Popular and practical environmental education

If education is the answer - then there are plenty of ways to get started

by Kathy Arullo
he environmental job market will be undergoing major growth well into the next century, and a common question fielded at the San Diego Earth Times office is, "how can I get a job working for the environment?" Our answer: get the training needed to grapple with the complex, multidisciplinary issues these jobs entail.
Until recently, this training was typically only available on-the-job, for those luck enough to land an apprenticeship position, or academically as an offshoot of a traditional degree program, such as a B.A. degree in biology. Today, many colleges and universities have responded to this increased demand by creating specific programs targeting both new students who want a "clean and green" start and older workers looking to re-orient their careers.

A career in transition

Gail Glen wasn't quite sure what to expect when she stepped inside the San Diego Career Center in Kearny Mesa. Glen had spent ten years of her life in public broadcasting, but when radio station KPBS reorganized and Glen's position fell victim to budget cuts, she found herself looking for a new career. She had wanted to combine the experience she had gained in previous public relations jobs with her strong interest and concern with our natural environment (Glen emphasizes that her lifestyle is punctuated by a "reuse, reduce, recycle" philosophy.)
So with help from the folks at the Career Center, Glen decided to pursue a career in Environmental Management. This month, she will be the first person to receive a Professional Certificate from the UCSD Extension's Natural Resource Management Program.
When asked about the program, Glen only has high praises for the quality of the classes she has taken. According to Glen, the instructors are "very knowledgeable in their respective fields" and most of them have teaching styles that facilitate learning.
The curriculum is not limited to lectures in the classroom: field studies are a major part in the students' course work. The field trips typically involve the study of the inhabitants and the natural history of local ecosystems. Last Spring, Glen's class had a chance to explore and learn about marine, mountain, and desert ecosystems in one weekend when instructor Bill Toone took his students for a trip that began at La Jolla Shores and ended at Julian.
Glen also likes the flexibility of the program when it comes to course selections. Students may choose from as much as 13 elective courses to meet the 15 elective units required for the certificate program. The courses cover a wide range of topics such as environmental planning and site analysis, endangered species and habitat management, water resource planning and air pollution to name a few.
According to Program Coordinator Michelle Pelkey, students are welcome to only take the courses that are of interest or that apply to their career, and those interested need not be enrolled in the certificate program to take the classes. Pelkey adds that the courses have attracted people such as conservationists, consultants, environmental technicians and scientists, developers, government agency employees, and environmentally-conscious members of the general public.

Mastery and beyond

West Coast University in Mira Mesa offers an Environmental Management Degree in their Masters in Science program. Graduate students may choose to do projects on areas such as reclamation, purification, and wastes and hazards management. According to Dave Cerny from WCU's Office of Enrollment and Admissions, Environmental Management was a popular course of study at the university two years ago, and the number of students in the program has remained the same since. Recently WCU's Admissions office has received more inquiries about the program from incoming students.
Many adults wishing to pursue environmental studies require flexible schedules to fit in with their busy lives. National University and The University of Redlands have curricula designed with this group in mind. The University of Redlands, Whitehead College offers evening classes in San Diego leading to a degree in Environmental Studies or Environmental Design.
For a more focused on-campus setting, Bard College in upstate New York offers three "intensive" summer sessions leading to a Master of Science in Environmental Studies. From mid-June to mid-August, Bard offers an immersion into a mix of courses cutting across academic disciplines.

Quality, variety, and get your hands dirty!

Other local institutions offer environmental coursework as part of existing programs, as a specific undergraduate degree or as an advanced degree in the environmental field.
San Diego City College offers two courses titled Issues in Environmental Biology and Environmental Biology Natural History. These courses cost less than $40 each and focus on issues such as conservation, effects of human population on the natural environment, biodiversity, pollution, and natural resource management.
Miramar College, another excellent community college, offers practical technical training for those seeking to understand clean air and energy technologies and how to build and work on less-polluting engines and machines.
San Diego State University offers Environmental Studies as an "emphasis" under the Bachelor of Arts in Geography, so that geography majors have the option of structuring their course of study along the environmental track. Students may choose from areas such as Environmental Geography (which focuses on natural resources and conservation), and Environmental Perception and Behavioral Geography. The Graduate Program is geared towards independent research, and underscores the university's willingness to work with students. Sidney Lynch, a graduate student of Ecology at SDSU, adds that the program is challenging, but help is always available from supportive professors.
United States International University undergraduate Stacey Williams, majoring in Environmental Studies, is pleased that knowledgeable and experienced instructors are very accessible to their students. She also says that what appealed to her the most about USIU's Environmental Studies Program is the broad range of topics covered in the 25 classes offered in the program. Courses focus on issues such as environmental restoration, environmental economics, environmental laws, environmental design, and resource management.
In addition, the program emphasizes environmental problem solving, community service, and a "hands on" approach in the context of field work. Williams and other students in the program are currently building a garden, and are experimenting on different watering techniques and composting. It is a project that Williams and the others are expecting to be continued and built upon by future students.

Job opportunities

What can you do with an Environmental Science degree? Lots. Practically all of the institutions direct their programs toward helping students prepare for managerial and policy positions in various governmental and non-governmental agencies that deal with environmental issues, environmental consulting firms, private companies with strong environmental involvement, universities and associated research institutes. Don't be discouraged by naysayers out there who will tell you that it is tough to make a career in the environmental arena.
Almost all of the Environmental Studies programs in these local educational institutions are only about a year old - a reflection of the increased demand for individuals with professional training in environmental issues.
The protection of our environment, the sustainable management of precious resources, and the responsible planning of development projects by providing the much needed information that would enable people to work together on finding solutions to environmental problems, and do their part in restoring the environment.

Kathy Arullo is a student at UCSD and an intern for SDET.