New Environmental Science major launched

A cornucopia of garbage used to symbolize human waste sits on display. The addition of the Environmental Science major marks the Institute’s continued dedication to progress and service. // Photo by Tyler Parker Student Publications

The 2023-24 school year marks the addition of three new undergraduate majors in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences here at Tech: Solid Earth and Planetary Sciences, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Environmental Science. 

The third major, Environmental Science (ENVS), is the newest interdisciplinary degree program offered and is in conjunction with the School of Biological Sciences. 

This joint committee, which will include faculty and administration from varying backgrounds of expertise, will allow for a more wide-range approach to the core classes and general learning content, which in turn will prepare its students and future graduates to be proficient in several career fields and focuses related to environmental science and sustainability. 

Environmental science is an expanding field; the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 5% growth in the number of related job positions every year. 

This is partially due to the ever- growing concerns over climate change, global warming, sustainability and more that have become more prevalent in recent decades. 

Not only individual people, but corporations and governments have been becoming increasingly conscious of their relationship with the environment. 

This has led to a demand for specialists, consultants and other job positions focusing solely on environmental impact, not just in companies specifically targeting these issues, but across all sectors of industry.

During a time when environmental and sustainability concerns are at the forefront of so many social, political and economic issues, steps in higher education to acknowledge and support these interests is essential. Academic institutions have a unique position as contributors to the solution of the environmental crisis.

In this way, the launch of the ENVS undergraduate degree is a meaningful action for  the Institute as a whole. It marks a dedication of resources, time and a responsibility in educating the future generation about these issues and producing solutions. 

President Ángel Cabrera, who spoke at the major’s launch event on Aug. 25th, touched on this sentiment; he explained that the Institute must not only be dedicated to understanding the world and the sciences, but also to finding solutions and making a tangible difference. The addition of ENVS at Tech was a decision far-preceding just this school year. Dr. Samantha Wilson, the Curriculum Director, provided her insight to the Technique .

“The original purpose of starting the new Environmental Science degree was to have a degree with flexible electives in upper-level coursework that will allow students to customize their program of study to their interest and career goals,” said Wilson, continuing to speak on the degree’s broad utility. 

“Environmentally focused students go into a wide range of fields like academia, consulting and law. The flexibility of the ENVS program allows students to get a strong foundation in the basic sciences (by requiring core content in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, earth sciences) and then given room to explore a pathway of interest,” Wilson said. The interdisciplinary approach has been the main focus in developing coursework for the major, which sets it apart from other environment-related majors at Tech. 

“The BS in Environmental Engineering has a very different curriculum than ENVS, with a longer lower-level sequence of mathematics courses and prerequisite engineering courses that underlie most of the upper-level coursework in environmental engineering. Our program has a much broader core sequence including biological sciences and policy and upper-level coursework that focuses on environmental science and policy rather than engineering,” said Dr. Jennifer Glass, the new program director, on ENVS’s unique course curriculum. According to Wilson, as a major that overlaps with other schools, there are additional plans to collaborate with the School of City & Regional Planning and the School of Public Policy. The diverse background students will experience will help them apply their knowledge in many careers and flourish with the strong foundation of physical, biological and chemical sciences in the core curriculum. 

“This major will prepare students for careers in a variety of fields including, but [is] not at all limited to, environmental consulting, conservation, sustainability, education, communication, policy and many more in industry, academia and government,”  Glass said. 

The overall content and learning approach will revolve around optimism. The common idea of hopelessness and cynicism in relation to the environment is one that many people fall prey to, spurred on by the pessimistic
outlook of the media. 

In the new ENVS curriculum, instead of teaching about environmental issues as something unapproachable, they will be viewed from a more idealistic point of view, which is key to avoiding potential disillusionment. 

In this way, students will develop a deeper understanding of the environment in a more positive way without feeling overwhelmed. President Cabrera added that optimism, hope, confidence and conviction is the first
 step of the solution.

The addition of the undergraduate ENVS degree is just the first step of many the Institute has initiated to be on the side of the solution. 

The diverse course curriculum, interdisciplinary approach to learning and encouraging outlook of the program will result in well-rounded and adequately developed students in the sphere of environmental science.