Environmental Science

At Drake University, we feel that environmental science should be studied outside of a classroom whenever possible. The Drake environmental science program is exceptional because of its emphasis on field experience, research and independent study—all of which provide students with outstanding career preparation.

As an environmental science major specializing in physical science or life science, you’ll take at least 6 classes in the field as you learn to understand the connections between human beings and the Earth’s environment.

Through classroom, laboratory and fieldwork, you’ll develop an in-depth knowledge of natural science while also acquiring the ability to synthesize information across disciplines. Fieldwork is a cornerstone of the courses you’ll take in a variety of disciplines, including biology, geology and environmental science.

Your specific curriculum will be catered to your career goals. You’ll have the opportunity to choose between two course tracks: the physical science track will expose you to areas such as aquatic biology, environmental geology, molecular biology, water resources, and energy and the environment; the life sciences track features courses such as field ornithology, conservation biology, mammalogy and field botany. 

Full-time faculty members, all of whom hold the highest degrees in their fields, are dedicated to teaching at all levels of study and assisting students in field research. Their areas of expertise include water resources, hydrology, geology, conservation biology, insect biology, economic and environmental modeling, and climate change.

The environmental science and policy program has everything you’ll need to support forays into the field, including access to two 4-wheel drive vehicles, a cargo trailer, a boat and boat trailer, two canoes, considerable camping equipment, and various research and prescribed burning equipment.

Careers and Internships

Even before you graduate, your preparation for practical and professional environmental work will culminate in a senior capstone project in the environmental sciences. Recent projects for real governmental and non-governmental clients have involved planning conservation corridors for Rwandan chimpanzees, restoration of Tallgrass prairie in Winnebago Nation tribal lands, and mapping habitat suitability for Sandhill Cranes and Ornate Box Turtles.

Students in the environmental science program have worked with the Great Ape Trust and National Geographic, traveled to Rwanda and South America for environmental work, studied forestry in southern Indiana, and engaged in numerous other research opportunities both on and off-campus. Drake’s January term facilitates immersive travel and study opportunities, including winter ecology and a seminar in the Galapagos Islands. 

Iowa's central location in the nation allows students to experience a diversity of ecosystems and human communities during frequently offered weekend field trips. The program also connects students with ongoing environmental projects (for example an 8,000 acre prairie restoration project including bison and elk at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, 20 miles east of campus), with offerings at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory in Milford, Iowa (a biological field station), and with semester-long marine science experiences at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Students have spent the summers working as research assistants, legislative aides, and for natural resource and environmental organizations.

Examples of employers students have had include:

  • Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge
  • Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
  • Sierra Club, Student Conservation Association
  • National Forest Service (back country ranger)
  • Iowa Department of Natural Resources
  • Iowa Environmental Council Polk County Conservation Board

Student Organizations

Drake offers more than 100 student organizations for a wide variety of issues and interests. Students in the environmental science and policy program often join the Drake Environmental Action League (DEAL), the Drake Outdoor Leadership Club, and become involved with off campus groups such as the Iowa Environmental Council. Students in these groups not only make friends, they make a difference: Recently, DEAL members implemented a building-wide recycle program with Des Moines’ Roosevelt High School.

Requirements for Major

The Environmental Science major is offered as two tracks — Physical Science and Life Science, both of which require 60 credits. These are designed to provide students with a combination of coursework that will best develop the expertise and experience that is appropriate for their specific career goals. Completion of one of these tracks is required for the Environmental Science degree. Students are strongly encouraged to develop additional depth in focus areas of interest to them through additional minors, concentrations or related science courses beyond the common required outline, in conversation with their academic advisors and the program director. Students planning to attend graduate school should work carefully with their advisor to determine what additional courses will be needed to prepare for graduate admission.

Honors and Accreditations

  • Dennis O'Brien Environmental Science Award
  • Award for Promise in Environmental Science and Policy
  • Environmental Policy Scholar/Citizen Award
  • Environmental Science and Policy Outstanding Research Award
  • Central Iowa Mineralogical Society Award

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