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The Sustainable Triangle Field Site has a refreshed focus and course offerings made possible through a close collaboration with Sustainable Carolina. Led by UNC Chapel Hill Chief Sustainability Officer Mike Piehler, students will build and apply their sustainability skill sets and follow their research interests to solve real-world sustainability questions facing the university and the Town of Chapel Hill. The new collaboration with Sustainable Carolina builds from previous successful partnerships by providing an insight into the ways through which universities, communities, industries, and government and nonprofit organizations work together toward a sustainable future.

The STFS offers students a unique setting in the Research Triangle to pair academic studies in the environment, urban planning, urban design and related fields with practical experience delivered through internships, capstone research projects and field trips. Students gain a background in stakeholder and client interaction, research translation, project management, and presentation of findings as an added benefit for future job prospects in the vibrant sustainability field.


The field site is designed to run spring semesters, with all components offered concurrently. However, students are not required to complete the field site requirements in one semester, if course sequencing or other factors prevent a student from doing so; some courses (e.g., capstones, internships) may be picked up in fall semester. Note that the rotation of STFS and other Sustainability Minor courses, along with students’ own scheduling constraints, call for careful academic planning so that students can successfully incorporate the field site into their UNC undergraduate experience.


Students will take three courses – Complete Streets (PLAN 590), Community Design and Green Architecture (ENEC 420), and one additional class from the sustainability minor course list – along with an internship (ENEC 393), a one-credit environmental seminar (ENEC 204) and a capstone research project (ENEC 698), as summarized briefly below. These courses, which total 16 credits, provide most of the curriculum needed for the Sustainability Minor.

  • ENEC 204: Environmental Seminar – a weekly seminar where students will explore emerging sustainability issues in the Triangle. Typically, the seminar will include guest speakers from business, local government or a nonprofit organization.
  • ENEC 393: Sustainability Internship – arranged through the Institute for the Environment, drawing on a growing suite of sponsors from the private and public sectors who have committed to mentoring an intern. Students who have an internship sponsor in mind may work with the internship coordinator to develop such placements.
  • ENEC 420: Community Design and Green Architecture – examines the impact of buildings and urban design on the environment and health from the perspective of land use planning, water, energy, materials, and indoor environment.
  • PLAN 590Complete Streets– examines how to design safe, equitable and inclusive streets that accommodate a variety of users: pedestrians, bike, cars and public transit.
  • ENEC 698: Environmental Capstone – a semester-long, team-based project charged with tackling an environmental research question or issue for a local client.  See:
  • An additional class from the sustainability minor list

Faculty and Staff

The site is co-directed by:

  • Mike Piehler, chief sustainability officer at UNC-Chapel Hill, director of the UNC Institute for the Environment, and joint faculty member in the Department of Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and the Environment, Ecology, and Energy Program at UNC and
  • Toni Sebastian, assistant professor in the Department of Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences at UNC.

Core courses will be taught by Piehler, Sebastian and other faculty members. Other courses with a sustainability orientation are currently taught across the campus by distinguished UNC-Chapel Hill faculty.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact co-program directors Mike Piehler or Toni Sebastian.

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Testimonials from former STFS participants

“My favorite part was spending so much time with the same students.  It’s really important to feel connected to the people you’re with when you’re learning about something.  It makes it easier to talk about hard topics.  A lot of those people became some of my closest friends.” –Olivia Corriere, 2018

The professors I had were phenomenal.  They push you out there and get you acclimated to the professional world. I loved getting out and exploring how people interact with the built environment…the field site really catered to that desire in me.  It completely changed my plans for the future.” -Kyle Doherty, 2018

“Every class we took related back to sustainability in urban settings.  Before I started the field site, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but after taking all the classes, it really helped me understand the connections between the environment, urban planning and sustainability.” -Molly Auten, 2018

“The field site was a perfect example of taking what we learned and actually applying it through our capstone and our internship and learning how to use the tools we’re gaining inside the classroom and applying them in the real world.  I’m not an environmental science major, but I was still interested in the interaction of sustainability, architecture and planning.  If you’re a student and you’re not an environmental science major, still apply.  The field site really informed my future career goals.” – Henderson Beck, 2018

The Sustainable Triangle Field Site allowed me to immerse myself in the realms of sustainability and urban planning. I appreciated working with a small cohort of students throughout the semester. The professors in the field site have a wealth of knowledge and were great resources for academic and career advising. The courses allowed us to learn about the evolution of sustainability and how it is implemented, as well new and innovative projects going on around the world. I enjoyed the hands-on aspects of the field site as well. The capstone gave me the opportunity to perform research for a real-world client and then present our findings to our client. The internship I had through the field site gave me a stronger understanding for how sustainability is communicated and how it plays out on our campus. Overall, the field site was a wonderful experience and a great way to expand my understanding of sustainability and urban planning while meeting peers who share a similar interest.” -Stephen Lapp, STFS 2017

“The field site was very well structured so that I could learn and grow while still feeling guided and supported. I was lucky to meet a great group of friends that I still see all the time and to develop a strong relationship with my professor, mentor, and advisors. Having mostly the same people in all my classes seemed like a downside to me at first, but it ended up being a huge benefit, facilitating collaboration and studying, as well as fostering close relationships with my peers. The capstone was the perfect way to get real-world experience in that we had to work together as a group to meet the needs of a client, but we also had Dr. Salvesen to seek guidance from when we needed it. Being in the first few days of the following semester, I would do anything to be back in my spring semester, heading into the field site. I would recommend it to anyone interested in sustainability or even people just trying to find their way here at UNC.”  -Stephanie Monmoine, STFS 2017

“The Sustainable Triangle Field Site made Spring of 2017 one of my favorite semesters at Carolina. Being in classes with the same small group of students who were all similarly focused and driven toward related goals was an great experience.  The field site offered many different opportunities that helped me grow as an individual and as a professional. This experience gave me mentors and peer relationships that will help me through the rest of my undergraduate career and beyond.” -Jessica Herfurth, STFS 2017

“The STFS was an invaluable way for me to discover a more focused area to apply my environmental science background. Up until participating in the field site, I knew I wanted to work in sustainability and working towards social equity, but I was unsure how to apply these goals. The classes in the field site allowed me to apply my knowledge to tackle issues of urban sustainability, increasing environmental resilience of cities and the quality of life of their residents. This semester not only introduced me to new topics in the environmental sector and helped me form close relationships with other students in the group, but also helped me discover the academic and career path I should pursue.” -Amaya Bravo, STFS 2016

 “After completing coursework and an internship in STFS, I felt more qualified for professional opportunities and ready to face the world’s pressing urban sustainability issues. Throughout the semester, I learned from experts in sustainable urban design, smart city solutions, and an accomplished documentary filmmaker. I would recommend STFS to any student with a desire to explore sustainability from a broad perspective. You will finish the program feeling empowered and excited about sustainability!” -Brian Vaughn, STFS 2016

“The Sustainable Triangle Field Site opened so many doors for me! Every class was engaging and relevant for my academic focus on energy and the environment. Both my capstone project and my internship granted me great mentors who pushed me to succeed, plus new skills and research interests. I really value my continuing professional connections to the Institute for the Environment and the Town of Carrboro. The Field Site gave me excellent preparation for my academic and professional life beyond college, and I was able to do it all with Carolina as my home base.” -Lauren Moore, STFS 2015