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Environmental Education

Liberal Studies Students: Love teaching and have a passion for the environment? You have the opportunity to design your own unique concentration. Consider declaring an ICS (Individualized Course of Study) concentration that puts you on a path towards becoming an Environmental Educator!


What Is Environmental Education?

“Environmental education (EE) is a process that helps individuals, communities, and organizations learn more about the environment, and develop skills and understanding about how to address global challenges. It has the power to transform lives and society. It informs and inspires. It influences attitudes. It motivates action. EE is a key tool in expanding the constituency for the environmental movement and creating healthier and more civically-engaged communities.” (North American Association for Environmental Education)

Why Become an Environmental Educator?

Becoming an environmental educator provides one with a unique opportunity to transcend the boundaries of a classroom. Environmental educators are entrusted with the responsibility of connecting people to the natural world and promoting environmental literacy for future generations. By empowering people with an awareness and appreciation for the environment, they are more likely to protect it. Outdoor education also provides a unique learning experience for students. Experiential learning is often more effective as it puts the information into context and is highly memorable.

Roots of Environmental Education

Environmental Education aims to educate in, from, and about the natural environment. Issues regarding a lack of human interaction with nature have been expressed in early works of Emerson and Thoreau dating back to the 1800’s. These are often said to be the foundational works behind Environmental Education. These ideas were further explored by wilderness writers and explorers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These first works discussed the conservation and preservation of resources and habitat. Today, these concepts have evolved into concern over environmental quality, awareness, and literacy. Environmental Education is the result of these conversations.

Read more about Roots of Environmental Education

Soil erosion, dust storms, and floods of the 1930’s in America sparked public interest in conservation and resource management. Environmental Education has been notably shaped by events such as the Conference for the Establishment of the International Union for the Protection of Nature (IUCN) in 1948. This conference highlighted the protection of nature and habitats. These issues gained public momentum in the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s. In 1972, 26 environmental principles were established at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. The most critical of these principles for environmental education was principle 19, which called for “education in environmental matters, for the younger generation as well as adults”. The Belgrade Charter in 1975 expanded the United Nations principles to include goals, objectives, audiences, and guiding principles. This is where one of the first definitions of Environmental Education was established. The growth of academic standards in the US in the sprouted the Guidelines for the Initial Preparation of Environmental Educators and Environmental Material: Guidelines for Excellence in 1996 by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), which provided guidelines and benchmarks that are now used to evaluate Environmental Education materials. This was followed by the publication of an additional document in 1999. Titled Excellence in Environmental Education – Guidelines for Learning (K-12), the document provided standards for quality environmental education.

Environmental Education in California

Environmental education has become increasingly important in our world today. Today's actions have direct implications on the environment, for people and their future. Environmental educators connect people to nature through education and equip learners with the tools to make well-informed decisions about their environment. In recognizing this, the California Environmental Literacy Task Force produced, A blueprint for Environmental Literacy: Educating Every Student In, About, and For the Environment (2015). This document outlines strategies for achieving the goal of creating environmentally literate students in the state of California. Another set of documents was produced as a result of a California bill calling for environment-based curriculum in California public schools, which became the California Education and Environment Initiative (EEI). EEI curriculum is supported by the Environmental Principles and Concepts (EP&C’s). These principles and concepts were designed to align with California’s existing academic content standards. Today, guidelines have been published that link the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) with EEI curriculum, making it easier than ever to enrich science education with environmental education.

Cal Poly Pathways: Individualized Course of Study (ICS)

  • “The Individualized Course of Study provides an opportunity for students to pursue a course of study that meets their individual needs and interests. The student selects their courses in consultation with the department head and provides written justification for the courses and the way they constitute a cohesive, integrated program of study. The list of courses serves as a contract between the student and the department.”
  • Concentrations must total to 20 units, at least 4 units of upper division (300-400) level coursework.

Coursework for the Environmental Education ICS can be found here.  One course should be taken from each of the content areas.

Local Involvement and Internship Opportunities


  • Watershed Education Intern
  • Communications Intern
  • Senior Project Collaboration Opportunities

For more information please visit the Creeklands Website or contact Don Chartrand.

 One Cool Earth

  • Garden Educator Assistant Intern
    • “The Garden Educator Assistant will work with students and assist a One Cool Earth’s Garden Educator Manager (GEM) with preparing and teaching lessons in school gardens. The position would be well-suited for someone who enjoys working with children and has a background knowledge or strong interest in gardening, education, nutrition, biology, and/or natural resource management.”
  • Waste Audit Internship
    • “The Waste Audit Intern will assist a One Cool Earth Garden Educator Manager (GEM) to educate students at school-wide waste audits in which students sort, track and measure all of the “trash” that is produced on campus in a 24-hour period. The position would be well-suited for someone who enjoys working with children and has background knowledge or strong interest in sustainability, education, environmental science, and waste management.”
  • Family Cooking Nights Intern
    • “The Family Cooking Nights Intern will work with the Family Cooking Night Lead Organizer to encourage families to adopt cooking and eating together, even if for one night out of the week. The position would be well-suited for someone who enjoys working with children and has a background knowledge or strong interest in nutrition, culinary arts, event planning, or education.”
  • Individualized Program

For more information on internships through One Cool Earth, you may contact their Communications Coordinator, Miranda Beal.

Cal Poly Clubs and Organizations

Sprout Up provides free, youth-led environmental education programs to 1st and 2nd-grade classrooms in public schools throughout California. Our college student-instructors teach children vital concepts in environmental science and sustainability during the earliest stages of their educational development, cultivating the next generation of passionate caretakers of the earth. Through activities, experiments, and discussions, we get kids thinking in new ways about the world that surrounds them, inspiring them to bring the message of environmental stewardship home to their families and friends. In this way, we strive to promote sustainability throughout our many communities, from the youngest members of society up. 

    Beyond Cal Poly

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