Human ecology at COA is rooted in the liberal arts tradition. We place an intrinsic value on knowledge and take a pluralistic view of education. We embrace multiple ways of knowing, different types of understanding, and many forms of expression. Human ecology extends the liberal arts in four important ways:


Human ecology is strongly interdisciplinary. Not only will you take classes in different disciplines, you’ll be expected to combine knowledge and skills from different areas to make original connections and produce new ways of thinking. We think putting up walls around disciplines does you a disservice. It does the world a disservice, too. Life is complex. The challenges facing us are multi-faceted. No single discipline has the answers.

Interdisciplinarity takes many forms at COA.  Sometimes faculty from different backgrounds teach a class together. In almost all classes teachers seek to bring in perspectives and points of view from multiple disciplines. But to be honest, the greatest degree of interdisciplinarity comes from students combining knowledge and ideas. You may begin a term thinking your three classes have nothing to do with each other, but by the middle of the term you realize that they’re all looking at similar issues. Students make connections among ideas all the time. We can’t help it. These connections are whimsical, serious, deep, shallow, old, new, obvious, and opaque. Some fizzle out quickly. Others will stay with you for the rest of your life. Students and faculty routinely reach out and across boundaries. We often don’t even notice we’re doing it. Making connections is like the air we breathe or the water we swim in.


We believe that education should not be something that is done to you, but is an opportunity for you to claim.

There are only a few general requirements for a degree in human ecology from COA. Students have unusual latitude in their course choices. You are free to choose courses and build a curriculum that is right for you.

Faculty may be experts in anthropology, mathematics, or painting. However, we’re not experts in you. We can’t tell you the best way to be an anthropologist, a mathematician, or a painter—or some unique combination of all three. But you’re not alone. Faculty, staff, and your fellow students all are on this journey together. Building your curriculum is an active, ongoing, and collaborative process.

Self-direction in our curriculum is about more than just course choices; it also extends to courses themselves. In many classes you will be able to choose the topic for your term paper or final project. You may also be able to choose the format of your project. You could write a paper or give a presentation, but maybe you’d rather write a short graphic novel, or design lesson plans to teach about your topic to middle school students. What format will best express your ideas? What will be the biggest challenge? What will most help you learn and grow?


An essential part of human ecology is action: doing and making and changing, not just learning. We not only teach about environmental and social problems, but also prepare you to directly address these problems. It’s relatively easy to critique a system; figuring out how to implement practical and durable change for the better is much, much harder. We don’t shy away from this challenge.

We’re not a school of activism, although many of our students are activists. We’re not an art school, although many of our students are artists. We’re not a science school, although….you get the idea. We are a school of doing. We combine action and reflection, intervention and scholarship, making and observing.

Values and passion

Human ecology isn’t easy. It’s a lot harder than choosing a major or a career and then letting professors tell you what to learn and how to think. Learning how to change the world is harder than learning how to maintain the status quo.

Life and learning at COA are animated by benevolent concern and affection for the planet and its inhabitants. Some colleges might be hesitant to say this. We’ll say it loudly. Students, faculty, and staff are drawn to College of the Atlantic because we care. We don’t have all the answers. We haven’t figured out the perfect solution or the best ways to make a difference. But we want to be part of a community of individuals who strive unapologetically to not just study the world, but change it for the better.

Human ecology at COA joins passion and intellect rather than separating them. We are suspicious of an overly-scientific objectivity that keeps the world at arm’s length. We believe that passion and love paired with critical reasoning and creativity make a necessary and powerful combination.