Starting this fall, Duke undergraduates will be able to pursue degrees at the Nicholas School in two new majors: Earth and Climate Sciences (ECS), and Marine Science & Conservation (MSC).

The ECS major builds on the school’s former Earth and Ocean Sciences major and enables students to immerse themselves in the study of Earth’s climate systems while still gaining solid foundational knowledge of earth sciences more broadly.

The MSC enables students to immerse themselves in a trans-disciplinary study of the marine environment and maritime communities, through courses, extensive field and lab work, and independent research opportunities on Duke’s main campus in Durham and at the renowned Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C.

Both majors were developed in response to growing student demand and in support of the school and university’s missions to empower Duke undergraduates to be future leaders of consequence.

A Focus on Climate

“Climate change is unquestionably the preeminent challenge of our time. More and more students want to be part of the solution. Our ECS major, which is the first of its kind at Duke, is designed to give them the skills and knowledge they’ll need,” said Toddi Steelman, Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School.

A hallmark of the new major will be its emphasis on experiential learning. “In the earth and environmental sciences, there’s really no substitute for active learning. The ECS curriculum gets students into the field and lab early and often,” Steelman said.

In addition to providing more opportunities for field- and lab-based learning in the major’s introductory courses, faculty are developing two new 200-level courses, one on climate science, the other on earth science, in which students will work individually with faculty to conduct extensive field-, lab- or computer-based studies.

ECS majors will be able to pursue either a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree and opt to focus their studies primarily on climate science or, more broadly, on all the related geosciences.

The BS degree is designed for those who plan to pursue careers in research or apply their scientific and analytical skills in other fields such as business, law or medicine.

The AB degree is designed for students who plan to apply their knowledge of earth and climate sciences to careers in government, environmental health, or environmental science, policy or economics.
A minor in ECS will also be offered.

A Focus on Oceans

“Nearly three-quarters of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans and the lives and livelihoods of billions of people are inextricably tied to the health of marine environments, which face mounting pressures from climate change, pollution, and increased human use of the ocean and demand for its resources,” said Steelman.

“Through its integrated focus on biological, physical and social sciences, our MSC degree provides students with a broad foundational understanding of these issues and prepares them to help lead the way to solutions,” she said.

Like the ECS major, the new MSC curriculum places a heavy emphasis on active, hands-on learning in the field and lab, and provides students with opportunities to work one on one with faculty.

All MSC students – those pursuing a BS and those pursing an AB – will begin their studies with four core courses, newly developed for the major, on Duke’s main campus. The courses are: “Humans and Changing Oceans,” “Marine Biology,” “Marine Policy and Governance,” and “Integrative Oceanography.” After completing these courses, students will be able to pursue in-depth study in the focal area of their choice, culminating in a capstone project.

Students will be encouraged, but not required, to spend at least one semester at the Duke Marine Lab.

The BS degree in MSC is intended for students who plan to pursue a graduate degree and a career in ocean sciences.

The AB degree is designed to be a general liberal arts major and targets students interested in studying social science, policy and governance related to the oceans.

A minor in MSC will also be offered.