As the nation’s spotlight shines even brighter on the green movement, students are jumping on the bio-diesel bandwagon and enrolling in the University’s environmental studies programs in record numbers.
Enrollment in the University’s undergraduate Program in the Environment, offered in the college of Literature, Science and the Arts, has grown tenfold from 35 students working toward majors and minors in 2002-2003, when the program was introduced, to 333 students at the end of the last academic year.
Meanwhile, administrators from the University’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise expect the program’s graduating class of 2010 to be twice as large as it was in 2005. The institute announced in July that its enrollment for the 2007-2008 academic year increased by 30 percent from the 2006-2007 numbers.
Robert Owen, the Program in the Environment’s director, said the increased enrollment shows a “much greater environmental awareness among students and a feeling of stewardship and responsibility.”
Owen said heightened media coverage of environmental issues has likely fueled the record numbers.
“Many students initially became informed through media,” Owen said. “Environmental courses aren’t particularly common in high school, so the Internet seems to be the main source of news.”
Students enrolled in the University’s environmental programs said the Internet has helped generate interest in environmental issues and education.
“We’re much more connected than we were ten years ago,” third-year Erb Institute student Angela Flood said. “A person in China witnessing pollution is able to take a picture and post it and write about it on the Internet, and groups all over the world are able to see it.”
She said new technology has brought issues from all corners of the globe to light, encouraging the green movement among students.
“With globalization, people are starting to realize the extent of environmental damage. The impact of our individual actions are more visible to us, whereas ten years ago, we wouldn’t have really known,” Flood said.
Others say environmental programs have gained popularity because going green has become trendier and more lucrative, with more businesses trying to incorporate “green” technology.
“There are more and more examples of how sustainable business can be a win-win and can be sexy,” said Brent Morgan, a third year student in the Erb Institute.
The Erb Institute offers a dual MBA/MS program through the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment.
The undergraduate Program in the Environment in an interdisciplinary curriculum offered jointly through LSA and the School of Natural Resources and Environment. In addition to the program’s core requirements, students also select an environmental specialization and conduct field research in that area, Owen said.
Steven Wright, faculty director for education within the Center for Sustainable Systems, said the job market in civil and environmental engineering has been strong in the last two years, drawing more students into that field. He said legislation promoting environmental sustainability has played a role in the strong job market.
“When demand is down, relative to supply of engineers, then people stop going into engineering. But then it takes time for them to go through the educational system, so once enrollment drops, engineering companies in general need more engineers by that time.”