Environment students smiling and talking

Written by Aujas, student

Every program has two types of courses — required courses and electives. Required courses are pre-determined and you must take them in order to graduate. Electives, on the other hand, allow you to pick courses based on your interests and passions, or explore new topics you’ve never studied before.

The Faculty of Environment offers a wide selection of courses that students in both the faculty and around campus can choose as electives. Below is a list of five popular elective courses in Environment. If you’re planning on coming to Waterloo, be sure to fit these into your schedule!

Environmental and Sustainability Assessment I (ERS 215)

This Environment, Resources and Sustainability (ERS) course is an introduction to the world of environmental assessment (EA). It focuses on the process of environmental assessments, teaches about legal mandates, and explores the evolution of assessment within a sustainability framework. You’ll look at ways to incorporate environmental considerations into planning for future projects that could have significant social and ecological effects. As a result, this course is applicable to many careers within the environmental field.

“[It’s a] really good course for anybody interested in consulting jobs. Amazing guest lectures and content that’s easy to understand!” — Sara, ENV student

There are frequent class discussions and guest speakers, which helps you stay motivated and interested in the course material. To get the most out of the course though, be sure to keep up with the lectures and readings.

After taking this course, you should be able to

  • identify the role of an EA as something that can contribute to sustainability
  • describe the different steps and components of an EA process, particularly in Canada
  • critically analyze the strengths and weaknesses of environmental assessments

I personally found the knowledge really interesting and practical, especially if you plan on entering a government job relating to the environment

Students looking in a cave.

Geomorphology and the Southern Ontario Environment (GEOG 300)

Geomorphology of Southern Ontario was a really cool course — mostly because half of it was field trips!

In this geography class, you’ll learn a lot about geomorphology, the study of the earth’s surfaces and the processes that create them, and what makes Southern Ontario unique compared to other areas of the U.S. and Canada. You’ll also explore your own impact on geomorphological landscapes!

When I took the course, we went to locations such as Rockwood Conservation Area and Long Point Provincial Park to learn in the field. There was also a lab where we learned to analyze rock samples from these sites. Having the opportunity to take what we learned in the classroom and use it in the real world was super valuable to me.

This was one of my favourite electives. My prof for this course had a way of teaching that was engaging, and he seemed to genuinely care about his students’ success. He was available whenever I had any questions and he understood that students have a lot on the go. He is truly a gem! I enjoyed both the course content and the field trips and would highly recommend this class to others.

Waste Management (ERS 317)

This course gives you a really good understanding of the waste problems in our society and forces you to examine your own impact. You’ll analyze leading-edge systems for waste management and how they contribute to a circular economy. What’s cool about this course is that you don’t just talk about garbage! You’ll examine waste management through the lens of social, economic, health, political, and ecological matters that are considered within a policy and planning framework.

By the end of the course you’ll

  • understand the environmental and social implications of waste management decisions (which includes your own waste management decisions!)
  • know about the provincial policies and programs surrounding waste management
  • understand how waste management affects society as a whole and helps contribute to a circular economy

If you're interested in learning about waste management in a comprehensive way, and how it affects us all, then this course is for you.

Tall trees in the forest.

Soil Ecosystem Dynamics (GEOG 404)

In this course, students learn in-depth about soil and its role in ecosystems and the overall environment. You’ll look at its importance as a natural resource in agricultural and forest productivity and the effect on soil resources as a result of different management practices.

This course is great if you’re interested in learning about soil and want to advance your career in research or in an environmental testing field. Not only that, but the information in this course is relevant if you want to work with soil in any capacity.

Soil is an integral part of the environment. It’s the basis of life — as the pollution of soil affects plant health, it has a direct impact on us all. Not just that, but it also disrupts various natural cycles that can cause disastrous chain reactions (like the extinction of a species).

The course is divided into three sections

  1. Introduction to soil composition, formation, and the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of soil
  2. The degradation of soil and ways to approach soil rehabilitation
  3. Soil pollution and the role of soil in maintaining environmental integrity

After this course, you should be able to

  • identify different methods of soil sampling, processing, and analyses
  • recognize sustainable soil management practices and provide examples using case studies
  • show how soil and soil pollution can influence the environment as a whole

I enjoyed this course, as I’ve always been interested in learning about soil. This course builds on simple fundamentals and goes in depth on more critical things. The assignment was fun and overall. I’d recommend this course

Computational Social Science (INTEG 440)

This computer science course is designed for everyone, regardless of whether or not you know how to code. Because we live in such a digital age, data has the potential to revolutionize the way we learn about the world and conduct research related to urgent social and political problems. In this course, you’ll discuss the implications of Big Data on society, and ethics, research design, and potential sources of error when it comes to conducting social science research with data.

Most of the classes are hands-on because you’re in a computer lab, which can be a nice change of pace. Assignments are coding challenges (there are beginner and advanced for different skill levels) and a reflection for each. You’ll even learn how to analyze digital datasets using tools from machine learning, text analysis, and social network analysis.

This course is great for learning a useful programming language (Python) without taking first-year computer science because the class provides a lot of support and you can learn to apply computer knowledge to environmental issues.

This was just a small list of the many elective courses offered in the Faculty of Environment. Electives allow you to expand your knowledge and take courses to fulfill requirements for minors, specializations, options, or diplomas.


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