Environmental Field Semester

At a Glance

  • Refer to "Quick Links" in the right sidebar for more information


The Environmental Field Semester (EFS) is an integrated, 20-credit program offering that explores the history, ecology, conservation and stewardship of land in New England. A small group of students will be team taught in a single, coherent program that includes guided field research, numerous field trips and engagement with community organizations.

EFS will give students intensive experience in the stewardship of land and natural resources, using conservation land in Weston as a living laboratory. In the process students will gain an in-depth understanding of the history, ecology, laws and politics behind how land is used. They also will begin to master skills in research, writing, Geographic Information System, inventory methods, field and archival historical research, and presentation and management that make for effective environmental protection and sustainable engagement at the community level.

Field Work

Throughout the semester students will engage in coordinated group projects involving parcels of conservation land in Weston. Working in small teams they will explore land use history, conduct ecological inventories and design stewardship and education plans. They will work closely with community organizations such as the Weston conservation commission and school department.  EFS features many field trips. The semester will begin with a canoe trip up the Charles River in Waltham and a hike across Weston. The second weekend of the semester will feature a three-day trip to western Massachusetts to study regional biodiversity, stopping off at Harvard Forest to introduce students to the history of land use in New England.
In October, a five-day trip to northern Vermont will let students explore old-growth forests, relict glacial bogs, large-scale forest conservation, sustainable forestry, sustainable farming and more land use history.

Other destinations will include Appleton Farms and Crane Beach in Ipswich, Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, downtown Boston’s Charles River and Harbor and the Food Project in Dorchester. These field trips are essential to give students a full grasp of the larger urban, rural and natural contexts surrounding suburban conservation issues in New England.

Afternoon sessions will be devoted to field trips to local sites that illustrate particular aspects of ecology, conservation and land stewardship. These trips help students learn to identify the trees that comprise our forests and to read the land use history of the landscape.

One afternoon each week will be spent at Land's Sake community farm in Weston, giving students direct experience in the actual tasks of sustainable food and wood production. Activities will include cultivating and harvesting crops, maintaining trails and splitting and stacking firewood.

EFS will include weekly farm lunches along with several dinners that feature local, seasonal foods.

Along with communication skills in effective writing and public presentation, students will write detailed reports based off of their field work, and at semester's end, will present their findings at a forum for members of the Brandeis and Weston communities.