College students are flocking to sustainability degrees, careers
Students interested in pursuing a job in sustainability now can choose from a variety of "green" degree programs.
With an increased interest in the environment and growth in the "green collar" job sector, colleges and universities are beginning to incorporate sustainability into their programs. From MBAs in sustainable-business practices to programs that give students the technical training necessary to operate wind turbines, students have an increasing array of options to choose from.
"Clearly, demand is there for these types of workers," says Marisa Michaud of Eduventures, a higher-education research and consulting firm. "Colleges are seeing that, and they want to provide appropriate educational programs to meet that demand."
Concern for the environment is the motivation, says Julian Dautremont-Smith of the Association for Sustainability in Higher Education
"The past few years, society as a whole has become increasingly interested in sustainability," he says. "Higher education has been swept up as well."
David Soto of The Princeton Review says student interest is driving colleges to create programs that offer training in sustainability. Two-thirds of students surveyed for the company's recent "College Hopes and Worries" survey said a college's "environmental commitment" would be a factor in where they applied.
"Students are really savvy shoppers these days, so they're realizing, with a changing economy and green jobs looking to take a leap within the next couple of years, that they want to be armed with those types of skills," Soto says.
Green — not greed — is good
One popular program is an MBA that teaches skills for operating sustainable businesses.
A University of Pennsylvania program that started this year lets students earn an MBA and a master's in environmental studies at the same time.
"There's an increasing interest among businesses to take the environment seriously," says Eric Orts, director of the Wharton School's Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership at Penn.
"Our take is you really need to have the science background and some other approaches that are not normally taught in the business school context," he says.
Architecture schools are responding to the increased interest in energy-efficient buildings.
Christoph Reinhart, associate professor of architectural technology at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, says the school's decision last summer to start offering a concentration in sustainable design was driven by interest from students and changes in the field.
"Over the past few years, there has been an increased interest and pressure to provide this knowledge in more depth, whereas before, maybe a class would have been sufficient," he says. "Now there's an expectation that more of these skills are being learned."
Newly minted grads
Arizona State University's School of Sustainability graduated its first class in May. The school offers a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science in sustainability as well as a graduate degree.
Charles Redman, the director of the School of Sustainability, says the school takes an interdisciplinary approach.
Student Drew Bryck says what drew him to the school was the opportunity to study biology, economics and a variety of other fields.
Bryck says he is "fairly confident" his degree will help him land a job because the need for people with a well-rounded background in sustainability is growing, especially in the private sector.
The program resonates with students, Redman says; 300 undergraduates enrolled the first year it was offered.
Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., will require all students to take at least one class that explores the human connection to the environment.
Dina El-Mogazi, director of the Campus Greening Initiative, says courses in a variety of disciplines will fulfill the requirement.
"We feel that it's very important, given the current state of the world, that students understand both the way the environment supports human life and the way human decisions" affect the environment's ability to function.
A growing number of schools, including community colleges, are training students to operate green technology.
Kalamazoo (Mich.) Valley Community College will offer a 26-week program starting in October to train students in operating wind turbines.
Jim DeHaven, vice president for economic and business development at the college, says the school is offering the program to meet the needs of wind farms that are "scrambling" for trained technicians.
"They can really write their own future at this point because they're needed at all the wind farms," he says. "They don't want us to wait and put people through a two-year program or a one-year certification — they want a fast track to employment."
Photo by Vince Palermo, Global Institute of Sustainability