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By Pablo Loayza on June 9, 2020

Every day, citizens around the world are awakening to the fact that environmental protection is an absolute must. They are demanding that their governments and businesses take action to solve global issues.

Increasingly, there is a need for environmental professionals to make a greater impact, and fast. Water scarcity, renewable energy, biodiversity loss, a skyrocketing global population and food security — while frightening — also offer opportunities to find solutions to the most critical issues of our time.

At UC Davis, environmental policy and planning, or EPAP, majors are at the forefront of meaningful and rewarding careers — as an environmental lawyer, a city planner or an environmental consultant, to name a few — that will make planet Earth more sustainable.

Environmental majors benefit from our location

A student stands in a field and looks at a flower in a class outing.
A restoration practicum outing to Yanci Ranch in Winters, CA, to see some restoration efforts in progress. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

UC Davis is at the center of everything.

Nestled in a strategic position between the major cities of San Francisco and Sacramento, UC Davis is truly in a privileged geographic location, especially for those interested in environmental law.

“UC Davis’ proximity to Sacramento is significant because some of the most important environmental legislation in the country happens in Sacramento,” said environmental researcher and EPAP major adviser Gwen Arnold.

There are plenty of opportunities to intern at the state capitol or work with leading senators. UC Davis students experience relatively low competition due to the small class size of the EPAP major — 250 enrollees total.

In Sacramento, EPAP students have the opportunity to draft, develop and implement environmental policy and gain valuable work experience.

For those interested in working for private industry, UC Davis is about an hour drive from San Francisco, a global city with small and large environmental companies and start-ups, all looking for educated students to fill internships.

And in Davis itself, with its idyllic, tree-lined streets and small-town, community feel, the city nurtures the next generation of environmental leaders. The weekly farmers markets, greenbelts in all directions and enthusiastic biking culture (read: low CO2 emissions) will have you feeling grounded and inspired as you immerse yourself in nature.

As the greenest UC campus, UC Davis is ranked 1st in the world for campus sustainability, boasting the largest zero-net energy real estate development project in the country.

To top it off, UC Davis is 1st in the nation and 2nd in the world for agriculture and forestry — hence, “Ags” or “Aggies,” referring to agriculture. Federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Parks Service target UC Davis students for job recruitment.

Choose a path in environmental science that fits you

A professor stands in front of a complex diagram about environmental engineering
Assistant professor Maureen Kinyua talks to students about principles they should be watching for during Biological Principles of Environmental Engineering class. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The EPAP program offers dozens of opportunities to follow where your curiosity takes you.

There are eight differentiated tracks within the major program that allow you to specialize in the field.

  • Environmental Policy & Politics: Developing environmental policies, analyzing a variety of alternatives and solving complex social and environmental challenges. 
  • City and Regional Planning: Urban and land-use planning, public lands management and community development.
  • Water Management: Water quantity and quality solutions, assuring effective management of a valuable resource.
  • Integrative Policy: Create your ideal program by combining multiple specialization areas such as natural resource economics, environmental hazards or sustainable development.
  • Energy & Transportation Management: Energy systems, natural resource economics, transportation and sustainability.
  • Climate Change Policy: Air quality design and implementation through environmental economics and climate science.
  • Conservation Management: Uplifting living biological resources at the local and global level through water policy, ecology, and international conservation and development.

“(EPAP) is a very unique major that doesn’t really exist at other universities,” said EPAP advisor Melissa Whaley. This is in part due to the highly specialized course offerings that were created with future employers and challenges in mind. These comprehensive specializations offer an opportunity to establish a variety of career paths.

Note: How do EPAP and environmental science and management, or ESM, majors differ?

“The way I typically describe it,” Arnold said, “is that students who are interested in working as forest rangers or park managers should choose the environmental science and management track as they will apply scientific knowledge to the natural world around them. Whereas those interested in drafting policy or working as planners or consultants should choose EPAP as it will provide them the knowledge to draft policy or implement sustainable design.”

The time is right for environmental scientists

Students talk in the sunshine.
Samuel Landaverde, a landscape design major, laughs with Nikki Moslehi, a sustainable environmental design major, during a landscape design class visit to West Pond and Stonegate Detention Basin in West Davis. The class was surveying the manmade wetlands to see how they could design a multipurpose flood detention area for their class lab template assignment. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

By 2024, an EPAP graduate’s skills will be in high demand. “The green technology and sustainability market size is expected to grow from $8.7B in 2019 to $28.9B in 2024, at an Annual Growth Rate of 27.1 percent, with North America to hold the largest market size during the forecast period,” according to MarketsandMarkets. Careers in environmental policy, private industry and sustainability are growing.

And where do students go after graduation? While nearly one-third of UC Davis EPAP graduates head to law school within a few years of completing their undergraduate degrees, EPAP graduates go on to work in fields such as:


Pablo Loayza is an environmental planning student and writer with the Office of Strategic Communications at UC Davis.

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