Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies (NCSS) Concentration

The 21-credit Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies concentration invites undergraduates to shape individualized courses of study focused on the environmental humanities. Through the concentration, students are pursuing issues related to biomimicry, emerging technologies, global warming, hybridity and sustainability, among other options.

Concentration specifics

The Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies (NCSS) concentration is a 21-credit concentration that allows RISD students to construct a pathway for undergraduate environmental education working across liberal arts and the studio departments. While housed in and administered by the Liberal Arts division, NCSS is an all-college interdisciplinary undergraduate concentration. It allows students to create their own pathway of study drawn from the fields of: sustainable design, the environmental social sciences, the environmental humanities, social and environmental justice studies, the environment and the fine arts.

Courses that can earn NCSS credit and are open to NCSS concentrators are identified as such in the NCSS course catalogue. (Find the upcoming semester catalogue in the “Documents / Downloads / Forms” section below). Students will also complete a three-credit core course in Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies—the NCSS core seminar.

The NCSS concentration is a capped program. All RISD undergraduate students can apply to join, but concentration numbers are limited to 30 students per academic year. Students are selected by the NCSS Advisory Board in the spring semester of the academic year. Interested students should contact the NCSS coordinator (listed above) or complete and submit the NCSS concentration form.

Typically, concentrators meet or communicate with the concentration coordinator once or twice a year to discuss course options and to update their records. NCSS concentrators may pre-register for a select range of Liberal Arts courses that are identified in the NCSS catalog as NCSS credit-worthy courses. The concentration coordinator will contact all concentrators with the relevant instructions shortly before the official registration period. This pre-registration option is available in fall and spring only.

The learning and making objectives of this concentration are to enable students to:

  • study the historical and contemporary causes and consequences of environmental challenges.
  • advance a sophisticated, critical understanding of the ways aesthetics, objects, and language interact with culture, power relations, and institutions to shape our perceptions of the natural and built world.
  • identify the connections among cultural, social, political, philosophical, and scientific perspectives that shape human-environment interaction.
  • reflect on the contours of their own socio-ecological identity and its potential impact in the world.
  • refine the intellectual, conceptual, and technical skills they need to generate art and design-based responses, critiques, and solutions to contemporary and future environmental challenges.
  • expose and expand the connections between the environmental social sciences, nature-culture studies, design, and the fine arts through the lens of sustainability.
  • develop the leadership skills they need to become critical voices, innovators, and actors, extending our understanding of nature, culture, and sustainability through art and design.

The NCSS concentration can be completed within a 4-or 5-year degree program.

Requirements: To complete this interdisciplinary undergraduate concentration, students will complete a minimum of 21 credit hours of relevant coursework.

Students will also complete a 3-credit core course in Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies – The NCSS Core Seminar. This course will receive credit as a non-major studio elective cross-listed in the Liberal Arts, Fine Arts and Architecture and Design divisions. Students may distribute their remaining credits for the concentration according to their individual needs and creative passions.

Brown classes may qualify for NCSS credit, but do not appear in the NCSS catalog. Concentrators may petition for inclusion of these classes by submitting a request to the concentration coordinator that includes the course description.

NCSS concentrators may also petition the concentration coordinator for the inclusion of studio classes in the student’s major department or a non-major studio elective by virtue of the way the student chooses to do the work in that studio. If the content of the student’s work reflects the values of the NCSS Concentration, then the course’s six credits may qualify for NCSS credit. The minimum grade for NCSS credit of B- still applies.


  • RISD students will be able to ‘double count’ up to nine credits of courses they have taken in their major as NCSS courses as long as such courses are identified as fulfilling NCSS requirements.
  • Students must receive a B- or above for any RISD course they wish to count toward the NCSS concentration.
  • NCSS concentrators will be able to transfer a maximum of 6 credits from other universities to fulfill their NCSS concentration requirements; all these courses must receive at least a B-, or in the case of universities where letter grades are not issued, a passing grade.
  • All four-credit courses from other universities will transfer into this concentration as three-credit courses.
  • Discretion regarding whether courses from other universities meet the standards for an NCSS course rests with the NCSS concentration coordinator.
  • RISD students will be able to petition the NCSS coordinator to request consideration for NCSS credit for work completed in studio courses that are not designated NCSS courses. Students need to demonstrate and document to the satisfaction of the NCSS coordinator that their work is substantively informed by the themes of the concentration.