Watersheds: People, Rivers, and Change in Cascadia

Spring 2017 quarter

Taught by

Clarissa Dirks
biology, virology, molecular biology
Peter Dorman
economics, political economy, statistics
physics, sustainable design
  • UG


No specific subject knowledge is required, but all students need to be willing to tackle open-ended problems, combine abstract and concrete thinking, respond with insight to real-world information and obstacles, and produce carefully finished writing, presentations, and other work.

Important note: This program is taught by Rob Knapp, Clarissa Dirks, and Peter Dorman.  A bug is preventing Rob Knapp's name from appearing properly.

As the Cascadia region responds to regional and planetary changes in climate, economy, and ecology and tries to find sustainable forms of settlement and industry, water has an essential role. In fact, it has many roles—support for life, productive ingredient, source of delight, and many more. This program will explore key interactions between water and people, as they play out now in three locales in the Cascadia bioregion, and as they may change in the future while the region searches for sustainability.

Our work will be outdoors as well as in, with several field trips (one multi-day), and opportunities for field observation and regeneration projects alongside lectures, book discussions, lab exercises, and skill workshops. Concepts and information will be drawn from earth system science, public health, sports and recreation, civil engineering, ecosystem management, political economy, and urban design. The emphasis will be on linkages and influences among these topics, because sustainability depends on them working together. The quarter’s goal will be what professionals call conceptual designs, that is, imaginative ideas disciplined by working out how they fit in the settings they aim to improve. The quarter will conclude with presentations in the style of TED talks.

Students at all levels, from freshmen to seniors, will find challenge and new learning in this program. Moving toward sustainability in American society means finding workable paths for the widest possible range of personal situations, so each student’s unique background will be valuable to consider and build on. Meanwhile, finding one’s place in this uncertain, fast-changing time of transition toward sustainability will be a challenge that each student, and the program as a whole, will confront.

Program Details

Fields of Study

biology community studies economics environmental studies government law and public policy political economy sustainability studies

Preparatory For

sustainability, environmental affairs, urban affairs, governance, and policy.


Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

First class meeting: Tuesday, April 4 at 10am (Sem II E1107)

Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$220 for a multi-day field trip to explore the ecology, economics and recreation of river systems in Washington state.


2016-04-26Fee added ($220).