Environmental Studies

Participants in the Environmental Studies program analyze the complexity of contemporary environmental issues and the development of sustainable policy solutions to address competing interrelationships between human institutions and environmental capacity.

Programs & Degrees

The Environmental Studies Program is designed to provide individuals with a foundation in both natural and social sciences in preparation for advanced coursework in a variety of environmental majors at the university level. Students have opportunities to analyze a range of issues within earth, environmental, biological, chemical and physical sciences, and the inherent interrelationships these disciplines have within social sciences not limited to sociology, psychology, ethics, humanities and economics. Emphasis is placed on analyzing the complexity of contemporary environmental issues and the development of sustainable policy solutions to address the competing interests between human institutions and environmental capacity at local, regional and global scales.

Environmental Studies Courses

Core Courses

A major goal of this course is to investigate and appreciate the various processes that shape the physical world we live in. This introductory investigation of earth science draws from materials in related disciplines not limited to astronomy, geology, geomorphology, hydrology, oceanography and meteorology and also incorporates a fundamental understanding of concepts in chemistry, biology and geography.The scientific method is presented as a process by which these complex earth systems can be understood.

Instruction in the course is geared to helping students help themselves explore earth’s systems at multiple scales, from global to local whose timespans range from seconds to billions of years.Understanding the range of processes, timescales and influences on our physical environment is critical to informed decision-making regarding the future planning of cities, resource allocation and the well-being of earth’s citizens. These are exciting times to be involved in earth science related fields and employment opportunities are abundant.

I’m going on vacation to New Zealand in March…is it going to be hot and humid or should I bring my ski gear? We are expecting 10”-14” of snow this weekend—how do weather forecasters know that? Why doesn’t the United States have a desert like the Sahara? Why does it rain over 125 inches in Hilo, HI but only 25” in Kona, HI if they are only 50 miles apart? Is there really a hole in the ozone and does that mean I should wear sunscreen? Why are fish absent from some New York lakes and what does this have to do with the climate? Is the climate really changing and are humans to blame? What are we going to do if the sea level rises 3 feet? Weather and Climate is the study of the atmosphere and its relationship to humans as it benefits and challenges our lives. Attention is given to investigating the interactions between humans and their environment in the areas of global warming, acid deposition, ozone depletion, monsoon geography, and their impacts to global hydrologic cycles, soils and terrestrial biomes.

In the broadest terms, environmental science is a course that examines the interactions between natural systems and human institutions.Natural systems encompass a variety of physical settings at different scales—think about the differences in the plant and animal life you might find in an individual high altitude glacial lake and that of a desert basin with no drainage outlet to the sea.Human institutions include systems and physical structures that meet the needs of society (ICC is an academic institution; Grand Itasca Hospital is a medical institution), but also encompass cultural practices, systems of government, economic development models and technology in addition to philosophical thought.

In this course, we will examine a variety of natural processes not limited to flows of energy and matter, evolution and natural selection, species interactions at a variety of scales and the biotic and abiotic processes that lead to biodiversity and the spatial distribution of ecosystems and natural resources.We also need to appreciate how human institutions affect patterns of population growth, natural resource consumption, pollution and hazardous waste generation, land use planning, environmental policy and ethics—all of which—are subject to local, regional, and national variation.By understanding both natural systems AND human institutions—we can begin to appreciate the opportunities and constraints that humans encounter as they make decisions regarding the state of their environment.

In 2010 in Haiti, over 300,000 people lost their lives in one of the most devastating earthquakes in recorded history--why do earthquakes occur where they do and how can humans prepare for them? Why do tsunami strike some coastal areas but not others? Are wildfires really wild and disastrous or are we simply in the path of naturally occurring fires? Are floods and storm surges predictable and if so, are we learning how to work with naturally occurring environmental processes? How can the tropical rainforests be the lushest places on earth yet have some of the most infertile soils? Physical Geography is the study of landscapes and processes and how humans benefit from and adapt to them. Emphasis is placed on understanding natural events such as volcanic eruptions, floods, landslides, thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires and the human response in the face of natural disasters.

Are there any conditions that justify the killing of hundreds of thousands of people--just because we don’t like them—and did you know this has happened…more than once? And if we have so much food, why are people still starving? How is technology making the world “smaller” for some, but not for others? Who are these people who are perfectly content living on Mongongo nuts and willing to go without texting and the World Wide Web? In the face of rapid globalization, places have become increasingly interdependent, and we are facing new and complex challenges that are reshaping local and regional geography. World Regional Geography is an exploratory course, offering insights to both physical and cultural geography in various places across the world. Focus will be given to exploring the similarities and differences that face these regions in areas such as population growth, economics, environment, political systems, and cultural ideology. The course also will cover the basics in reading and interpreting information presented on maps. Topics vary as the world continues to unfold.

What is the zoning for an area and is a proposed variance compatible with existing and planned land uses? What land uses surround a polluted lake? How might future development impact existing natural areas? Are there more burglaries in low income or high income neighborhoods? Where are there gaps in dedicated bike routes across the community? Where have forest fires burned—how big were they and what vegetation types fueled the fires? Where is a grizzly bear spending its time eating and sleeping? At what ocean depths do blue whales appear to feed? Principles of GIS examines some advantages and limitations of using technology for mapping. Emphasis is placed on learning GIS fundamentals, using ESRI's ArcGIS 10.x software. Students will learn how to use a GIS to investigate a variety of human and environmental issues, and will complete an independent project. The course establishes a sound working knowledge of GIS and prepares students for advanced GIS coursework.

Do you know you’ve been lied to over and over again? Maps are representations of reality and there are many stories they tell…but there are also “untold” stories. How have maps misled you…do you even know? Who is using all the water in America…and how can you show that on a map? Where do hazardous areas overlap in space… and how can you effectively portray that on a map? Creating a map is easy…creating an interesting map with a purpose and a clear and relevant message is a skill. Cartography allows students to investigate various uses and construction of maps. Emphasis is given to reading, interpreting and critically evaluating the information presented on maps, the collection and statistical manipulation of data sets, and the design and drafting of a wide variety of thematic maps and graphs. Students will learn the concepts and techniques of cartography through a series of practical map exercises, using a GIS. They will also develop and publish course maps in online environments. Prerequisite: Principles of GIS.

Elective Courses

In this introductory course, we will investigate the science of modern astronomy. A wide variety of topics are explored, not limited to Earth-Moon-Sun Relationships (constellations, stellar motion, solstices and equinoxes, seasons, lunar phases, tides, eclipses), Planetary (inner/outer planets, surface features & atmospheric composition; moons, models, physical laws), Stellar (sun composition/properties; solar activity, star formation, giants, supernovae, black holes); Galaxic (milky way galaxy, measuring galactic distances, galactic evolution) and Cosmological astronomy (big bang, origin of universe).Instruction in the course is geared to helping students help themselves explore the cosmos at multiple scales, from global to local whose timespans range from microseconds to billions of years.Relevance of astronomy to issues of human social significance and sustainability is addressed.

This is an introductory course including investigations in physical (tides, currents, waves), geologic (ocean formation/physiography, plate tectonics), biological (plant/animal life and ecosystems) and chemical (composition, water properties) aspects of the world’s oceans. Emphasis is on the development of scientific literacy in the context of interdisciplinary studies of the ocean environment. Relevance of oceanography to issues of human social significance and sustainability is addressed.

Investigate the science of natural hazards—learn how/why natural hazards occur where they do. A range of topics will be addressed not limited to earthquakes, volcanic activity, wild fire, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tsunami, landslides and drought. Patterns of natural hazard occurrence and their effect on human institutions is a cornerstone of this course. How government agencies, private business, interest groups plan for, mitigate and recover from such events is analyzed. Understanding the range of human responses (i.e. political, legal, social, economic, etc.) is explored in context of ethics and civic responsibility.

Did you know you can tell how healthy vegetation is, the degree of sediment in the water, where dust storms are headed and rates of deforestation—all from space? Satellite imagery and aerial photography continues to support a variety of disciplines such as urban and regional planning, agriculture, geology, natural resources and environmental sciences to capture and evaluate the areal extents and spatial associations of features distributed on the Earth's surface. Remote Sensing & Image Interpretation will help you better understand the variety of systems and analytical techniques used to interpret satellite imagery and aerial photography within a GIS. As a whole, the course encompasses a broad range of ideas from electromagnetic radiation, principles/use of different sensors, cameras, films, scanners, interpretation and land use mapping, and the integration of remotely sensed data within geographic information systems. Learn how to speak about remote sensing with confidence! Prerequisite: Principles of GIS.

How can the general public be involved in the assessment of land use proposals managed within a GIS—if they have no GIS experience? How can a high voltage power line be routed to avoid scenic areas? Where is the best location to build a new hospital? Where are areas that sinkhole hazards are expected to become more common? Will the open pit mine be visible from the visitor’s center? Which lands should be acquired to preserve biological diversity of a community/region? What is the shortest route between the timber sale and the mill? In which direction (and how far/how fast) are invasive species expected to spread? Modeling Techniques in GIS seeks to answer questions using geospatial data and analysis. This course will build upon the foundation of concepts learned in previous GIS courses offered at Itasca Community College and introduce a variety of techniques for spatial/tabular data evaluation and analytical modeling. After surveying a variety of modeling scenarios, students will have the option of developing their own GIS modeling project. What questions do you have? Prerequisite: Principles of GIS.

When the map indicates you should be standing in a “forest”, why are there no trees? How steep is it going to get before the trail reaches the camping site? O.K.—just how big is Greenland anyway and why do we have to keep asking that question? Can I be in 5 different time zones at once? Why does the Columbia River look different on different maps…isn’t it the exact same river? Maps have become the cornerstone for applications in numerous disciplines not limited to urban and regional planning, natural resources and engineering. Many major private corporations and governmental units produce and use maps to accomplish their objectives. Map Use, Analysis and Interpretation will help you learn how to understand and gather information from different types of maps. We use mapping technologies that are freely available to the public as well as GIS software. We will explore a wide variety of maps, their various formats, the principles governing mapping systems and mapping techniques. Emphasis is placed on reading, analyzing and interpreting information presented on maps.

Environmental Studies Program Highlights

  • Geography A.S. Degree
  • GIS Professional Certificate
  • Natural Resources - Geospatial 
  • Natural Resources - Forest Resources
  • Natural Resources - Wildland Firefighting
  • Natural Resources - Law Enforcement

Sustainability Club

Sustainability Club Page

The Sustainability Club is a group of Itasca students and faculty who are determined to make campus a more sustainable place. We hope to implement more sustainable developments on campus by working on different creative ways to further our goal of building a greener environment.

Contact for More Information

Tim Fox, Program Coordinator