Our bachelor’s degree in environmental science is an immersive, multifaceted experience. Drawing on the resources of a diverse, world-class university, it emphasizes real-world practice—getting students off campus to solve problems with companies, organizations and communities. Along the way, students create their experience, using the campus, city and vast natural areas of California as living laboratories. After they graduate, 80 percent go on to work in environmental professions, while others use what they’ve learned to pursue careers in social science, business, the arts and more.
The classroom portion of the degree is rooted in physical and life sciences, including chemistry, biology, mathematics and physics. And because environmental issues are human issues, all students also take multiple classes in social sciences and humanities—learning subjects such as public policy, politics, journalism and justice. To make this happen, IoES partners with departments across campus. This broad education prepares them to take on the complex, pressing environmental issues the world faces.
On a near-daily basis throughout the school year, global experts come to UCLA to present cutting-edge research at lectures and symposiums. With the Environmental Science Colloquium, students receive academic credit for making the most of this resource.
IoES also produces premier events to engage broad audiences on topics such as renewable energy, GMOs and transportation. Communicating with the public as well as stakeholders and decision makers is an integral part of environmental science and an important feature of all of our academic programs.
Educating tomorrow’s leaders means empowering them. UCLA environmental science students play a large role in directing their own education. After laying a strong foundation in the sciences, students choose one of seven minors/concentrations, which are indicated on their diplomas:
- Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences
- Conservation Biology
- Environmental Engineering
- Environmental Health
- Environmental Systems and Society
- Geography/Environmental Studies
- Earth and Environmental Science
The minors appear on students diplomas and come from our direct collaboration with six partners at UCLA: Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; Civil and Environmental Engineering; Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Environmental Health Sciences; and Geography.
The annual junior retreat is a fun way to develop greater camaraderie among students, researchers, faculty and alumni while getting out in nature. The event provides information on IoES and its research efforts, opportunities within the degree program, and introduces students to analytical skills training as a precursor to the Senior Practicum sequence they will undertake the following year.
In 2016, students went to UC Santa Barbara’s Sedgwick Reserve—a world-class research and conservation center located on nine wildlife-rich square miles in the Santa Ynez Valley. Environmental science major students went on hikes, participated in field exercises and met alumni who shared strategies for successfully navigating upper division classes and life beyond UCLA.
The degree culminates with the one-of-a-kind senior practicum, a yearlong program that pairs small groups of students with nonprofit organizations, businesses and public agencies. The students are presented with real problems these organizations need to solve. They devise a plan of research and put it into action, reporting on their findings and outcomes at the end of the year.
In 2022, a few practicum projects:
- Improved the sustainability of an agricultural program for formerly incarcerated youth in Cameroon that seeks to reduce recidivism and teach program participants employable skills.
- Developed a sustainable waste management plan for the Aquarium of the Pacific’s municipal and recyclable waste and also assessed the aquarium’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- Analyzed the conservation status of an endangered toad species, conducted an experiment to determine the impact of a planned water release on invasive species and created a model to determine suitable habitats for the toad.
- Investigated correlations between coastal water turbidity measurements recorded by satellites and water quality metrics measured in the lab to advance the use of satellite data for real-time water quality assessments.
- Provided the Sri Lankan government with a spatial and cost-benefit analysis assessing the effect of diverting shipping lanes on whale mortalities.
Sustainability Action Research
Student-led teams use the UCLA campus as a living lab to research topics including stormwater capture, green purchasing and native habitat restoration.
A community of experience
When school is in session, UCLA effectively becomes a city of 80,000 people, nested in one of the world’s most diverse megacities. The population of greater L.A. is 18.68 million, and it’s growing. And yet there is a wealth of nature all around. From the Santa Monica Mountains to the beaches of Malibu, Los Angeles is a case study in how an urban humanity interacts with nature. Water, food supply, energy, pollution and environmental justice are all part of the picture.
Taking on major challenges, UCLA aims to reduce potable water use by 36 percent and become the first major research university to reach carbon neutrality by 2025. Students have strong voice in policy decisions by sitting on sustainability committees. And through UCLA Grand Challenges, the university strives to make L.A. County sustainable in energy, water and ecosystems by 2050.
Students play a large role in finding solutions by:
- Using the campus as a living lab to research topics including stormwater capture, green purchasing and native habitat restoration on student-led action research teams.
- Living in a freshman sustainability-themed dorm that explores earth-conscious lifestyles and environmental advocacy.
- Joining student-led environmental groups that take on issues ranging from renewable energy to educating L.A.’s youth.
- Producing public events and services such as the university farmers market, Earth Day activities and “Ecochella”—an environmentally-friendly twist on the massive Indio music festival.
Spending time in nature
Los Angeles and UCLA have the best of both worlds when it comes to studying the environment—lots of people and lots of nature, though you may not know it by reputation. Twenty-five percent of L.A. County is protected parkland. Students and alumni alike take advantage of these open spaces on their own or in groups such as the Hiking Club and the Bruin Naturalists Club.
There’s plenty of green on campus, too. The Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden is a place of beauty and biodiversity, learning and relaxation. Meanwhile, Sage Hill features native flora and fauna, with 50 higher plant species, seven mammals, 17 species of butterfly and 30 resident and migratory bird species. And drought-tolerant gardens are just steps from the front door of IoES.
UCLA also maintains environmental field stations—Stunt Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains and the White Mountain Research Center along 10,000 feet of elevation in the Sierra Nevada.