Independent Research and Practicums

Independent Learning Courses

  • ENS 399: Independent Readings/Research
    Hours, credits, topics, and time to be arranged with individual faculty members with approval of the department.
  • ENS 490: Internship
    Supervised work experience in an area related to environmental and sustainability studies. 
  • ENS 491: Practicum
    Three or more hours a week of applying environmental and sustainability studies principles in a public or community setting. Possibilities include a case study, field involvement, or conference attendance, and will result in a statement evaluating the theory and practice of environmental and sustainability studies. 
Internships/Practicums Info Session
Date/Time TBD

Virtual Info Sessions are offered throughout the academic year. Date/Time will be posted here, on social media, and on the events calendar. Check back often!

While none of these courses- ENS 399, ENS 490, or ENS 491- are required to earn the ENS minor, they are available to minors as upper-level electives. Information about ENS 399: Independent Readings/Research can be found in the ENS Independent Readings Guide.

Conversely, students pursuing the ENS major are required to complete 2 credits of either ENS 490: Internship or ENS 491: Practicum.

An internship is usually completed under a supervisor’s direction at an external organization. Refer to the ENS Internship Guide for more information.

A practicum involves proposing and completing an independent project under a faculty member’s supervision. ENS 491: Practicum allows students to earn up to 6 credits for this activity. Each credit is equivalent to 50 hours of work on the project, including research, preparation, reporting, and other related academic activities, along with actual project service time.

ENS 491: Practicum Requirements and Expectations

Practicum projects may concern any area of ecological literacy and sustainability and will generally fall under areas such as sustainable food systems, energy and climate change, water quality, or cultural and the built environment. Proposals often build upon research that was initiated in a previous course in the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program.

For guidance or questions related to ENS 491, contact ENS Director, Dr. Amy McFarland, at or (616) 331-8156.


STEP 1: Connect with a faculty member about your practicum

Confer with an ENS faculty member to discuss and develop your project idea. For majors, this could be your assigned ENS advisor, though it doesn't have to be. Confirm with the faculty member that they are willing and able to supervise your practicum.

Some examples of practicum projects are writing grant proposals, putting together professional dossiers, writing a business plan or a case study, developing a policy report or recommendation, planning an event (but not necessarily executing it), or conducting more in-depth reading and exploration in an area that fits with your future career goals or aspirations.


STEP 2: Complete the online proposal form for ENS 491: Practicum

Students submit their proposal, also considered a contract, online through the ENS 399/491 Proposal Form. The ENS Program requests that students aim to submit their proposal a minimum of 3 weeks prior to the date they intend to begin the practicum. On the form, you will be asked to provide:

  1. A descriptive title
  2. A summary of the proposed practicum project 
  3. A schedule of communication/meetings with the faculty supervisor
  4. A list of proposed readings
  5. Course requirements (exams, papers, reports, presentations, etc.)


STEP 3: Practicum approval; Register for ENS 491

Once your proposal is submitted online, it will be forwarded to your faculty supervisor and to the ENS Program Director. The faculty supervisor and Program Director may offer feedback on suggested changes. If modifications to the practicum are requested, as determined by the faculty supervisor, the revised proposal should be forwarded to the ENS Office at [email protected].

Once approved, you will then submit a request in Banner for a registration permit to enroll in ENS 491. To initiate the registration permit request in Banner, follow these Instructions for submitting registration permits. The section number of ENS 491 you register for should correlate with the number of credit hours you indicated on your ENS 491 Proposal Form. If you do not see a section number worth the appropriate number of credit hours you're pursuing, contact the ENS Office, and a new section can be added to Banner. You will receive an automated email informing you whether or not your registration permit request was approved or denied. Once approval is granted, this does not automatically register you in the course. Usually, you must then manually enter the CRN in Banner to add the class to your schedule. Within Banner under “Register for Classes,” the first menu item at the top is “Find Classes;” the next menu option to the right is “Enter CRNs.” Go to “Enter CRNs” and then type the specific CRN to add the class to your schedule.


STEP 4: Complete the practicum

Your grade for the practicum will be based on the degree to which you complete your project, as evaluated by your faculty supervisor. For ENS 491, you will receive a grade of "credit" or "no credit," as opposed to a letter grade (A-F). Clear and consistent communication with your faculty supervisor is extremely important throughout the semester.

Programs and Funding to Support Research Projects

The Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (OURS) offers services and guidance to promote undergraduate research, such as the Undergraduate Research Fair in fall semester, and Student Scholars Day in winter semester. Explore the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship here. ENS students may be particularly interested in one of the Sustainable Agriculture Place-Based Project Grants.

Page last modified May 3, 2024