Nicholas School Undergrad Enrollment Tops 1,800, with 100 Majors

March 4, 2010

Emily Klein, (919) 684-5965,; or Tim Lucas, (919) 613-8084,

DURHAM, N.C. – The number of undergraduate majors at the Nicholas School of the Environment has more than doubled since 2004, according to the most recent enrollment data from the Duke University Registrar’s Office. Total undergraduate enrollment in classes taught by Nicholas School faculty has also more than doubled.

One hundred Duke students are now majoring in one of four undergraduate degree programs administered by the school, says Emily M. Klein, professor of geology, senior associate dean and director of undergraduate studies.

In addition to its 100 majors, the new data shows the school has 50 undergraduate minors, and 80 students are enrolled in one of two interdisciplinary undergraduate certificate programs. All told, more than 1,800 undergraduates took one or more courses taught by Nicholas School faculty this year.

“Five years ago, we set a goal of doubling our undergraduate numbers through manageable, controlled growth,” Klein says. “With the support of the administration, faculty and staff, we’ve done that.”

In the 2004-05 academic year, she notes, the school had around 50 majors and a total undergraduate enrollment of just under 900.

Klein attributes the across-the-board growth to increased student interest in the environment and earth and ocean sciences, as well as expanded course offerings and degree programs in Durham and at the Duke Marine Lab campus in Beaufort.

“You can’t open a newspaper these days without reading about climate change or issues like energy, water, or marine conservation,” she says. “Duke attracts the kinds of students who are passionate about being part of the solution to these problems. And they want to combine their passion with degrees that give them the practical foundation to have influence and be leaders.”

About two-thirds of the 100 majors are pursuing Bachelors of Arts degrees in environmental science and policy or Bachelor of Science degrees in environmental science. The remaining third are pursuing degrees in earth and ocean sciences.

“Quite a few of our majors plan to attend law school to specialize in environmental law,” Klein says. “Others intend to go to business school and combine their interest in the environment with sustainable business practices. Others plan on pursuing doctoral studies in earth and ocean sciences or environmental sciences and policy.

“A key to our success,” she says, “is that we’ve reached across departments, divisions and schools at Duke to provide interdisciplinary courses and programs that meet these different needs and interests.”

Increasing the number of elective courses that feature hands-on learning in locations such as Hawaii, Trinidad, the Florida Keys and the Duke Forest has also helped spur enrollment growth. “These courses are attractive to students because they get them out of the classroom and into the field,” Klein says.

Two undergraduate certificate programs have been launched since 2008 to give students even more unique opportunities for hands-on learning, she says.  The programs have requirements similar to minors, but are interdisciplinary in nature.

The Certificate in Energy and Environment was launched in 2008 by the Nicholas School, the Pratt School of Engineering and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. Students enrolled in it study engineering, environmental science and environmental policy, and work in teams on capstone projects based on real-world needs, such as designing and marketing a solar-power generator for regions that experience frequent power outages. Sixty students are currently enrolled in the program.

The Certificate in Marine Conservation Leadership gives students the opportunity to study at the Duke Marine Lab for a semester or more and then continue studies on marine science, policy and leadership when they return to the Durham campus. Twenty students are enrolled in the program, now in its second year.