New Major Takes Holistic Approach to Environmental Questions

New Major Takes Holistic Approach to Environmental Questions

sustainability major

A new major at Southern will enable students to not only learn the science behind environmental issues, but to understand their societal complexity and offer practical, real world solutions.

A Bachelor of Science degree in environmental systems and sustainability studies will be offered starting next fall. Three concentrations will exist within the major – environmental systems, coastal marine systems, and environmental policy and management.

“It really is going to be an exciting program,” said Vincent Breslin, a professor of the environment, geography and marine sciences who helped organize the major. “It takes a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to environmental and sustainability issues.

“As an example, let’s take climate change. Sure, the solution sounds simple – eliminate the use of fossil fuels. But realistically, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So, what are our options? What steps can we take? The students will look at those options and the social and economic consequences they could have on society.”

Breslin said the program will emphasize critical thinking, system thinking and problem solving.

“There is a need for professionals who understand the complexities associated with environmental problems and solutions,” he said. “This program will provide our students with the knowledge and skills to help Connecticut face a rapidly changing future.”

Breslin said the Connecticut coastline is an example. Since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, he said coastal communities have been more sensitive to the potential damage caused by major storms and hurricanes, as well as rising tidal waters and other consequences of global warming. “I could envision a time when each community, or group of communities, has its own sustainability coordinator,” he said.

Steven Breese, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, said the quality and health of the environment is being challenged every day.

“And with this challenge comes a pressing need for our students and our culture to develop a deep and broad understanding of the complex interactions between human and natural systems,” Breese said. “Not only will this new program teach our students about this critical interaction, it will empower them to devise sustainable solutions that will impact our collective well-being now and for generations to come. It is a timely program and one that, we believe, will attract new students to Southern while offering our current students new educational opportunities.”

The environmental policy and management concentration within the new program would be ideal for someone who wanted to pursue environmental law, according to Breslin.

The program will require students to take about 40 credits in their major, differing slightly based on their concentration. The coursework includes foundation classes – such as an introduction to environmental and marine studies; an introduction to the principles of sustainability; and a research methods course. Students also will complete an experiential component, such as an internship, research experience or participation in a seminar.

In addition, each concentration will require four core courses and three electives, as well as a social science and humanities course.

Breslin said the major incorporates various disciplines – including biology, geography, earth science, environmental studies, marine studies, public health, political science and business management.

(For additional information about the program, please contact Vincent Breslin at (203) 392-6602 or at breslinv1@southernct.edu; Jim Tait, professor of the environment, geography and marine sciences, at (203) 392-5838 or at taitj1@southernct.edu, or Patrick Heidkamp, chairman of the Department of the Environment, Geography and Marine Sciences, at (203) 392-5919 or at heidkampc1@southernct.edu.)