Department has new name, new aims
Students with a passion for environmental issues have new choices of undergraduate and graduate programs within Environmental Conservation, a department that just changed its name to underline its new mission.
Now home to 575 undergraduate majors with very diverse interests, the department reflects in its occasional changes of name shifting concepts of the environment and ways to study it. Beginning as a forestry department, and expanding into Forestry and Wildlife Management—its name for many years—ECo as it’s affectionately known, most recently went by the name Natural Resources Conservation and in 2009 incorporated the interdisciplinary major now known as Environmental Science.
“Everything used to be very disciplinary,” explains department head Paul Fisette, adding that students once focused on forestry, wildlife or water resources—“systems problems both narrow and deep—and we don’t want to forget this.” However, the new programs show undergraduates the “whole playing field: the natural and built environments and the impacts humans have.”
He gives the example of turning on a light switch: if the electricity is produced by hydropower, then the impacts extend to fisheries, water quality, and forestlands. “It’s a web,” he says, “and students need to develop a foundation to understand the broad implications before they engage in deep studies.”
Environmental Conservation majors choose one of three programs. Building and Construction Technology focuses on sustainable design and construction of the built environment. There is an emphasis on ‘green’ building and energy efficiency, but students must also develop an understanding of ecology, including the importance of ecosystems.
Majors in highly interdisciplinary Environmental Science learn how to apply knowledge of basic science, economics, and policy to understand healthy and degraded environments and the challenges to promoting and maintaining environmental quality.
Natural Resource Conservation majors have a choice of six concentrations representing the whole ribbon of concerns from water resources to forestry, to fisheries, to wildlife ecology and conservation.
They’re also expected to comprehend impacts of the built environment.
The emphasis on interconnections extends into graduate studies, united under the name Environmental Conservation and offering an array of specializations that also expose students to cascades of broader consequences and the increasing need for experts to work with individuals, groups, and the public in general.
After a complete overhaul of the curriculum, the department’s new name is “precisely right,” says Fisette. “We’re focused on the unifying goal of conserving our environment.”