Monday, October 4, 2010

Let's Go Green in Academics

The role of education for human sustainable development is to contribute to making this possible. Only education can give people the environmental and ethical awareness, values and attitudes, skills and behavior needed for sustainable developme
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nt. To achieve this, education needs to explain not only the physical and biological environment, but the socio-economic environment and human development. To be effective it should deal with the dynamics of both and be integrated in all disciplines. However, many people do not understand the close ties between human activities and the environments because they have inaccurate or insufficient information or are not accustomed to systemic thinking and are not used to look ahead and deal with global outlooks.

Unfortunately, DePaul University does not offer students seeking professional degrees that deal with different aspects of the environment or sustainability. An active research program is a vital component to DePaul’s School of Public Service. A graduate degree program will prepare students to concentrate their study and research within a well-defined subject area, pursuing fewer and more advanced topics to a greater depth than do students in a regular master’s program.

The sustainability master’s program has been implemented in other universities across the country. Universities such as Arizona State University, Illinois State University and Duke University have all incorporated a master’s program that focus specifically on the environment at large. According to a US News Report, Arizona State's program has more than 600 students who have declared sustainability a major. Illinois State University has 65 majors in renewable energy, the report says. MIT and the University of California–Berkeley, among many others, have also seen more students drawn to sustainability programs.
Students enrolled in these courses conduct research on and implement projects that advance sustainability. For example, students at Illinois State University have the opportunity to enroll in sustainability program called Environmental Stewardship and Sustainable Design. Students in this course would address the economics and logistics of implementing strategies to conserve resources and reduce the negative impacts of the built environment. Students will collaborate in interdisciplinary teams on projects to investigate opportunities to reduce the negative environmental impacts of the campus and community and increase the positive impacts. Another example of an academic sustainability program would include the University of California-Berkeley Master’s of Science in Sustainability. This M.S program in Environmental Science, Policy and Management integrates the biological, physical, and social sciences to provide advanced education in these fields. We develop critical analytical skills and the ability to conduct ecosystems research at molecular, organism, and global scales and within interlinked human social system.

Sustainability and green majors are allowing major universities to prepare their students for the green economy. With engineering and energy development focused on sustainability and green design: these majors are a great, interdisciplinary way of allowing students to study and prepare for new careers. Employment in the sustainability field is growing at a rate faster than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The predicted rate for the period 2008-2018 is 28%. Much of this growth is due to increased awareness of environmental problems. As of May 2008, median salaries for environmental scientists were $59,750 annually, according to the BLS.

Many of DePaul University initiatives are focusing on making the campus more sustainable. These new sustainability initiatives include reducing energy and water usage, increasing waste diversion, creating more alternative transportation options, offering sustainable dining choices, implementing green cleaning, offering eco housing, purchasing environmentally preferred products and planting native species. However, education for sustainability will be a lifelong learning process affirming values and actions which contribute to human and social transformation and ecological preservation.

This requires the institution to pay more attention to sustainability and academics curriculum. Through environmental and sustainability studies students will think deeply about the challenges and solutions to the problems of the environment and appreciate that living honorably includes protecting our environment and resources. The responsibility to educate students to think critically about sustainability issues and solutions should be embedded within the mission of DePaul University.

Posted by: Sabrina Purdis
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