Courses & Programs

Sustainability Studies

The Sustainability Studies degree option prepares students to pursue careers in sustainable living.

Kathleen Maiolatesi

Faculty, Sustainability

Science, Engineering & Math

Marieb 235

413.552.2462 (Tel)

What will you learn?

The Sustainability Studies degree option prepares students to pursue careers in sustainable living, in fields such as health and safety, energy and climate change, environmental research and engineering, public policy and law, resource conservation, corporate social responsibility, urban planning, advocacy and political science. The program provides a cross-disciplinary approach to learning that enables students to integrate skills and knowledge from multiple sources and experiences, and apply their understanding to personal, professional, and civic life. Transfer opportunities may exist with regional colleges and universities. 


Upon completion of this program the student will be able to:

  • Understand and experience asense of community.
  • Develop an awareness of the necessity for humans to live in tune with the environment.
  • Become familiar with the basic scientific concepts and principles in relation to ecological thinking.
  • Critically examine environmental issues and formulate a position based on science.

What will you do?

Continue your education or enter the workforce! Sustainability Studies prepares students for careers in health and safety, energy and climate change, environmental research and engineering, public policy and law, resource conservation, corporate social responsibility, urban planning, advocacy and political science. Learn more at What Can I Do With This Major?

60-61 total credits

35-36 credits General Education Requirements + 24-25 credits Suggested Electives

Depending on course selection, 50% of this program can be completed online.

General Education Requirements

This course is the first half of the college composition sequence and focuses on close reading, critical thinking, beginning research skills, and the writing process. Students will read, analyze, and cite a range of nonfiction texts. Students will produce several formal essays totaling approximately 3000 words. Prerequisite: Appropriate scores on English placement tests or C- or higher in ENG 095.
This course is the second half of the first-year composition sequence and focuses on close reading, critical thinking, academic writing, research, and the writing process. Students will locate and evaluate both primary and secondary sources, and will gain skill in summarizing and synthesizing source material while employing MLA documentation. Texts will include a range of nonfiction (articles, essays, scholarly sources) and literary works. Students will produce at least 3000 words of formal written work, including a documented essay of at least 1250 words. Prerequisite: ENG 101 with a grade of C-or higher.
Introduction to the study and principles of behavior. Topics include general principles of scientific investigation; physiological bases of behavior including sensation, perception, learning, emotion, and motivation; development; individual differences; attitudes; and group dynamics. Prerequisite: Eligibility for ENG 101.
This is a survey of the emerging field of ecopsychology, an integration of ecology and psychology. By drawing upon the science of ecology to re-examine the human psyche as an integral part of nature, ecopsychology attempts to inspire lifestyles that are both ecologically sustainable and psychologically healthy. This course provides an overview of the psychological principles and practices relevant to environmental education and action, while exploring the contributions of ecological thinking and values of the natural world to psychotherapy and personal growth. Prerequisite: PSY 110
Conventional (neoclassical) economics assumes that the economy can continue to grow forever, that well-being is determined only by market goods, and that people always act selfishly. Ecological economics in contrast, starts from the understanding that the economy is a sub-system of the global environment, and subject to its bio-physical limits. In addition, human well-being is determined by many other factors besides market goods: friendship, love, status, rights, freedom, etc. and that human behavior is far more complex than simple self-interest.The primary insight of ecological economics is that the human economy is part of the global environmental system. Ecological economics situates human activity within the environment, and the study of the natural environment includes human interests and activities. Ecological economics is a systems approach with a global perspective on human resource use, economic development, and the environment. Ecological economics is concerned not only, like other economists, with efficiency and equity, but also with environmental and social sustainability.This course provides a historical overview of various schools of economic thought, presents the major principles required to fuse ecology with economics, and helps students to analyze economic policies under the lens of ecological reality. Particular attention is paid to economic growth theory and policy as it pertains to the sustainability of human society and management of natural resources. This is a transdisciplinary course, incorporating relevant principles and practices from political science, economics, psychology, philosophy, the natural sciences and physics.Prerequisite: Any ECN course with a passing grade of C- or eligibility for MTH 095, or by permission of instructor.
Environmental history examines how humans and nature have interacted through time and with what results. The natural environment (water, land, climate, geological changes, disease, plant and animal ecology, etc.) and human factors (population, capitalism, technology, social relations, cultural attitudes, etc.) from an interrelated system. However, the environmental history of a period and place is a matter of interpretation, and this course actively explores the many facets of this new field of study. As an introduction to interpreting America's environmental past, students will explore such themes as Native American ecology, hunting, the impact of agriculture, mining, industrialization, as well as the emergence of ecology and the modern environmental movement. Prerequisite: Eligibility for English 101
This course is an introduction to the study of the different approaches to how one should treat the natural environment. Beginning with a historical overview of various indigenous technical and cultural knowledges, and then progressing to assess literature on environmental concerns, the course will proceed to interrogate such philosophical concepts as ecology, alienation, web of relations, dominant hierarchies, stewardship, survival, among others. Finally, more recent developments in contemporary philosophy such as ecofeminism, naturalist ethics, and ecological postmodernism will be explored.
Today and throughout history, some of the greatest works of literature, culture, politics, and spirituality have been rooted in the earth (to use an earthly metaphor). This class will explore various forms of literature to seek a deeper appreciation of how the world's most engaging thinkers human and non-human have embraced the beauty of the world around us and pondered the awe-inspiring power of our environment. Prerequisite: ENG 102
A college-level course including more advanced topics in algebra, functions, graphs, and problem solving. Prerequisite: MTH 095 or MTH 099 with a grade of C- or better; or completion Module 18 in the self-paced MTH 02X sequence, or adequate score on the Mathematics Placement Examination.
Graphical description of data, measures of central tendency and variability, probability and probability distributions, central limit theorem, estimation of parameters, testing hypotheses, regression and correlation, analysis of variance, and other topics in statistical inference. Prerequisite: MTH 085 or MTH 099 with a grade of C- or better; or SM12, or adequate score on the Mathematics Placement Examination.
We are faced with many critical problems in the 21st century-species extinction, diminishing energy resources, increasing population, and human civilizations' limited vision of alternatives. Whether humans can learn to manage their life styles in a sustainable manner will impact the long-term survival of all the species on this planet. Students will explore relevant environmental issues, their possible solutions, and the interconnectedness of all lives on Earth. Issues such as energy use, sustaining resource levels, preservation of biodiversity, and community sustainability will be discussed from a scientific perspective. Seminars, laboratory experiments, community-based learning and field trips are all integral components of the course.
This course provides an overview of renewable energy resources including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, tidal, wave, hydropower, and hydrogen. Students will learn basic principles of each technology and its application for both new and existing buildings, and for transportation. Students will investigate the potential of each technology to help solve current and future energy demands the society faces. Topics covered will include governmental regulations, analysis of renewable energy systems, calculation of savings, and financing options available.

Suggested Electives

Students will be introduced to a basic language of visual elements (line, shape and three-dimensional form, color, space, texture, and value) and principles of design. Students will investigate how and why images are made, and how they are received and experienced. Art and visual culture will be critically evaluated. This course will engage a broad range of imagery, encompassing a variety of styles, purposes, iconographic themes, and media (such as painting, sculpture, photography, film and video, advertising, and Internet).
An emphasis on the conservation of the world's different organisms and habitats. Students will become familiar with the issues and problems associated with protecting biodiversity. We will examine the science of conservation genetics, species diversity, community interactions, ecosystem and landscape ecology, and the global biosphere. Through case studies, we will explore the complex, interdisciplinary nature of conservation issues such as endangered species protection, habitat loss, land use management, ecological restoration, and sustainable development. In the laboratory, students will conduct field research, visit important local conservation areas, work with computer models, and become familiar with the tools scientists use to accomplish conservation objectives. Field labs require walking over woodland terrain.
A study of the interrelationships between plants and animals and the physical factors in their environment. Population, distribution, community structure, and ecosystems are analyzed by laboratory and field observations. (Field trips require moderate walking.) Prerequisite: A semester course in college biology or environmental science
This course is an introduction to video production with an emphasis on production skills and effective visual communication. Through screening and discussion of video and film, as well as group and individual projects, students will learn how to communicate their ideas through the medium of video production. The course covers such topics as story boarding, camera work and composition, editing, lighting and sound design, genres, and how to design and plan a production. No prior video experience is necessary, however access to a video camera is required.
Be on the cutting edge with this opportunity to develop communication skills in various professional scenarios. As a future professional, employers will expect students to perform speeches of various complexity and format. It is important for professionals to have dynamic communication skills in diverse practical scenarios. In this course students will have a variety of opportunities to gain confidence and skills with interviewing, persuasion, presentation technology, presentation development, problem solving, creativity, leadership and speaking dynamism. This class is suited to students who wish to increase their communication skills in professional fields such as marketing, education, law, politics, management, public relations or health professions (among others). Prerequisite: COM 150
This course introduces students in any area of study to the fundamentals of using a range of electronic media to communicate information and ideas. It covers methods for digitally creating audio, visual images, and multimedia. Specific skills covered are: textual communication, digital sound editing, digital image manipulation, and interactive multimedia authoring. Through individualized projects, students have the opportunity to experience the effect of different media on information.
Introduces perspectives from which human communication may be studied. Focuses on how we communicate with one another, looking specifically at the symbols we use and analyzing how they influence our thinking and behavior. Provides a conceptual foundation for examining language, nonverbal communication, small group behavior, and the impact of mass media on patterns of human interaction.
Introduces students to the necessary elements of informative and persuasive public speaking. The course includes performance analysis of speakers and major historical speeches. Course skills learned are useful in all forms of oral presentation in professional and academic settings. Students are required to attend one outside speaking performance, to deliver several speeches in class, and to participate in group discussion. Please note that this course replaces SPE 120 - Fundamentals of Speech. Students will not receive credit for both SPE 120 and COM 150.
This course provides an introduction to the basic principles and processes of economic theory and analysis, as well as exploring applications to contemporary issues. This course also provides basic knowledge concerning the role, use, and interpretation of graphs and equations within economics. Fundamental topics and questions in both microeconomics and macroeconomics are presented to provide a broad background for understanding economic issues.
This course is designed for transfer students planning to major in liberal arts, as well as others interested in developing a clear, efficient prose style. This course will emphasize the techniques of academic research, including formulating research questions, using sources, constructing arguments, planning and drafting essays, and revising effectively. Course work will focus on student writing, but may include analysis of non-fiction prose chosen by the instructor. Prerequisite: ENG 102
A study of the scientific principles and processes underlying the interrelationships between humans and the environment. Concepts used to evaluate problems and options available in dealing with population growth, wise use of natural resources, and environmental degradation and pollution are considered in this course. Major topics include the evolution of human-environment relationships; principles of matter and energy; structure, function, and dynamics of ecosystems; and water, food, agriculture, land wildlife and plant resources. Laboratory exercises include field experiences and computer simulations.
An introduction to the rich geologic history and the diverse natural flora and fauna of the region. New England possesses a great assortment of landforms and ecological systems in a relatively small geographic area. The geologic past included volcanoes, lava flows, collisions and divergences of continental plates, and most recently retreating glaciers. This newly renovated landscape made way for a succession of varied forest types and other ecosystems as the flora and fauna adapted to this newly warming and geologically overhauled environment. Geologic history of the New England, natural and human disturbance, forest succession, and the resulting shifting mosaic of the biotic community will be discussed. Field experiences require some walking over uneven terrain.
The exploration of environmental geology, an applied science, will include the fundamentals of geologic processes and the Earth's natural resources, with an emphasis on the human interaction within the geologic environment. Lecture topics included in this course: general overview of rocks and minerals, geologic hazards (e.g., earthquakes, volcanoes, mass wasting, flooding), soil formation and documentation, geological landscapes (e.g., glacial deposits, lava flows, and floodplains), groundwater, waste management, land-use planning and current events in geology. Laboratory exercises, which are intended to reinforce the lecture topics, will include: field visits to local geologic points of interest, computer simulations, and hands-on investigations.
This course is an overview of the major principles and techniques required for the detailed investigation and documentation of soil conditions. Consideration is given to the physical and chemical properties of soil development. Topics to be covered include soil forming factors, soil profile genesis, layer and horizon nomenclature, soil texture and the applications of soil science to scientific studies. Lecture and field/laboratory exercises are designed to introduce the student to the qualitative and quantitative methods of the soil assessment process. A major component of this course will be a student project that emphasizes field investigation integrated with internet research.
This course focuses on the biological, chemical, and physical aspects of environmental pollution and considers the relationships between environment and society. Major topics include mineral and energy resources; pesticides; environment and human health; solid and hazardous wastes; and air, water, and land pollution. Environmental ethics; environment and law; and the relationships between the environment, economics and government are also covered. Laboratory exercises include field experiences and computer simulations.
This course is an overview of the major principles and techniques required for the assessment and reporting of site conditions utilized to identify any potential environmental problems. Consideration is given to the sources of pollution and the current methods available (aerial photo-interpretation, GIS, soil maps, vegetation identification) to measure and assess extent of pollution. Classroom lecture is designed to introduce the student to qualitative and quantitative methods of the site assessment process. A major component of this course is a groundwater simulation project which emphasizes the team approach to solving complex environmental problems.Prerequisite: ENV 120, ENV 140Corequisite: ENV 137 (concurrently)
A study of the aquatic environment as an ecosystem with emphasis on responses to pollution. The physical, chemical, and biological parameters of the aquatic ecosystem are systematically surveyed. Eutrophication as a natural process of succession in lentic systems is described and interrelationships within the lake are defined. Responses of lakes and streams to both natural enrichment and anthropogenic pollution are explored. In-lake restoration and watershed management are investigated as technologies to restore and prevent water quality degradation. Laboratory investigations and field studies stress collection, identification, classification, and analysis of biotic and abiotic ecosystem components as a means of assessing water quality and pollution effects. Students will design and conduct a small scale water quality sampling/analysis program. Prerequisites: One semester of environmental science or biology
An introduction to the scientific concepts that provide an explanation for the formation of mountains, continents, and oceans. Topics include plate tectonic theory, minerals and mineral formation, rock cycle, weathering and erosion, geologic time, historical geology, volcanoes and earthquakes, rivers and streams, glaciers, landscapes, and ocean basins.
An introduction to the scientific concepts that provide an explanation to the formation of oceans and the nature of the global marine environment. Topics include seafloor dynamics and plate tectonic theory, the origin of oceans basins, the earth beneath the sea, marine sedimentation, properties of seawater, wind and ocean circulation El Nino weather patterns, waves and tides, beaches and coasts, coastal habitats, marine ecology and coral reefs.
An introductory appreciation course, open to all students. Explores music outside the Western European tradition, including music of Polynesia, Native North America, Latin America, Africa and Black America, Eastern Europe, the Mideast, Indonesia, India, and Japan. Specific topics chosen from these areas will be studied.
Focuses on how to make better philosophical arguments about moral matters and thus how to make more informed decisions in a morally complex world. Discusses some central moral theories (such as natural law, utilitarianism, Kantian moral theory, virtue ethics, and feminist moral theories) which have informed Western philosophy's views on ethical decision-making. May address different philosophical arguments on issues such as abortion, animal rights, and the death penalty.
An introduction to the scope and methods of political science. Particular attention will be given to the historical development of such basic political concepts as politics, power, the state, justice, authority, constitutions and citizenship, personhood, equality, representation, liberty, institutions, and ideology. Various methods used by political scientists to analyze political life and organization will also be studied. Prerequisite: Eligibility for ENG 101
An introduction to the structure, functions, and politics of the United States national (federal) government within its historical, constitutional, social, and theoretical context.
An introduction to the structure, function, and politics of United States government at the state, county, and municipal levels, emphasizing their roles within the federal system.
A study of the principles of development, learning, and measurement applied to educational situations. Examination of contemporary theories of learning. Prerequisite: PSY 110
An introduction to the study, principles and findings of Social Psychology. Topics include methods of research; social perception (self-perception, perception of others and perceiving groups); social influence (attitudes and conformity); social relations (attractions, altruism and aggression) and applying social psychology (law, business and health). Prerequisite: PSY 110
A scientific examination of human social phenomena. Major topics include interaction, statuses and roles, groups, social institutions, culture, socialization, social control, conforming and deviant behavior, collective behavior, social inequality, demography, social change, urbanism, industrialism and globalization.Prerequisite: Eligibility for ENG 101
The relationships among different racial and ethnic groups and the dominant culture in the United States from a socio-historical perspective. Particular attention will be given to such concepts as dominant-minority group relations, racism, discrimination, ethnicity, immigration, assimilation, and pluralism. Some of the groups analyzed are African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans. Prerequisite: SOC 110
This course offers students an opportunity to study and engage in Community Service Learning structured around a specific topic or theme that may change each time the course is offered. Students will begin by exploring such important questions as, what is Community Service Learning? How does Community Service Learning work as a pedagogy? What defines a Community? How is it created? How is it sustained? What is power? What is democracy? What are effective strategies of engagement in the community? In addition, students will intensively study the specific topics selected (e.g. homeless) and then design and implement a community service learning project based on what they have learned. The semester will culminate with students reflecting upon the evolution of their work and reporting on that evolution in written and/or oral format. Prerequisite: Eligibility for ENG 101
Critically examines the cycle of conflict in western society and provides an overview of traditional and alternative strategies of conflict resolution, including mediation. The complexities of power imbalances and cultural differences are explored within the frameworks of personal and structural conflict. Conflict is viewed as an opportunity for growth and empowerment, rather than merely as a problem to be solved. Students learn conflict resolution and mediation skills that are transferable to work, home and school.
This course provides the students with the opportunity to understand and explore energy efficiency/conservation strategies. In lab, students will learn to demonstrate the appropriate usage of energy monitoring and measuring equipment commonly used by energy specialists and energy auditors. In the field, energy consuming facilities, both residential and commercial, will be analyzed by students for energy efficiency. Students will learn to calculate energy savings and environmental impacts in order to assess the optimum energy consumption strategies.
This course provides a comprehensive training in the application of wind power technology. Students will gain an understanding of wind power as a sustainable form of energy and learn the fundamental science behind harnessing wind and converting it to electrical energy. We will look at the process for siting, developing, constructing, operating and maintaining wind energy projects of different scales, from residential and small commercial to municipal and utility scale.
This supervised field-training program will further the hands-on skills students have acquired in SUS 104: Introduction to Solar Energy and SUS 105: Introduction to Wind Energy. They will work with an appropriate energy-resource specific industry partner and gain field experience in the performance of tasks appropriate for each of the renewable energy technology certificate programs. Students will be expected to work 225 hours with the industry partner. Prerequisites: SUS 104 or SUS 105 or SUS 113 and SUS 114
Introduces acting fundamentals, which include improvisational techniques, actor relationships to the audience, voice and diction work, script analysis, and character development. Exercises to increase self-confidence and to enhance communication skills are stressed. There will be opportunities to prepare and rehearse scenework in preparation for furthering performance skills.
The choices we make in our everyday eating habits, whether we choose to eat fast food, or healthy meals, has an impact on the sustainability of our environment. Choosing to eat locally grown, organic produce can help to preserve our soil, water and biodiversity resources while reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. This course will examine the history of agriculture, how contemporary food culture is defined, and current agricultural practices, including the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Scientific analysis of soil and water will be included. Students will explore a variety of farming practices while working in community-based field labs at a local farm and at the HCC organic garden.
This course will cover the fundamentals of system- level ecological interactions, such as populationecology and stability, as applied to sustainable agricultural systems. In addition, we will explore ways to make the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle through participation in a local food system. Topics covered will include GMO's, species interactions in agricultural systems and landscape diversity. The laboratory will include composting, worm castings, green manures and cover crops.
This course is designed for people with no electrical background who plan to work in the clean energy or construction industries in positions which require electrical knowledge. Students will gain an understanding of how electricity works in residential, commercial and industrial settings. Topics covered will include generation and distribution of electricity, circuits, transformers, and the National Electrical Code.
An introduction to sustainability studies through the lens of human ecology: exploring relationships between nature and culture; understanding current challenges to global and local ecologies and the cultures imbedded in them; considering varied solutions to social/environmental problems; creating new visions of healthy nature/culture relations; enhancing personal motivations for engaging in solutions.
This course will explore in depth a current and/or historical topic in environmental sustainability. The focus of the course will vary and will include topics in agriculture, energy, and green building among others. This topics course will possibly explore concepts such as permaculture and the differences between genetically modified, hybrid and heirloom varieties of plants, including experiments with growth patterns, variability, yield and taste. Field studies may be conducted in the HCC organic garden. Research on topics of interest may include primary source materials. Prerequisite: None
This course provides a comprehensive training in the application of solar thermal technology. Students will gain an understanding of the solar energy resource and its adaptive application in a variety of strategies including passive solar and active solar thermal. In addition, students will practice designing systems on site for a given location and explore the potential of a solar-based economy. The laboratory will train students to conduct solar energy site assessments, install solar thermal systems and promote the use of solar energy in residential, commercial and municipal facilities.
This course provides a comprehensive training in the application of solar technology. Students will gain an understanding of the solar energy resource and its adaptive application in the use of photovoltaics. In addition, students will practice designing systems on site for a given location and explore the potential of a solar-based economy. The laboratory will train students to conduct solar energy site assessments, install solar photovoltaic systems and promote the use of solar energy in residential, commercial and municipal facilities.
The 21st century has been labeled the green century, and promises expanded opportunities for careers oriented toward sustainability. This course explores the diverse array of expanding green career opportunities and the impact of sustainability on existing occupations and industries. Students identify local career opportunities while engaging community members and organizations. Students develop important work-finding skills such as resume creation, interviewing and networking.
Recent emphasis on making buildings greener has led to considerable confusion. Just what is meant by the term? This class will explore that multi-level problem and take a hands-on approach to implementing tested strategies for designing and building structures that are highly energy efficient, environmentally friendly, healthy, and durable. The course will cover the connections between occupant health and the choice of structural and finish materials, the careful control of air exchange and thermal transfer, the use of renewable energy sources, and industry standards for system efficiencies.
This supervised field training program will further the hands-on skills students have acquired in previous Sustainable Agriculture courses. Students will work with an appropriate agricultural industry partner to gain field experience in sustainable farming practices. Students will be expected to work 225 hours in this internship. Prerequisites: SUS 116, SUS 216 and SUS 220
Clean energy is becoming a priority as our global community faces the challenge of climate change. At the same time agriculture is changing to meet the needs of a more environmentally aware consuming public. In this intercollegiate and collaborative course students will learn how to apply clean energy technologies to sustainable agriculture practices. This class brings together students at Holyoke Community College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst to learn a variety of emerging technologies. Topics will include solar, wind, and geothermal technologies, ecological farming, greenhouse management, rainwater collections, root zone heating and considerations of social justice. This course is intended for second year students.Prerequisite: Permission of instructor is required. Field trips will involve physical activity and appropriate dress.

Only six non-Arts and Science credits may be taken towards an A.A. degree.

Choice depends on transfer institution's preference. Credit will not be given for both MTH 142 and PSY 142 because of the similar content.

Transfer opportunities exist with integrated programs at numerous colleges and universities including the following regional institutions:

  • Westfield State University Interdisciplinary Environmental Science Major
  • Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Multidisciplinary Environmental Studies Major
  • University of Massachusetts at Amherst - Sustainability Studies
  • University of Vermont Integrated Environmental Studies Program
  • Amherst College Environmental Studies Program

No offered agreements are in place, these are only possible schools and programs.For those students interested specifically in Environmental Science, please refer to the Environmental Science Program.

This program qualifies for MassTransfer, which guarantees credit transfer to Massachusetts state colleges and universities. MassTransfer also will grant students automatic acceptance to certain state colleges and universities by achieving the minimum grade point average and the HCC degree.