The Institute endeavors to develop initiatives or centers that focus on compelling scientific, social, and engineering issues and problems that require the expertise of more than a single researcher or even a single department. The expertise and strengths of academic departments in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences often provide the foundation for these interdisciplinary initiatives and centers. The resources of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute are designed to create added opportunities for faculty and students and to act as a catalyst for innovative, collaborative research.

The Institute provides high-quality support services through its budget and grant management personnel, computing assistance through its Environmental Computing Facility, and outreach support through its outreach support teams and Center for Environmental Informatics. Proposal development, external funding opportunities searches, and editorial assistance are available to Institute faculty as well.

Through its projects, data resources, and collaborative linkages, the Institute supports students interested in earth science and environmental research. Students gain valuable experience working as research assistants on Institute projects; often the research performed for a funded project stimulates a student's interest in the area under study, resulting in a thesis or dissertation project, and in co-authored publications. Through their work on Institute projects, students also have opportunities to "network", or make professional contacts that guide them as they make career decisions and look for employment. The Institute contributes to the College of Earth and Mineral Science’s broader educational mission by sponsoring speakers, seminar series, and other events in cooperation with other Penn State units.