As issues of climate control continue to make front-page news, the Earth Institute plans to unveil a new undergraduate major in sustainable development for fall 2010.
Building upon the existing special concentration in sustainable development, a group of faculty members, administrators, and students is currently mapping out the new major. The concept of an undergraduate program at the Earth Institute has been something that Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute and a special advisor to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, has wanted to create since he took his post at the University, Kevin Griffin, Interim Program Director of the Special Concentration in Sustainable Development, said.
Griffin said he hopes that this new “trans-disciplinary” course of study, which will incorporate courses from a range of departments, will help students come up with creative ways to use resources responsibly. “The problems that we’re facing worldwide are so big and challenging that they simply can’t be solved in a strict disciplinary way,” Griffin said.
Although the list of required courses for the major is still being developed, it will include a wide range of topics spanning from economics to anthropology. In addition, Griffin emphasized that a practical component will be essential to the new major in the form of field work. “We’d like to get students out there where these sorts of concerns are staring you in the face all day,” he said. The committee at the Earth Institute that is currently working on the logistics of the major plans to hold an in-depth meeting the May.
Students are already showing interest in this new major. Jess Epsten, BC ’11, said, “I would definitely do it because it’s more concentrated on policy and the humanities, which I think is a valuable facet to learning about the environment from a more global perspective.”
Faculty are also confident that students will be drawn to the new major. Ruth DeFries, Denning professor of sustainable development, said she expects it to be as popular as the existing concentration among undergraduates.
For the students, the number of opportunities in sustainable development after graduation is continually expanding. “I can’t imagine any job they couldn’t get,” Griffin said.
Even with the full major, the special concentration in sustainable development will continue to exist, Griffin said. He explained that the concentration allows students to be grounded in a traditional discipline while still exploring “how humans can make decisions about resources without destroying the planet.”
“The times just really demand it,” DeFries said about the importance of teaching the next generation to use resources responsibly. She said she believes that students need to be versed in how to handle the challenges of the future.