Environmental Studies

Your studies will range across disciplines. Research will be an essential part of your work, and you will find a broad range of research opportunities. As a major, you will work with distinguished faculty members to investigate environmental issues and attitudes.

Leonard Kilekwang, Blaire Frett, Samantha Mengual, Hannah Trautmann, and Nikole Bonacorsi.

A key course and key professor shape a student’s path

In high school Samantha Mengual ’16 worked with the school board to try to ban sales of plastic water bottles in district schools. She entered Hamilton thinking she would major in world politics, but soon recognized her deeper passion. She wrote a paper for a government class about oil policies and the damaging impact of globalization on ecosystems; then the fall of her sophomore year she took ecology with Associate Professor of Biology William Pfitsch. “It’s my favorite class I’ve taken at Hamilton. I felt like a little nerd. I just discovered that I love plants and ecology and evolution. It’s so fascinating. And those were really cool revelations,” says Mengual, who decided on an environmental sciences major with a biology concentration. She spent a summer on a team with Pfitsch researching the relationship between blacklegged ticks, which carry Lyme disease, honeysuckle and deer.

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That was a great experience for Mengual, who is leaning toward graduate school and a career in academia. “Professor Pfiitsch is great at letting students make their own studies, and he made us write our own proposals. He gave us guidance of what he wanted us to do but we set up our experiment and he was just there when we had questions, really,” she says.

Lucas Harris '12 near his study site in Finland: the Saana massif, near Kilpisjärvi.

A graduate’s progress: a Fulbright and a Ph.D.

Lucas Harris ’12 declared his environmental sciences major on his application to Hamilton College and his interest held. It propelled him first to a Fulbright grant and then into a Ph.D. program in geography at Penn State.

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He studies plant species and their changing distributions, with a special interest in ecological modeling, climate change and fire ecology. At Hamilton, the  environmental studies program gives students the freedom to take classes in multiple departments and to choose an interdisciplinary thesis topic, he says. “For me, it was an opportunity to connect my love for the outdoors with my academics,” Harris says.

He credits faculty and staff at Hamilton and his advisor in Finland with helping him get the Fulbright and a coveted opportunity to focus on high-level work. “The Fulbright grant was an incredible opportunity in that I could study a topic in which I was interested without worrying about the obligations or responsibilities associated with being a student or a typical researcher,” Harris says.

He worked with geography faculty at the University of Helsinki to improve species distribution models, which play a role in predicting the impact of climate change on ecological communities.