The relationship between human societies and the planet have created many of today’s most intractable global challenges. Over the past 50 years, Earth’s human population has doubled and is projected to increase to 9 billion by 2050. When multiplied by a growing per-capita rate of consumption, the resulting effect is an accelerated depletion of natural resources, rapid urbanization, worldwide water and energy shortages, pressure on global food supplies, loss of precious biodiversity, increasing global health challenges and social upheaval. A key characteristic of these problems is their multidisciplinary scope and scale, encompassing not only technical issues, but also historical, social, political, ethical, environmental, economic, and aesthetic ones. The Global Environments + Sustainability program prepares students to understand, innovate and lead efforts to sustainably transform the physical environment.

Program Structure

Global Environments + Sustainability (GSVS) is a track or concentration within the interdisciplinary Global Studies major. Students apply in the spring of their second year and complete the major in their third and fourth years. GSVS students address problems associated with human transformations of the earth through the triple lens of environment, equity, and economy by focusing on:

-  earth system science, environmental sustainability, ecosystem restoration and environmental conservation

-  human settlement patterns, rapid urbanization, and affordable housing

-  fresh water and sanitation production, consumption, and infrastructure

-  energy production, consumption, and infrastructure

-  agriculture, food systems, and food security

-  public health challenges connected with the built environment

-  environmental impact of material science and production

-  transportation technologies and logistics

-  economics, development, natural capital, resource allocation and externalities

-  environmental, social, and personal behavior and ethics

These issues threaten human well-being and the Earth's ecosystems. This integrated and interdisciplinary track provides foundational knowledge on the multifaceted aspects of both problems and solutions, and challenges participants to deepen their understanding of global sustainability issues through applied research.


What is sustainability and what are the dimensions of our environment—both natural and constructed—in most in need of serious research and action?

What is the relationship between the constructed and natural environments and how do diverse global cultures inhabit and transform their physical environment? What are the factors that have led to past and current conditions?

What are the material, ethical, and economic relationships between the rapid pace of global urbanization and the depletion of natural resources?

What values are implicit in what we create? What are the ways of thinking and skills necessary to positively change the physical world? What traditional knowledge and new technologies are most promising for a sustainable future?

Knowledge and Skills

Students develop multiple skills and competencies necessary to understand and develop strategies for solving complex environmental issues:

-  knowledge of historical and current environmental conditions

-  cross-cultural translation and comparison

-  statistical literacy, visual literacy and the visualization of data

-  systems thinking and design thinking skills to address complex, open-ended problems

-  applied, project-based problem-solving

-  research methods for collaboration across diverse disciplines (scientific, technical, social, aesthetic, economic)

-  communication, community engagement and leadership skills


Students in the Global Environments + Sustainability program learn to be effective leaders and collaborators in a range of institutional settings, international and domestic governmental agencies, the nonprofit sector, and private business. Together we are building a strong alumni network to enrich the program and to advise current students about career opportunities. See the UVA Career Center's Global Studies webpage for more information.


Phoebe Crisman AIA, Associate Professor, Campbell Hall 414

If you'd like to discuss the GSVS program, please contact Prof. Crisman at crisman@virginia.edu or sign up for an appointment here.


Program faculty are experts in their disciplines and skilled in transdisciplinary thinking and research. Drawn from across the University, they are dedicated to working with students to explore the wicked global challenges of our time. See the Faculty section for more details.


Admission to the Global Environments + Sustainability program is selective. See the Requirements section for more details and the Admissions section for the online application portal. Students in the Class of 2020 (current second-years) must submit their applications by late February or early March 2018.  See this link for more information on the associated Minor in Global Sustainability: www.globalsustainability.virginia.edu

GSVS Advising Electives Spring 2018