New graduate program offered in sustainability science

Being the first of its kind in the state of Kentucky, a new graduate level program in sustainability science will soon be available to students.

Admission for the program has already begun and students can apply now.

Howard Whiteman, director of the Watershed Studies Institute and professor in the science, engineering and technology department, said the program has been in the works for a long time.

“Many of the faculty, particularly those on the President’s Commission on sustainability, had talked about starting a number of sustainability academic programs on campus for years,” he said. “We developed a minor in sustainability studies a few years ago and when Provost (Jay) Morgan began encouraging the development of new graduate programs, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to start a sustainability science M.S. (master’s of science) program.”

The curriculum for the new program requires students complete six required courses and two of four restricted electives. The remaining electives will be chosen from one of four specialization areas, which include agricultural sustainability, environmental sustainability, industrial and technical sustainability and sustainability education.

“Basically all of the students take a core group of interdisciplinary classes, a few restricted electives and then specialization in one of the four areas,” Whiteman said.

The route each student chooses to take will individually determine which classes they complete.

Whiteman said the capstone of the program is a two semester practicum during the second year, in which students will devise a project focused on sustainability, implement the project and then complete the project with a written report and public oral presentation. The projects can focus on a variety of topics such as how to help out the University, local governments and regional businesses.

The program is unique to the state and Whiteman said he knows of only one other like it in the country.

“There are other sustainability M.S. programs around, but none of them have a science emphasis,” he said.

Classes will be held at the Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology (JCSET) building and the Hutson School of Agriculture.

Whiteman said the process of admitting students can begin right away, but recruitment efforts and getting students enrolled is the main focus now.

“We have had some student interest already, but it is a bad time of year to start recruiting for the fall semester in my opinion,” he said. “Thus, if we get some interested students in the fall we will be very pleased, but my hope is that we can ramp up recruitment over the next year and have a sustainable influx of students each year.”

With the recent focus in environmental issues, Whiteman said this is a good time for the program to surface, especially with current national trends and future job opportunities.

“Climate change is the most important environmental problem that humans have faced thus far and I believe and hope that graduates of our program will be directly involved in helping to direct and implement mitigation measures in response,” he said. “The program certainly has the potential to train (students) for those opportunities.”

Whiteman said he hopes the program will help students make the world a better place.

Said Whiteman: “I hope (students) gain the ability to take their passion for environmental issues and turn it into solutions that will make the planet a better place for everyone, humans and the biodiversity with which we share the planet.”

Those interested in more information about the program may contact Whiteman at hwhiteman@murraystate.edu.

Story by Rebecca Walter, News Editor