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Sustainability and Energy Undergraduate Certificate FAQs

What is the Paula M. Trienens Institute for Sustainability and Energy?

The Institute was launched as an Initiative out of the office of the President in Oct. 2008, and formerly reconstituted as an Institute at the end of its 5-year pilot in Oct. 2013. The Institute's mission is to catalyze the development of transformational science, technology, education and policy for sustainability and energy. The Institute meets this challenge through interdisciplinary education, research, and local and global outreach.

Specifically with regards to curriculum, the Institute IS NOT an academic department, and does not reside in an individual school/college, like Weinberg or McCormick, but rather in the Office for Research. You cannot major or minor in Trienens. The Trienens Institute DOES however offer courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level that count as credit towards the pursuit of your major(s)/minor(s), and/or, the Trienens Institute Undergraduate Certificate.

The Trienens Institute has developed a deeply interdisciplinary curriculum that crosses traditional academic borders. Courses leverage faculty expertise across numerous departments and make energy and sustainability education equally accessible to every student at the University, most often without prerequisite. It is not uncommon for students from all six undergraduate schools/colleges to be represented in a Trienens Institute course.

How is a certificate different than a major or a minor?

Certificates demonstrate a concentrated interest in a particular academic area, and are meant to complement, NOT replace, your major or minor. Majors and minors also normally have a higher number of required courses, in a more specific area of academic study. Note that there are specific guidelines about double-counting courses for credit towards both a certificate AND a major or a minor. Please review question 7 for further detail.

What are the benefits of pursuing the Trienens Institute Undergraduate Certificate?

Pursuing the Trienens Institute Undergraduate Certificate provides a means for Northwestern students to pursue multi-disciplinary instruction in the increasingly important areas of sustainability and energy during their undergraduate coursework, while signaling abroad topics proficiency to potential future employers. Students pursuing the Certificate will in some cases receive preferential pre-registration access to certain courses associated with the Certificate, and be apprised when new courses are introduced at the University.

Who is eligible? Are there any deadlines?

Any undergraduate student at the University is eligible. A student may officially “declare” the certificate (submit their “intent” paperwork) once they have taken at least one of the three core Trienens Institute 200-level courses (although they may do so at any time thereafter, up-to, and including, once they’ve already finished all coursework).

Students may declare the certificate at any time during the academic year. As it may take up to two weeks to process paperwork, we recommend declaring at least two weeks before the beginning of pre-registration for the next quarter, to take full advantage of preferential registration times available to declared students.

What are the pre-approved elective courses? Will I be notified if this list changes?

Please see our full list of pre-approved courses (Note: the “last update” day/time is prominently displayed at the top of the document to avoid any confusion).

Please note that AT LEAST three of the four elective courses must be at the 300-level, and NO MORE than two of the four electives can come from any single department or program. 

All students that have declared for the Certificate will receive email updates of any changes to the pre-approved elective course list.

Is there a GPA requirement for the certificate? Can I take a class P/N?

There is not a GPA requirement to apply for the certificate, but in order to complete the certificate, you must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in the core courses (Trienens 210, 220 and 230) and 3.0 overall (including elective courses). Consequently, you may not take a class P/N.

If I take a cross-listed course that is jointly offered with a department from which I've already filled my 2-elective maximum, does it count?

Cross-listed courses will be applied towards the department under which you register.

For example, if you've already taken your 2-elective maximum in Earth & Planetary Sciences, and then enroll in Organic Geochemistry (CIV_ENV 314 / EARTH 314), you WOULD be able to count the course if you enroll under CIV_ENV 314, but NOT if you enroll under EARTH 314.

Are there exceptions to the pre-approved electives list? Can I earn credit towards the Certificate for non-listed courses?

Only courses on the pre-approved electives list can be counted towards the Trienens Institute Certificate without special approval from the Trienens Institute curriculum committee. If you believe a course you have taken SHOULD be eligible as one of your four electives, please complete and submit the Petition to Approve Courses. The curriculum committee will decide if a non-pre-approved class can be applied toward the certificate.

What are the double-counting restrictions pertinent to the Certificate and my major(s)/minor(s)?

University rules for certificates stipulate that four of the seven Trienens Institute Undergraduate Certificate courses MAY NOT be counted toward a major or minor (this includes credits applied towards unrestricted elective or distribution requirements).

It is OK if some of the Trienens Institute core sequence courses (Trienens 210, 220, 230) are among the 3/7 (maximum) that are double-counted with other degree programs.

Double-check with your academic advisor for further restrictions that specifically pertain to your school/college and/or program.

How long will it take for me to earn the Certificate?

The amount of time required to earn this certificate will depend on numerous factors, including you academic load, the frequency with which courses are offered during the academic year, whether or not you have already completed some of the required courses before declaring, whether or not your elective courses have pre-requisites that you must first take, etc.

It will take AT MINIMUM one full year to complete the certificate requirements (assuming that you haven’t already taken some of the required Trienens 200-level core), as each course in the Trienens core sequence is only offered once per year (210 - Fall, 220 - Winter, 230 - Spring).

What are the "Thematic Areas" listed in the pre-approved electives list? Do I have to take all my electives in one area?

No, you do not.  The Thematic Areas highlight courses that similarly focus on six broad topics: Earth and environmental systems; Energy and infrastructure systems; Human systems, behavior & ethics; Management, economics and innovation; Materials and technologies; and Policy and law.

You are free to take all four electives in one area, or mix-and-match.  We ask for your planned Thematic Area (if you intend to focus in on a particular one) when you register for the Certificate for internal planning purposes only; you are not making a formal commitment.

I've already taken Trienens 210, but now it's called 220. Do I need to take Trienens 210 again?

Yes.  Trienens 220 Energy Systems for the 21st Century was previously numbered Trienens 210 through Fall 2011.  The new Trienens 210 Introduction to Sustainability: Solutions and Challenges is entirely new curriculum. 

Note that you DO NOT need to take Trienens 220 (your previous Trienens 210 credit counts for this portion of the certificate's core course requirement).

Who can I speak to if I have additional questions?