Professor of Economics
    Harbert 320

    Pete Van Zandt
    Associate Professor of Biology
    SSC 228

Dr. William  Holt
Assistant Professor/Coordinator of Urban Environmental Studies
Birmingham-Southern College
900 Arkadelphia Road
Box 549007

Community Foundation of Greater BirminghamThe Urban Environmental Studies program is made possible in part by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.