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Environmental Education: Eco-Literacy for the Next Generation

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What Is Environmental Education?

Why Does Environmental Education Matter? The Importance of Eco-Literacy in 2022 and Beyond

Educating, Consulting, and More: Career Prospects for Those with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Education

Understanding the Master’s Degree Options Offered at Bard’s Center for Environmental Policy

Skills for an Impactful Career: Here’s What You’ll Learn While Pursuing Your M.Ed.in Environmental Education

The Bard Approach to Environmental Education

What Students Say About Their M.Ed. Experience

Connect with Bard

You have probably heard the phrase “environmental education.” If you’re interested in sustainability, you may even have a pretty clear idea of what environmental education is.

But have you ever considered how a master’s in environmental education could launch you into a fulfilling and engaging career that changes the world for the better?

Here at the Bard's Graduate Programs in Sustainability, we are passionate about shaping the sustainability leaders of the future by integrating the finest sustainability knowledge with our practical expertise in education, business, law, policy, and leadership.

This resource will explore the field of environmental education, talk about what makes Bard’s Master’s in Environmental Education so unique, and give you actionable ways to move toward your career in sustainability today.

What is environmental education?

Environmental education is the study and teaching of human and natural ecological systems in a way that emphasizes their unity and indivisibility. It is a method of nature education that studies the whole of nature and observing or improving how systems interact and are impacted by each other.  “Nature” is experienced along urban river banks, in parks and community gardens, and through the exploration of suburban backyards, fields and farmlands, all the way to remote wilderness. 

As David Orr famously said, “All education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are part of or apart from the natural world.”

Here at Bard, we teach our environmental educators the art of breaking down the distinction between human systems and natural systems, showing them how to pass along to the next generation of learners the crucial sense that “the environment” is not something distinct or other, but something that they are already living within and impacting all the time.

This type of green education is—importantly—a place-based endeavor—the ideal environment for an outdoor educator being the outdoors where you can do work in your local environment: 

  • Soil remediation
  • Bioshelters/Gardens
  • Composting
  • Aquaculture
  • Renewable energy systems

Environmental awareness: how we move toward a more sustainable future

If you're wondering how we can move toward a more sustainable future, there’s a simple answer. Environmental education.

We all know the environmental threats and challenges we face are enormous. We've gone from asking, "How bad is global warming?" to the more panicked, "Is it too late to stop climate change?" Yet, despite it all, environmental education is ultimately a hopeful, forward-facing field.

Environmental education programs are about the healing of whole systems, a combination of ecology, community, and economy. The knowledge and resources that become available through basic environmental education transform communities and repair relationships. We must teach the coming generations to re-think their concept of environment and their relationships with the natural world, to see their ability to practice restorative stewardship in both urban and rural settings.

What is environmental literacy and why is it important?

Environmental literacy means not only having environmental awareness but having the judgment to "act individually and with others to support ecologically sound, economically prosperous, and equitable communities for present and future generations." The population needs this type of literacy to champion sustainable development and climate change initiatives.

There is a growing urgency to address the great lack of proper environmental education.

Not only are the environmental threats and challenges growing, the lives of more and more families and communities are divorced from conscious interaction with the ecological systems around them. Ecology awareness is at an all-time low. This ignorance threatens our individual and collective health, jeopardizing our ability to make effective political and communal changes.

Today’s generation of kids is suffering from what Richard Louv termed “nature deficit disorder.” Recent studies show that children are spending less and less time outside, with some estimates claiming that they spend only between 4-7 minutes of playtime outside each day.

Sustainability education is crucial to increasing the overall public awareness of the environment, but it's also necessary if we want to make real, substantial change at the business level. Organizations are starting to move in the right direction, however, and corporations are increasingly focused both on hiring for specialized sustainability teams and improving sustainable awareness across the board within all teams. The world needs sustainability experts with ecological education experience in order to do that.

The benefits of environmental education

Environmental education promotes social justice and community health

Environmental education is a crucial tool in the fight for health and equity for traditionally disadvantaged groups. A federally funded study from 2017 found that the likelihood of exposure to polluted air was more influenced by race than any other factor, including income, age, and education. It is also well documented that low-income areas are most impacted by polluted water and other poor waste and pollution practices.

Because human systems and environmental systems are one and the same, environmental education offers minority and other disadvantaged groups the opportunity to fight for greater health and greater justice for their communities and can be the catalyst for major change and opportunity.


Environmental education will help us advance in the post-Trump era

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.” ― David Orr

The Trump presidency unleashed an unprecedented assault on the nation’s environmental protection and resource stewardship laws.  

Trump’s election was enabled by the rise of the fake news industry. This in turn was made possible by social media outlets that bypassed traditional media and the set of professional ethics that had guided reporting for a century. We are dealing with climate denialism and myths about climate change that damage progress toward a sustainable future. Today’s rising generation requires core eco-literacy—a basic understanding of how living beings are interrelated—to be able to sort truth from fiction. They need this in order to stand up for a sensible framework to protect the earth for people alive today, for future generations, and for all the other creatures on the planet.

Careers for environmental educators

Because the need for environmental educators is so great, there are an abundance of career paths and opportunities available to people with the skills and training to communicate and teach about ecology and sustainability.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job opportunities available to environmental scientists, consultants, educators, and other specialists is expected to grow 11% in the next decade, a growth rate that exceeds the average for all occupations.

As you consider where an environmental education degree could take you, it helps to start by asking yourself some big questions:

  • Am I interested in communicating about environmental initiatives in a business setting?
  • Do I want to work primarily with children, the next generation of leaders?
  • Am I more interested in the pedagogical practices for environmental education or am I eager to improve my communication skills simply so I can more effectively lead sustainability projects? 

While it’s helpful to begin considering them, there are no wrong answers to these questions. Our environmental education masters can be tailored toward your research interests and career goals.

Here's a look at the career options that await you

  • private schools and charter schools
  • NGO’s,
  • government land management agencies,
  • private land conservation organizations,
  • museums,
  • environmental education centers,
  • and consulting firms. 

Whatever your career aspirations, our program can offer you a foundation of practical and theoretical knowledge that is widely applicable. Keep reading for a closer look at the kinds of skills you could develop in the M. Ed. program.

Download Our Career Guide

Learn more about our Master's in Environmental Education

Environmental education training and skills

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

- Albert Einstein

How can we ensure that our graduates are prepared to make a real difference in their sustainability careers? By equipping them with practical experience and foundational skills.

In this section, we will walk through both the “soft” skills you will gain and the concrete environmental education courses you'll experience during this two-year master’s program. The ability to communicate effectively and knowledge of and comfort with science, policy, and resource development is a powerful combination.

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The environmental education curriculum at Bard





Fall Term In-Residence

  • Foundations of Environmental Education
  • Environmental Education Advisory 
  • Environmental Science of Natural Environments
  • Communication I 
  • Curriculum Planning and Assessment
  • Environmental Policy I OR Principles of Sustainable Management

January Term In-Residence

  • Place-Based and Field Education Immersive

Spring Term In-Residence

  • Environmental Science of Built Environments 
  • Communication II
  • Identity, Culture and the Classroom OR Literacy and the Adolescent Learner
  • Environmental Education Advisory
  • Elective





Summer + Fall Term Non-Residence

  • Capstone Proposal
  • Internship

Spring Term Two One-Week Residencies

  • Capstone Project and Seminar 
  • Leadership and careers in Environmental Education 

First Year

First Year


    Fall Term In Residence

  • Foundations of Environmental Education
  • Environmental Education Advisory 
  • Environmental Science of Natural Environments
  • Communication I 
  • Curriculum Planning and Assessment
  • Environmental Policy I OR Principles of Sustainable Management


    January Term In Residence

  • Place-Based and Field Education Immersive


    Spring Term In Residence

  • Environmental Science of Built Environments 
  • Communication II
  • Identity, Culture and the Classroom OR Literacy and the Adolescent Learner
  • Environmental Education Advisory
  • Elective

Second Year

Second Year

    Summer + Fall Term Non-Residence

  • Capstone Proposal
  • Internship

    Spring Term Two One-Week Residencies 

  • Capstone Project and Seminar 
  • Leadership and careers in Environmental Education 

The key “soft” skills you could develop in the M.Ed. program at Bard

Clear and energized communication

The future needs people who can integrate teaching and communication skills with passion and knowledge of environmental science. Your ideas are only as powerful as your ability to communicate them to others, whether you’re talking to a boardroom full CEOs or a classroom of children. Here at Bard, we place a huge emphasis on learning communication skills so that you can let your passion for and knowledge about environmental systems truly shine.

For more information on how to develop your communication skills, check out our full blog post: 4 Ways Sustainability Professionals Can Improve Their Communication Skills.

Experience with shared leadership

While it’s common to talk about leadership skills, it’s less common to teach an approach to leadership that is focused on equity and shared responsibility for work toward a common goal. The future does not need cults of personality or people with “inborn” leadership qualities, it’s needs collective action and input from all parties in order to tackle increasingly complex social and environmental problems.

For a full exploration of the ways Bard teaches leadership across all of its sustainability master’s programs, check out our comprehensive resource: How to Become a Leader in Sustainability.

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Master’s in Environmental Education

At this point, you should have a firm grasp about what this degree program looks like. For more detailed information and a look at the structure of the two year program, check out our program page.

Note about Teacher Certification: The M.Ed program does not provide certification to teach in the public school system. The Bard Center for Environmental Policy and the Bard MAT Program offers a dual-degree option (M.S./M.A.T.) for students seeking the flexibility to pursue either a policy career or a teaching position in public schools. The M.Ed. program, by contrast, is for students pursuing careers in the education space between the public school classroom and environmental policy analysis or advocacy. 


Download our Guide to Getting a Master's in Environmental Education

The Bard approach to environmental education

The Master’s in Environmental Education at Bard is the best environmental degree that you’ve never heard of—at one of the best graduate schools for environmental studies in the country. Getting a masters in education is one thing, but graduate degrees focused exclusively on environmental education are quite rare. Only 5 other schools in the United States offer programs with the same level of specialization and focus on environmental education.

What truly sets our environmental education masters apart is our rigorous, integrated curriculum and our emphasis on extended, professional internships throughout the second year of the program. (This is so much more than what an outdoor education certificate or an environmental education certificate can offer!) These internships can form the basis for capstone projects and the extraordinary career success our graduates have experienced thus far.


Our program has a full set of distinctive features:

• Integrated, interdisciplinary curriculum

• Unmatched interaction with exceptional faculty

• High-level, extended professional internship

• Focus on place-based and field education

• 9-month residency in the 1st year. 2nd-year internship and capstone completed remotely.

• Research opportunities designed to meet student interests

• Strong career development, mentoring and placement

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What students are saying about their M.Ed. experience


Siira Rieschl

Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, what did you study in undergrad, and how did you become interested in environmental education?

It’s been a little bit of a twisting path for me. I didn’t always know I wanted to go into this subject, but now that I’m here I feel so happy and lucky! I’m originally from an island right outside Seattle, Washington, but I’ve fallen in love with the Hudson Valley.

I came to Bard eight years ago for my undergraduate degree and haven’t left. Everything about Bard was a perfect fit for me: small classes and caring professors, long and beautiful trails to walk when I needed distraction, and classmates who loved to talk into the night about the things we were learning (this definitely hasn’t changed since I’ve started the masters program!). I majored in social psychology, and my thesis was about interpersonal and cultural mechanisms that widen the gender, race, and economic gaps in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. This opened my eyes (but also made me quite sad), so after graduating I wanted to do hands on work.

I was lucky enough to work at Bard for the next three years with the Center for Civic Engagement as the science outreach coordinator. I mentored Bard students as we facilitated science events with over 3,000 kids a year in local schools, libraries, and community centers. Every day was absolutely different than the day before. It was a great boot camp in lesson planning, teaching, working with kids, and especially going with the flow.

In our program, we started gravitating towards certain lesson plans. The most excited activities we did were about local bugs, animals, and plants, the Hudson River and even water testing. Through the past three years, it’s been clear that environmental education is fun to learn and especially fun to teach! Because we look at our local environment, the kids can connect to the material so much easier since they see these trees, animals, or creeks every day. And the kids, who’ve grown up here, have taught me, the newcomer, so much!

What drew you to Bard’s CEP program in Environmental Ed? What is your area of interest or focus in terms of research?

I started working with environmental education because it’s fun for the students and fun for me. But this doesn’t mean that as a field it’s perfect. I’m interested in how environmental education can transform a student’s ways of thinking about the world they live in and how they fit into their community. I love how it can empower, excite, and motivate. Especially in our current ecological and political climate, this transformation is especially important.

When I was looking for a graduate school program, Bard stood out. It’s clear that in this program we are not simply studying how environmental education is currently conducted. We are discussing, debating, and scheming how environmental education can look in the future!

What has been your favorite thing about your Bard experience so far?

My community has definitely kept me sane! It is such an amazing feeling to be studying alongside people who have the same niche interests as you. Not only do we get to nerd out about weird science topics, but also a strong passion for making meaningful change is at the heart of every conversation.  The administration has done a caring job of creating the scaffolding to support us along the way. It’s clear that the size of the program has such an impact on our experience.

Tell me a little bit about the Bard approach to environmental education. How did you see your skills, knowledge, and experience growing as you study?

As someone who gets bored easily, I have never once looked at a clock during one of our classes. Not only do I love the subjects and of course our teachers, but also we are able to tackle the issues we are studying from a million angles.

We read, we watch videos, we discuss and sometimes debate, we teach each other, etc. In our Environmental Education class, we are able to do a small activity every class that exemplifies how you could bring ecoliteracy into a classroom. We’ve grown several rounds of micro-greens and started a composting bin in our communal class kitchen. I’ve been adding the sprouts to my ramen and putting my food scraps in the bin. We’ve started an aquaponics tank that we’ll eventually have fish living in, with the water fertilizing and being filtered as it’s pumped through a growing bed.

Our professors are clearly showing us to do as they do, not just as they say. This is exactly what I’ve loved the most about the program—often we are looking at similar issues in our different classes, and each angle helps to inform our synthesized understanding. 

What’s it like to focus on place-based education and what does this look like in concrete terms? How much time to do you get to spend outside as part of your coursework?

I’ve joked with my friends outside of Bard that I’m majoring in fieldtrips. But, it’s kind of true! I am spending most of my time thinking and reading about how to transform nonformal (not in the school system) education spaces to increase ecological literacy and understanding, but we’re also often learning outside of the classroom ourselves. We started the school year with a full “workshop week”, where we visited local farms, science research centers, and even camped. Since then, we’ve gone to a dairy farm, and multiple education centers.

It’s been especially great to go to the education centers, such as Radix in Albany and Kite’s Nest in Hudson; we’ve all gone through the school system, but when you’re learning about programs outside of what you experienced as a kid, you really need the concrete experience of seeing what it actually looks like. It is so great to be grounded in the Hudson Valley, the heart of environmental research, education, and activism. It is a special feeling to read about these topics, and then talk to the people who spend their lives around these topics.

After you’ve listened to lectures, read multiple papers about the Catskill water supply to NYC and the collaborations of farms with the government for good management practices, and discussed the topic with the very people you’ve read about—it all clicks when you then get to even taste the milk produced by the Catskill cows!

Do you have any advice for prospective students about thriving in the program? Things you wish you’d known in advance?

This program has totally transformed how I look at the world, even in just a few months. I knew I was going to be doing a lot of reading and writing, but I wasn’t prepared for this level of mind-yoga! It’s a lot of work, but I’ve quickly learned I also need to set time aside to simply walk around my neighborhood and soak in all that we’ve been discussing. This program isn’t about just keeping up with your work; it’s about giving yourself enough time and energy to truly embody all that you’re learning.

Who are some of your professional or personal heroes?

I know this is cliché… One of my parents directs a before and after school program in my hometown. I always had more fun there, picking apart a log to look for bugs or doing a weird chemistry experiment she brought in, than I did in my actual classes. Of course, I’ve always loved her and my experience. Now, after reading educational theories and philosophies in our MAT class and our Environmental Education class, I have a newfound respect for my parent and this form of education.

I am learning more and more that nonformal spaces such as her program can have such a meaningful impact on a child’s understanding of the world around them. Learning for “fun” and even having free, unstructured play time in the woods like we had, is such a needed complement to the normal school day.

What project/experience/learning moment is most memorable from your time so far at Bard?

I knew I had chosen the program for me the first day of our Environmental Education class. We had just had an inspiring—but long—first discussion. Our professor, Scott, paused, looked up at us, and pulled out a mason jar full of something. They were luminescent mushrooms he had found in the woods the weekend before. So, we all scrambled into the bathroom (the darkest place in the classroom) to see them.

Something about a group of people being total nerds about a mushroom, not even caring that we were circling a toilet, made me feel totally at home.

What sustainability challenge gets you most fired up and inspired to work for change?

I’m in the Masters of Environmental Education for several reasons. Partially, I just love cute kids and talking about our local environment, but also I am so frustrated with opinions and actions fueled by uninformed or misguided understandings. I’m loving the program because I (hope) I’m gaining strategies for communicating and educating about environmental issues in ways that people will actually understand and care about.

What are your career plans and aspirations?

I know that I want to work with kids and the environment, but this program has shown me too many ideas to choose from! In our second year, we will be able to complete an internship while finishing up our capstone thesis. I’m really excited to dip my toes into the field, and to have the opportunity to test a position out before even graduating. I would love to work at a science museum or nature education center. My goal is to someday open my own center that connects kids and community members to their local environment in an accessible and meaningful way.

Connect with Bard

We hope that this resource has been helpful as you consider the importance of environmental education, the skills, experience, and knowledge that a graduate degree in environmental education can offer, and the career options available to you in the environmental justice and sustainability movement. At Bard, we are passionate and hopeful about the future of environmental education. We are confident that the work of a new generation of highly skilled educators can transform the way cultures and society interacts with the natural environment all around us. Do you want to be a part of this movement? Connect with us today to stay in touch and learn more!

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