Recommended Programs for Certificate in Sustainability

The Certificate in Sustainability at the University of Iowa is designed for students who wish to gain an “understanding of human and environmental systems and the complex interaction between them”. This topic is especially relevant in the modern social and economic climate, in which businesses, governments, and individuals are growing increasingly aware of the challenges of managing the world’s resources. The certificate itself is suited to a diverse array of academic disciplines, and it encompasses four areas of “breadth electives”: Changing environments and human health; Energy, climate, and built environments; The power of culture and society; and finally Ethics, economics, and public policy. Students seeking the certificate must also gain experience analyzing real-life problems in and outside of the classroom, and will learn to work collaboratively to solve such problems.

Given the multidisciplinary necessities and breadth of this field, study abroad is a natural partner. Studying abroad allows students to integrate the learning they have done and will continue to do in the United States with international experience and new perspectives. This is highly consistent with the demands and rewards of the Certificate in Sustainability, which gives students “the knowledge and skills to contribute to developing sustainable systems”. See this page for a more detailed overview of the certificate and its requirements.

This Major Advising Page is designed to help UI students who are currently seeking the certificate (or those who are considering doing so) and who wish to include study abroad coursework.

Very few students study abroad during their first year at the UI – and for that matter, very few students declare that they are seeking the Certificate in Sustainability until their second or third year. The second year of a four year degree, however, can be an excellent time to go abroad, especially to take care of General Education Program courses and pursue language study.

The third year may be an ideal time for certificate-seeking students to go abroad. Students completing upper-level coursework for their major may also find that it contributes to Sustainability and that they can work on both while studying abroad. The fourth year can work for the same reasons, though at that point students must take care to maintain a clear path to graduation. There are also special considerations for students of Sustainability with regards to coursework and timing, which will be covered later in this guide.

The Certificate in Sustainability requires 24 s.h. of coursework, which includes three introductory or “Core” courses: Introduction to Environmental Science; Contemporary Environmental Issues; and Introduction to Sustainability. Students must also complete a course in each of the four “breadth elective” areas mentioned earlier in this guide. Finally, students must complete some type of “project” course – options for completing this requirement might include an independent study course devised by the student, or a research component of an existing course.

Many courses that count for Sustainability can also count for another major or minor. However, no more than three certificate courses may be taken from a single department or program – this encourages students to broaden their course selection and internalize the interdisciplinary spirit of the certificate. This also opens doors to a huge variety of breadth electives, and also creates opportunities for such coursework to be completed abroad.

While certificate seekers are encouraged to study abroad, there are issues to be aware of when planning such an experience. For instance, no more than 6 s.h. of approved transfer credit may be counted toward the certificate. This may limit the amount of certificate coursework that can be done abroad – however, many study abroad programs are sponsored by the University of Iowa, meaning that UI students who participate in them earn resident credit, which would not count against the certificate’s 6 s.h. limit.

The Core courses can theoretically be taken abroad. However, it is unlikely that students will find an appropriate equivalent to the Introduction to Sustainability course overseas. Furthermore, this course is only offered in the Fall semester, so third and fourth year students should plan their study abroad accordingly.

In order for a study abroad course to count for the certificate, it must be approved by the Sustainability Advisory Committee. Students petition the committee for course approvals on a case-by-case basis. The Committee is open to considering such requests, and they will carefully scrutinize the academic rigor of any course for which approval is sought. Guidelines for submitting such requests can be found on the website of the Certificate in Sustainability. Students with questions about this or any other topic relating to the certificate are encouraged to contact Frank Yoder in Academic Advising.

At present, the programs with the most possibilities for Sustainability-related courses are exchange programs, which allow students to access a vast range of coursework at foreign universities. The UI sponsors a number of exchanges around the world, notably in the UK, Australia, and Northern Europe.

UI Programs

The USAC Summer program in Bilbao has offered Sustainability related courses such as Introduction to Renewable Energy and Fundamentals and Economics of Renewable and Nonrenewable Energy (both taught in English). The professor that taught sustainability classes for USAC in Bilbao has a blog.

USAC course offerings are subject to yearly change. USAC programs in the Caribbean also offer a variety of courses related to the Environment that may be of interest to students of sustainability.

CIEE has a specialized program in Sustainability and the Environment in Monteverde, Costa Rica.This program is designed for students interested in learning and studying about tropical conservation and sustainable development to ensure future biodiversity and human welfare. Students study the intersection of humans and their impact on natural systems and how environmental issues influence economics and society. This is done through coursework and an internship in the Monteverde region, as well as visits to national parks throughout Costa Rica. It includes specially designed CIEE courses on environment, sustainability, and conservation, as well as visits to businesses, NGOs, and grassroots projects that practice sustainability and effective conservation.

The International Development: India program includes several courses taught by UI faculty over Winter Break on a variety of topics, including sustainability.  Please see the program page for a description of the current courses offered.

The Regents Semester in Ireland has course offerings in the fields of Environmental Science and Environmental Studies which may be of interest to students of sustainability.

Likewise, the Regents Semester in Wales offers students coursework in Pure & Applied Ecology, Biochemistry, Biology, and Marine Biology.

The University of Iowa proudly participates in a number of vibrant exchange programs with universities in the United Kingdom. The following universities have prominent course offerings in the fields relevant to sustainability students:
a. Hull Exchange (Ecology & Environmental Science; Coastal Marine Biology; Aquatic Zoology)
b. Lancaster Exchange (Environmental Science; Biological Sciences; Ecology)
c. Birmingham Exchange (Geography; Earth Science; Environmental Sciences)


Non-UI programs (all taught in English)

SIT World Learning Semesters: Programs involving field study.  SIT Study Abroad programs in sustainable development examine current concepts and debates in international development and consider how a host of factors—both internal and global— contribute to economic and social development patterns in the host country. Students are challenged to consider the interrelated issues that determine the sustainability of development efforts aimed at different sectors and groups. With programs in multiple regions, SIT participants study a wide array of subjects in diverse locations. These include energy policies and diversification efforts in the Gulf; shifts in public policy to achieve alternative development paradigms in Chile; emerging patterns of social entrepreneurship in Nepal; social change and social justice in India; and localized agricultural and artist cooperatives in Uganda.

Living Routes Study Abroad in Ecovillages Living Routes offers accredited, ecovillage-based study abroad programs in Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Mexico, Peru, Australia, Scotland, and the U.S. Ecovillages are communities striving to create cooperative lifestyles in harmony with their local environments. They are restoring ecosystems and habitat, growing healthy organic food, building "green" homes, working for justice and social change, women's empowerment, and renewable energy such as wind and solar energy. While not utopias, these communities offer ideal "campuses" in which students can immerse themselves in real world sustainability and prepare for careers that make a difference. Upon completion, students receive an academic transcript from UMass Amherst, which is widely transferable to colleges and universities throughout the U.S.

IES Abroad: Environmental Studies & Sustainability in Freiburg, Germany: The Environmental Studies & Sustainability Program allows you to explore important topics in Environmental Studies in English, while living in Freiburg, a center of the modern environmental movement. Organized in cooperation with the Forest Ecology and Management Program at the distinguished Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, the program offers English-taught courses at the first-year Master’s level alongside German and international graduate students. IES Abroad students take a series of modules that focus on methods and practices for sustainable management of natural resources, both in Freiburg’s local ecosystem and in ecosystems worldwide.

Students study topics such as human effects on the environment, ecological processes within ecosystems, and the management of natural resources, with emphasis on the adaptive management of forests. Students also participate in German language courses at the beginning, intermediate, or advanced level. Field study trips to the Swiss Alps, the Rhine River Valley, and the Black Forest, as well as a variety of cultural events and activities, round out the program. To help make study abroad more sustainable, IES Abroad will purchase a carbon offset for the approximate round-trip air travel for each student attending this program. Participating students should have a basic knowledge of topics in environmental studies. Optional module courses may require additional prerequisites.

Arcadia University: Renewable Energy: Policy & Development in Bonn, Germany:  This intensive program offers a thorough examination of wind, solar, geothermal and biomass processes as the German people adapt to rapid climatic changes. It also provides a historical, social, and cultural framework for understanding these processes. The program will start with a large-scale perspective on energy policies and global actors, such as UN agencies and NGOs, along with worldwide associations and large corporations. Students will then be introduced to the European Union's approach, and visit the European Commission in Brussels. The focus of the program will then be on students’ own and their host country’s efforts in the field, and look at concrete examples of local action in Bonn. Students will also have the opportunity to ask informed questions and discuss relevant topics with politicians, practitioners and researchers. The program will be conducted in English.

Some other universities (this is not meant to be comprehensive) in the United Kingdom with courses related to Sustainability:
a. University of York, England: Environment
b. University of East Anglia, England: Environmental Sciences, Environmental Earth Sciences, and Environment & Society

An online listing of many relevant programs can be found here: