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NerdScholar Favorites: Sustainability Studies Programs

July 15, 2014
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Global warming is not only having an effect on our planet; it’s also having an effect on college course offerings. College campuses have become a breeding ground for “green” thinkers: Along with environmental-activist groups, many schools now offer sustainability majors and programs, which are becoming increasingly popular due to abundant job opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, green jobs are growing four times faster than those in other industries.

Many of today’s environmentally friendly initiatives, such as hybrid vehicles, organic farming, and recycling, have been shaped by the work being done on college campuses, helping to raise awareness and involvement in the sustainability movement. As social interest in sustainability rises and career opportunities continue to grow, college programs are taking the lead in producing new sustainability leaders.

To try and find out who will play a role in shaping the future of our planet and our society for the better, NerdScholar compiled a list of some of our favorite sustainability programs.


Messiah CollegeMost Hands-On Experience

Pennsylvania’s Messiah College offers a major in sustainability studies with concentrations in community and urban development, public policy or sustainable agriculture. The interdepartmental program emphasizes the social, ecological and economic aspects of sustainable human communities, and includes research projects on institutional composting and biodiesel production. The program leads to many internship  opportunities in the area, at organizations such as the Nature Conservancy or ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization). In addition to outside work, students are extremely involved in the campus community—nearly all of Messiah’s green initiatives are student-led. “Students do serious, impactful work,” says Craig Dalen, director of sustainability. “Everything from writing business plans for an on-campus community garden and farmer’s market, to scouring invoices in dining services to identify cost savings and more local options, to designing site marketing campaigns for campus restaurants to educate and inform on proper recycling.”


University of FloridaMost Business-Oriented

Sustainability studies at the University of Florida focus on “the development of sustainability skills that will help students succeed in their careers and as change agents,” says Leslie Paul Thiele, director of the program. “These include critical and systems thinking skills, creative problem-solving skills, and adaptive learning skills.” The program recognizes sustainability studies as a business-related field, allowing students to combine a specialization in sustainability studies with a major in business administration. The program’s capstone course, Sustainability in Action, gives students practical experience as interns in nonprofit agencies or business enterprises, including the Community Weatherization Coalition and the Edible Plant Project. Through these work experiences, students not only apply their sustainability knowledge, but also develop the social and technical career skills needed to become future leaders.


Hofstra UniversityMost Industry Experience

Hofstra University’s location right outside New York City allows the sustainability studies program to address both urban and suburban sustainability issues. Students can learn about energy, food, and water on Hofstra’s green campus, which includes a campus-wide sustainability officer and a nationally recognized arboretum. On the other hand, students can discuss pollution and environmental justice at internships with national organizations and governmental institutions in Manhattan and beyond. Currently, Hofstra sustainability students are interning at places ranging from a local Long Island organic farm to the Department of Energy. “We have the ability to work individually with students to ensure that they get the experiences that will help them achieve their long-term goals,” says professor Robert Brinkman, director of the program. “We are trying to teach students to be part of the emerging green economy.” The small class sizes and committed faculty at Hofstra provide students with personalized guidance, and the location offers students numerous career opportunities.


George Mason UniversityMost Community-Oriented

The sustainability studies program at George Mason University, outside Washington, D.C., invites students to “use the campus as a laboratory for learning how humans can live more lightly, gracefully, and justly on the planet,” says Andrew Wingfield, a sustainability studies fellow. Students in the program are able to apply their academic research to numerous campus projects with full support from the university. George Mason has an Office of Sustainability that provides students with learning and internship opportunities, and students from the sustainability studies program have contributed by conducting solid waste audits, scoping out the best roofs for solar panels, launching a green office certification program, and working in the campus vegetable garden. The office also administers an annual $100,000 Patriot Green Fund that finances green projects on campus, and students develop project proposals as part of their program requirements. Students can get even more involved in sustainable campus life by living in the Sustainability Living Learning Community.


Stony Brook UniversityMost Variety

Stony Brook University offers a highly interdisciplinary sustainability studies program that brings together faculty from many different fields, including anthropology, women’s studies and geology. The university is a pioneer in sustainability studies, which is composed of five majors, six minors and a fast-track BA-MBA program. In addition to the general major, the program offers more specialized degrees in environmental humanities, ecosystems and human impact, coastal environmental studies, and environmental design, policy and planning. Program director Dr. Heidi Hutner explains that the courses are hands-on and taught by a team including a primatologist and an ocean conservationist. The program also emphasizes making environmental advocacy accessible to the general public. “Students publish their work in science journals, make films, blog and redesign communities,” says Joanne Morici, senior editorial director of external relations. “We also have an environmental film series and lecture series that highlight and feature prominent environmental advocates.” The faculty and lectures inspire students to promote environmental sustainability.


Note: Superlatives, noted in green, are inclusive of the group of schools listed in this article only.


Students farming image courtesy of Shutterstock.