Institute for the Environment OBXFS


The Living Classroom

The Outer Banks is a unique environment complete with ocean, sounds, beaches, and salt marshes. Such diversity of ecosystems translates to a plethora of unique habitats and organisms in one relatively central location. Students will have the opportunity to explore each of these systems while learning how human interactions and public policy affect and interact with the natural environment.

Sunset off of the sound at the Outer banks

Sunset off of the sound at the Outer banks

The Coastal Studies Institute hosts the field site every fall semester and is located on Roanoke Island, which lies between the barrier island and the mainland. While students will be traveling through a large portion of the Outer Banks, the majority of their classes and laboratory work will be conducted at the institute building.

The Outer Banks Field Site offers 17 credit hours including three classes, individual internships, and a capstone research opportunity pertaining to current issues of the North Carolina Coast. Combined, the experience offers a comprehensive analysis of environmental decision-making, public policy, law, natural resource management, and city and regional planning of the specific coastal area. Such a targeted focus allows students to immerse themselves not strictly in academics but also in the community, providing a truly unique learning opportunity with the entire Outer Banks as their classroom.


A typical week

Ecology field trip around the coast.

Ecology field trip around the coast

·      Classes held at CSI

·      Internships at an organization that pertains to an area of interest. It can be anything from writing environmental press releases to shadowing a local attorney.

·      Field trips to experience first-hand the habitats we’re learning about and interact with the community we’re living in

·      Capstone research: fieldwork, literature review, personal interviews, laboratory work, or writing up report drafts

·      Listening to guest speakers who are experts in certain areas of art, history, science, or policy

·      Attending CAB meeting to speak with community members on progress with the capstone and receive their input from a local standpoint




Class Schedule

Ecological Processes in Environmental Systems: Coastal and Estuarine Ecology (4 credits)

This course explores the various coastal ecosystems found in the Outer Banks and the primary human influences that affect these systems, whether intentional or unintentional. Students will be asked to engage in critical thinking about the relationship between humans and the environment and consider options for conservation and management. The course includes a laboratory portion that will include data collection and field techniques through first-hand exploration of the Outer Banks

Coastal Law and Policy (3 credits)

This course takes a look at current federal, state, and local law that affects the coast as well as the history of changes and additions to coastal regulation. Focus is placed on state and local law dealing with the regulation of coastal resources, coastal zone management, and sustainable development. Students will hear from various guest speakers with expert knowledge about current issues and the unique challenges faced by those who implement and develop coastal law and policies.

Economics of Coastal Resources  (3 credits)

ENEC 485 incorporates economics, politics, ethics, and other social sciences to develop an in-depth understanding of the current environmental policy and resource use. A social science recitation is also included in the course to give students hands-on experience in collecting and analyzing social data that can be used as in aid when making decisions on coastal issues. The recitation will cover qualitative research strategies and interaction with the local population, which will contribute to the capstone research.

Capstone (3 credits)

Soil core sampling for capstone research

Soil core sampling for capstone research

The OBX capstone combines social and natural science to provide a comprehensive answer to a question related to coastal processes and communities. Students will establish a foundation through literary review then conduct environmental and sociological research and undergo thorough laboratory experimentation to add to current knowledge regarding coastal science.

Internship/Independent Study (3 credits)

Students will gain professional experience through working closely with an individual in their field of interest.

Seminar on Coastal Issues (1 credit)

ENEC 204 offers students different perspectives on the unique aspects of North Carolina’s coast through field trips and discussions. The course takes a look at environmental policies as well as the history and culture of the NC coast. Guest speakers will provide information on coastal science, history, art, and culture to illustrate the inter-connectivity of the subjects.





To learn more, visit the OBXFS website or email Lindsay Dubbs at