GECS Major and Minor

The interdisciplinary GECS major and minor introduce students to both the science of the Earth and its living and nonliving systems, as well as how humans interact with those systems. GECS is also solution-focused, examining how humans can use powerful tools, such as policy and communication, to help those systems. The goals are to advance awareness of the magnitude and consequences of these issues and to train the next generation of problem-solvers to address the effects of global environmental change.

Students’ backgrounds are typically specialized within traditional disciplines; a primary purpose of this major is to develop the ability of students to venture beyond the confines of those disciplines. Students will be exposed to theory, research, and the practical applications of both throughout their coursework.

Major in Global Environmental Change and Sustainability

The GECS core requirements provide all majors with a solid background in the study of both the environmental science and social science of our changing world. After completing the core requirements, students will choose either the environmental science or social science concentration for more in-depth study in their area of greater interest. Both concentrations require courses in both environmental science and social science; the proportion will depend on the concentration.

A key component of the GECS major is the senior capstone experience, involving the research, planning, and execution of a tangible sustainability project on or off campus. The capstone experience provides the academic space, time, and mentoring for the student to integrate and synthesize the knowledge and skills obtained during the previous three years into a coherent framework in preparation for life after graduation.

To further enhance the students’ perspective of the global nature of the issues and differences in world views of different cultures, the major will cultivate and nurture relationships with international institutions to provide a variety of culturally and academically challenging opportunities abroad to augment the JHU experience.

Learning Goals
  • Interdisciplinarity: The ability to study, synthesize, and integrate interdisciplinary knowledge and research methodologies when evaluating or seeking solutions to environmental problems.
  • Knowledge: Students will be well grounded in a broad set of disciplines within the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities that are relevant to global environmental change and sustainability. These may include, but are not limited to, ecology, biology, environmental law and policy, environmental economics, natural resource management, environmental ethics, geography, political science, chemistry, engineering, anthropology, sociology, physics, communication science, mathematics and statistics, and psychology. Individual students may find themselves drawn toward either environmental science or social science approaches to addressing environmental problems. Whereas all students will develop knowledge and skills in both fields, the program is structured to allow students to focus on either approach.
  • Critical thinking skills: The ability to analyze, interpret, and synthesize information and ideas from diverse sources, to evaluate the relevance and validity of information, empirical evidence, and theoretical arguments, and to solve challenging problems and arrive at well-reasoned conclusions.
  • Research: The ability to develop a research topic, articulate a thesis, employ relevant quantitative and qualitative research methods, understand the strengths and limitations of various research designs, evaluate and interpret the results, document and effectively use sources, and communicate the conclusions.
  • Communication: The ability to express facts, ideas, opinions, and beliefs in a variety of written and oral formats, to organize and present evidence-based scientific ideas, to communicate scientific understanding to both scientific and general audiences, and to write and speak clearly, precisely, and cohesively.
  • Hands-on experience: Through the capstone experience, students will complete hands-on projects involving original research, internships, service projects, and field trips. In the process, they will synthesize and integrate the knowledge and skills obtained through their coursework into a coherent framework and project, in preparation for life after graduation.

Requirements for the major include a total of 24 courses (81 credits) if the Environmental Science Concentration is chosen, or 25 courses (78 credits) if the Social Science Concentration is chosen. Students must also complete 6 additional Humanities (H) credits to fulfill the University’s distribution requirements.  Relevant courses completed to fulfill these additional distribution requirements can also count towards the GECS major.  Several GECS courses in Table 1 (e.g. all of the Communications requirement courses) and Table 4 can be taken as electives to fulfill this requirement.

Courses can be selected from a diversity of offerings available from different departments. GECS majors take a core of 13 foundational courses. Core courses are offered through the departments of Earth & Planetary Sciences, Mathematics, Economics, Chemistry, Engineering, and Political Science.

For electives, the major draws upon additional pertinent course offerings from these departments as well as from anthropology, biology, physics, and history. Economics, sociology, and political science are especially relevant to global environmental change and sustainability, both in their contributions to the problems we face and in their potential contributions to solutions for achieving sustainability. JHU is fortunate to have many courses from these disciplines with vitally relevant content. As such, these three disciplines contribute the majority of the social science elective courses.

Specific course requirements can be found in the GECS description PDF.


Majors who complete their four years with a GPA of 3.5 or above in their GECS courses and receive an A on their capstone product will receive a BA in GECS with honors.

To notify the university that you are eligible for honors, you must:

  • Complete the honors checklist [link] between February 1 and March 1 of your senior year and take it to Dr. Cindy Parker for review and signature
  • Return the signed checklist to the Office of Academic Advising by April 1. You do not need to make an appointment to return the checklist, but it must be signed by Dr. Parker or it will not be processed.

Minor in Global Environmental Change and Sustainability

The GECS minor consists of seven courses. A total of five Earth and environmental science courses provide the science basis of the minor, which is then rounded out with two relevant social science courses. All minors are required to take two core courses: Intro to Global Environmental Change provides the necessary content about the science of the Earth and its environments, and Intro to Sustainability provides a thorough overview of the interactions between humans and the Earth’s systems and how those interactions could become sustainable.

Students then have a choice of one of four other science courses. Students must choose two more courses from the list of Earth and environmental science electives and two more courses from the list of social science electives. At least one course from each elective list must be upper level. Specific course requirements can be found in the GECS description PDF.