Program Details


Students in the Northwestern University Environmental Field School usually enroll for two units of credit (390). EPC students can have one of those credits count toward fulfilling requirements of the minor. Students in other programs often have one course credit approved as a policy or science class, depending on department policies and on the internship.

Pre-Assignment Preparation

Students will be expected to prepare for the summer experience through a modest reading program. If they have had either ENVR_POL 390 U.S. Environmental Politics(same as Political Science 329) or ENVR_POL 390 Environmental Politics in a Comparative Perspective (same as Political Science 367), they have much of the requisite background for dealing with the policy component of the field school. If a student has had neither of those courses, nor an appropriate substitute, some further directed reading will be required, both before a student begins the placement, and while it is underway. There will be orientation meetings during Spring Quarter.

The Kind of Students Who Apply

While many of the students involved in the environmental field school are in the Environmental Policy and Culture Program, in environmental sciences, or environmental engineering, there are almost always other social science and history majors as well. Medill, theatre majors and music majors may also have skills of particular value to the National Park Service. Arts and humanities students who have been in the program have done just as well during their summer in the field, while having life changing experiences. While a student's Northwestern major and course preparation may be a factor in the type of placement we will seek, self-reliance, responsibility, a sense of adventure and a quest for rich new learning experiences are actually more important factors.

Students in the summer internship are typically between their sophomore and junior years, or between their junior and senior years. But we have, upon occasion, placed mature students who have just completed their freshman year, and we have placed graduating seniors and graduate students as well.

Weekly Field Notes

In addition to doing the work in the field, under National Park Service direction, students will submit weekly field notes back to the NU program directors. Students will prepare a research paper based upon the work done over the summer. During the time when a student is in the field one of the NU co-directors will conduct a site visit to the park. During this site visit we will observe what each student is doing, hopefully accompanying the student to the field or work sites. The NU visitor will also meet with the National Park Service staff, and (most important) will work with the student to develop the topics and materials for the paper. We may also try to take each student out for a good meal.


The Northwestern University expectation is that students will work in a park on a full time basis for at least seven weeks. Usually students begin work shortly after spring quarter exams are finished. But a student may be able to work a different time schedule. Given the NU academic calendar, it is possible for a student to begin work as late as the end of July, or even early August, and still get in seven weeks of work before returning to campus. So, upon occasion students have spent the first part of the summer on such things as an NROTC cruise, a NOLS program, or even a period of work at home or on campus, before beginning the field school. The time period in the field is, of course, always contingent upon a Park's needs. But often a Park may actually prefer a later placement, both because other seasonal people may leave by early August to head back to school, and/or because Park housing may be more available.