Getting out of lab and into world Innovation: Towson University launches an interdisciplinary Environmental Science and Studies Program to teach the nuts and bolts of natural science.

August 02, 1998|By Paula Lavigne | Paula Lavigne,SUN STAFF

Students studying pollutants in a local stream may need to step out of the lab and follow the stream to a neighborhood landfill - if they're working on an assignment for Towson University's Environmental Science and Studies Program to be launched this fall.

The interdisciplinary program is designed to give students experience in the nuts and bolts of natural science and the management and research skills of social studies - showing those who study the environment so they can save the world, that their world has just gotten bigger.

Deans of the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Science and Mathematics say they hope the program - expected to attract 500 students in five years - will make Towson graduates more competitive in a growing, but relatively new, field of environmental study.

According to Environmental Business International Inc. in San Diego, which tracks the environmental industry, 1996 figures for the United States show 115,400 private and public environmental businesses employed 1.34 million people in an industry that generated $181 billion.

Dan L. Jones, 60, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said Towson University used academic and industry advice to make it the most comprehensive environmental education program in Maryland. Jones said Towson University students may share curricula with existing environmental programs at Frostburg State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Jones said the program also was part of a growing trend of about 16 cooperative ventures between colleges and departments at Towson - including family studies, cultural studies, gerontology, law and American civilization, and theater and marketing.

The support from two colleges is what Jane L. Wolfson, 53, said lured her away from seven years of teaching environmental studies at New York's Bard College to direct Towson's new venture.

Wolfson said she wanted to end the short-term "Dutch boy with his finger in the dam" approach, and teach long-term solutions for destruction of the environment and means of prevention. Neither environmental science nor study can accomplish this on its own, she said.

"You can't keep blinders on and be a purist, not when you're dealing with people," she said. "The implications are beyond the immediate."

A biologist studying polluted streams caused by farm runoff should also consider how the farmer makes a living, she said; a geologist studying the underlying rock for a landfill should study how the landfill will change local traffic patterns; and a planner who wants to build a factory should find out how it will affect watershed and air quality.

Students who want to receive their bachelor's degree in environmental science and studies are required to take 55 to 57 credit hours in the program's core courses in natural science, math and statistics, and social science.

Students then take courses in either concentration: environmental science or environmental studies. Courses in a science concentration include advanced biology, chemistry and physics along with plant morphology, freshwater algae, hydrogeology, zoology and others. Studies courses include ecological history, public finance, demography, public policy analysis, urban economics, food sanitation and others.

Though the program will demand more study, Wolfson said, interested students were calling her about classes even before she could assemble the desk in her new office.

David F. Brakke, 48, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, said enrollment is expected to grow from 45 the first year to 500 in five years.

Because of that projection, Jones said, the $2,628 start-up cost of the program is expected to turn into $134,000 in revenue next year. And he said a master's degree program may be in the future.

That investment might profit the environmental industry as well.

Francis L. Hunt, vice president and technical director of Ecodeme Group Ltd. in Baltimore, an engineering consulting company that specializes in environmental engineering, said he hoped the program would produce engineers with technical writing skills, an understanding of government policies and the know-how to do historical research.

"I, in my career of running engineering companies, crossed too many really good engineers who do not know how to communicate ideas of design to clients and co-workers," he said.

Charles H. Hegberg, vice president of KCI Technology's

environmental planning division in Hunt Valley, said an employee well-versed in chemistry and physics means less to a company if he or she doesn't have the business skills to match.

"A lot of people come out [of college] thinking, 'I'm going to come save the world,'" he said, "but the bottom line is the bottom line: We want you to make money."

Hegberg, a 1987 Towson State University graduate, said he had to craft his own program of classes to get a bachelor's degree in environmental science because the university didn't offer what he thought the business world was going to demand.

Jessica K. Haddock did the same. Haddock, 22, graduated from Towson University in December and works in the university's geographic information systems laboratory. She said she had to major in political science and minor in geography to satisfy her interest in environmental policy. And in the time it took to finish those studies, she said, she didn't have time for extra classes in environmental science.

She said she would have enrolled in the Environmental Science and Studies Program if it was offered when she started at Towson.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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