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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

Education Leading to a More Sustainable Future

Aug 02, 2013 06:30PM ● By Marissa Blose


In recent years, there has been a gradual change in thinking when it comes to the environment, and many people are now becoming aware of the need for a more sustainable lifestyle. In addition to changing one’s personal life by buying locally grown foods and practicing energy saving in one’s home, individuals are also seeking to become educated in the field of sustainability and environmental studies. Due to an increase in students’ interests, several colleges and universities are now offering degrees in this field, including Penn State University, Lehigh University, Moravian College and Muhlenberg College. While the programs at these three colleges may be designed differently, their educational goal to provide students with the knowledge and experience to face important environmental issues is the same.

In 2010, Penn State University first introduced their energy and sustainability policy program, which was uniquely designed to be offered entirely online through World Campus and was intended for, but not limited to, working professionals seeking to further their education and knowledge in the field of sustainable studies. Due to the accessibility of this program, students of all ages from over 35 states and several foreign countries are enrolled in this program. According to Brandi Robinson, an adviser for the new online bachelor’s degree offered through Penn State University in energy and sustainability policy, says that five broad learning objectives emerged from this program: sustainability ethics, energy industry knowledge, analytical skills, communication skills and global perspective.

Lehigh University also offers a variety of programs in the environment-related fields, including a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and minor in environmental studies, a minor in sustainable development and a Master of Arts (M.A.) in environmental policy design. While the environmental studies program is over 10 years old and the environmental policy design program is over five, the minor in sustainable development was only recently established as students’ interests have expanded in this field. 

The sustainable development minor incorporates the three pillars of sustainability: ecological protection, economic well-being and social inclusion. Like programs at other colleges, Lehigh’s program instills the idea that sustainability is not just about the environment, but also has economic and social factors to consider. As part of their graduate degree, the M.A. in environmental policy design challenges students to “take a comprehensive look at the many facets of policy analysis, including the design of new policies that are informed by the moral, social, economic, political, and legal dimensions of environmental problems, as well as by the inherent values and principles of past and present policy solutions,” according to the course description. Breena Holland, associate professor of the environmental initiative at Lehigh University, says that “our degree programs at Lehigh University teach students how to design policies that will provide guidance and incentives for getting businesses to take long-term environmental protection more seriously.”

Moravian College offers a variety of programs in this field including a Bachelor of Science in environmental science, a B.A. in environmental policy and economics and a cooperative program in natural resource management, in which students proceed to either receive their master’s degree in environment management or forestry from Duke University. Created in 2004, the programs at Moravian are designed with the understanding that the environmental issues that we face today require an interdisciplinary educational background, which is why students who pursue these degrees are required to take courses in economics, political science and philosophy, in addition to their core environment and science classes. These requirements challenge students to make important connections between the environment and our economically-driven business world.

Like Moravian, Muhlenberg College also understands the importance of an interdisciplinary program in this field. In 2009, Muhlenberg first offered their program in sustainability studies, which is intended as a minor to complement a primary major such as business, political science, media and communication, the sciences and the humanities. The courses in this program are designed to challenge students to take on environmental issues at the local, national and global level.Each of these programs prepares students for a career by requiring field work as a capstone experience in which students focus on a particular environmental issue of their choosing and explore the issue for possible solutions using the skills and knowledge gained from the programs at hand. According to Penn State University lecturer Brandi Robinson, this is a rewarding experience for students who “want to do something in which they feel they’ll make a positive difference in the world and leave it a better place for their children and grandchildren.” Students from these colleges have done projects in countries such as Cambodia, Haiti, China and Costa Rica, in addition to taking on local issues like fracking. Many professors involved in undergraduate programs in this field have noticed a passion in their students that causes the majority of them to continue on to graduate school.When pursuing any sort of higher education, it is vital to consider what job opportunities are available in that particular field of study, as well as the career prospective in the next 20 to 40 years. Students who pursue degrees in sustainability and environmental studies have a variety of career opportunities including working in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, nonprofit organizations, environmental consulting companies and policy making, in addition to jobs in the fields of business, law, science and the arts.While it is evident that the business world has not yet made the necessary changes to address the problems of today and find solutions, change is imminent. Sustainability is becoming an economic business driver as companies are now becoming aware of how sustainable practices are enhancing their efficiencies and saving them money. Dr. Frank Kuserk, the director of the environmental studies and sciences program at Moravian College, notes that “many companies are now creating and hiring ‘sustainability coordinators’ that assist them in finding ways to become more sustainable and I think that this will only increase over the next 20 to 40 years.”

As students are interested in becoming educated in sustainability and environment-related fields, professors at colleges and universities are becoming more hopeful for the future of our planet. Breena Holland, professor at Lehigh University, believes that by “training the next generation of active citizens to take a more analytic and critical view of business practices, and by arming them with information about real serious solutions to environmental problems, we hope to help create a more sustainable economy.”

Marissa Blose has completed her Junior year toward an English degree with Sigma Tau Delta honors at Moravian College in Bethlehem PA. She assists others by tutoring in the Writing Center at Moravian and is also pursuing a minor in Peace and Justice Studies. She can be contacted for freelance work at [email protected]

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