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Students study sustainability with new major

“Going green” is becoming a little easier with a new major underway at MSUM.

MSUM’s faculty has been putting their heads together, incorporating environmental education into their coursework for years. Their hard work has paid off, helping create the only bachelor’s degree in sustainability in Minnesota or North Dakota.

MSUM is one of the few universities in the country to focus on the entire spectrum of sustainability, offering six emphases to help students choose their specific field of interest. These emphases are business, construction management, energy sustainability, environmental policy, environmental science and operations management.

Bus promoting sustainability on campus.

The business emphasis will focus on entrepreneurships and businesses opening up in the field of sustainibality. The emphasis in operations management will focus on sustainibility management, for example in a factory. Construction management will focus on building more sustainable housing.

Environmental science is research into environmental issues, while environmental policy will focus on developing and interpreting sustainable policies. The energy sustainability gets back into the “supply side” of the program.

“Most schools go for focusing on energy sustainability, what we call ‘the supply side’: solar, wind, biomass and so on. And there’s also the conservation side, which not very many people focus on but it is by far the most important and will give us the most immediate savings,” Jacobs said.

The curriculum helps define the sustainability of human institutions, organizations, cultures and technologies among diverse environments. The knowledge of these particular aspects opens the door to jobs that serve the growing green economy.

In a 2008 report for the Minnesota Green Jobs Task Force, GSP Consulting found that the green jobs market appears only to be growing. Minnesota’s projection showed the number of green jobs will reach 55,025 by the year 2020. For example, air pollution control is a multi-billion dollar industry and employs around 85,000 workers in high-skill, high-paying jobs. Waste management and remediation services are expected to grow 5.3 percent annually until the market is expected to reach $109 billion in the year 2012.

About two years ago, President Edna Szymanski wanted to hire a sustainability coordinator. Dennis Jacobs currently fills that role and helped put a sustainability program together at MSUM. The Sustainable Campus Initiative Committee is a student-run committee funded by the $3 per semester sustainability fee to the program in making the campus more sustainable. One project they have done is helping power the electric powered vehicles for Public Safety. They also are trying to make MSUM a plastic-free campus by encouraging students to refill their own bottles.

Last spring this program went through MnSCU and there are currently four students who came to MSUM because of it. However, the university will be actively recruiting in hopes of getting a large number of students in the Sustainability Program.

“The green jobs are expanding much faster than any other area of employment in the country,” Jacobs said. “Just like any other job, you either work for somebody else and get a decent salary or you can form your own business and try make more money or whatever you want to do. We are preparing students for the green job economy; that’s basically a big part of this.”

BY BRITTANY OLAFSON
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