The University of St. Thomas

About

An interdisciplinary science major at UST

 

Amongst the most pressing issues facing humanity are those that center on the environment and our interactions with it:  ground- and surface-water contamination, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and alteration of the world's oceans.  The solutions to these fundamentally complex problems require the skills of multiple disciplines including geoscience, bioscience, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. Building on the excellent faculty and strong tradition of environmental research in the sciences at UST, the environmental science program (ESCI) seeks to provide students with the rigorous scientific skills that they will need to help solve some of these problems.

Students in the ESCI program choose from one of three scientific concentrations--biology, chemistry, or geoscience--that provide in-depth knowledge in a specific discipline.  As part of the course requirements, students within each concentration take courses in each of the other sciences, as well as allied courses in mathematics, engineering, and the social sciences.  In addition, students take two "bookend" courses, ESCI 310 (Environmental Problem Solving) and ESCI 390 (Senior Research Seminar), that bring together ESCI majors from all of the concentrations to work on problems that require an interdisciplinary solution.  These courses provide the practical, problem-based experiences that are necessary for training students to think across disciplines, not just within them.

Environmental Science

Environmental Science is an interdisciplinary science program focused on solving environmental problems that lie at the interface between biology, chemistry, and geology. Students participate in one of three concentrations (biology, chemistry, or geology) leading to the Bachelor of Science degree, each of which contains substantial coursework from each of these disciplines. This program provides excellent preparation for students wishing to pursue graduate degrees in conservation biology, environmental science, earth system science, or other environmentally-focused programs of study in the sciences. It also provides solid preparation for students planning other types of environmental careers, such as environmental consulting, law, policy, or research.
   

Why pursue a degree in environmental science?


Environmental science is interdisciplinary. In the last few decades the concept of “doing science” has broadened to encompass the need for interdisciplinary research and problem-solving. The National Science Foundation now encourages and supports major interdisciplinary programs and research projects. The Earth’s biological, geological, and chemical systems are inherently complex.  The interactions between these systems are even more so, yet it is in this realm that solutions to environmental problems will be found. Scientists that are trained to think across disciplinary boundaries are currently making significant strides in issues that range from climate change to the bioremediation of contaminated aquifers and water supply. Students that are trained in this way, with a deep focus in one discipline, but with considerable appreciation for interdisciplinary problem-solving, will be better-trained to address the environmental questions that will face them in the future.

Environmental science provides the skill-sets required by industry. In interviews with local and national environmental consulting firms we found that these organizations actively sought out scientifically-trained graduates with a BS degree. This superceded their requirements for computer, math, writing, and communication skills, because they assumed that these skills ‘came with the territory’ of the BS degree.

Environmental science provides the skill-sets required by graduate schools.
 We contacted twelve graduate programs in environmental science (Columbia, UT San Antonio, Univ. of Cincinnati, Rutgers, Duke, Michigan, UC Santa Barbara, Johns Hopkins, UC Irvine, Ohio State, Univ. of Pennsylvania, UW Green Bay) to ascertain their entry requirements. Our curriculum is sufficient for entry into nearly all of these programs and is ideal for a subset of them. 

Environmental science provides a sound foundation for careers in environmental policy and law. Scientifically-trained students are uniquely poised to enter careers in environmental policy and law. Most environmental policy issues have a significant scientific basis, with a concomitant need for expert testimony from scientists. As a result, scientifically literate policy-makers and lawyers, particularly those trained in an interdisciplinary science, have the ability to think critically about such testimony, evaluate data, and make better policy and legal decisions that are founded on a firm scientific basis.

 

The need for environmental scientists is predicted to increase. 


From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Employment of environmental scientists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014, while employment of hydrologists should grow much faster than average. Job growth for environmental scientists and hydrologists should be strongest at private-sector consulting firms. Demand for environmental scientists and hydrologists will be spurred largely by public policy, which will oblige companies and organizations to comply with complex environmental laws and regulation.

Job opportunities also will be spurred by a continued general awareness regarding the need to monitor the quality of the environment, to interpret the impact of human actions on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and to develop strategies for restoring ecosystems.