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The Guide to Graduate Environmental Programs

The Guide to Graduate Environmental Programs

by Scott D. Izzo

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The Guide to Graduate Environmental Programs provides over 160 profiles of graduate programs across the country that offer curricula related to the environment. Following is a description of how the book was researched and the profiles compiled:

The research process began with a list, drawn up by career center staff at University of California at Santa


The Guide to Graduate Environmental Programs provides over 160 profiles of graduate programs across the country that offer curricula related to the environment. Following is a description of how the book was researched and the profiles compiled:

The research process began with a list, drawn up by career center staff at University of California at Santa Barbara, of 412 environmental programs, departments, and schools within universities across the country. The list was based on a literature search, queries over the Internet, and contact with environmental professionals and associations. Certificate-only programs were not included. Selection preference was given to programs mentioned repeatedly by environmental professionals, and to those drawing a more diverse student body.

Of the 412 graduate programs queried, 156 programs completed and returned their surveys. Each completed survey was reworked into a profile. Schools that did not respond to the mailing were contacted twice by phone to remind them to return the survey. To supplement this information, and to ensure that the most noteworthy programs were included in the guide, additional profiles were compiled for a select number of key programs that failed to return their surveys. These latter profiles were based on literature review and personal interviews.

Most of the information provided was accurate as of November 1994 – the date by which the surveys were completed – and some follow-up verification was conducted during the summer of 1996, before the book went into production. There are an ever-expanding number of programs in the environmental field, and existing programs are constantly evolving. Readers should therefore expect to continue to encounter ongoing changes in names, titles, and phone numbers.

Editorial Reviews

The nonprofit Student Conservation Association provides a state-by- state descriptive, but not evaluative, guide to graduate school programs in environmental disciplines ranging from atmospheric science to zoology. Related fields covered include architecture, environmental law, urban planning, and public policy. Data (as of 1996) are provided on most program's special features, admission requirements, student body, faculty, tuition and financial aid, career counseling, and placement services. For many programs, "quick facts" profiles are also given; for others, only contact information is listed. Appendices list additional programs and resources, and the form used to survey schools. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

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The Guide to Graduate Environmental Programs

The Student Conservation Association

By Scott D. Izzo


Copyright © 1997 The Student Conservation Association, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-083-5



As the number of graduate environmental programs continues to increase, prospective students today have greater freedom than ever before to choose a program best suited to their needs and interests. With this freedom, however, comes the challenge of identifying the most appropriate program to meet your individual goals. In addition to the expansion of programs specifically geared toward environmental studies, there has been a steady increase in the number of interdepartmental, interdisciplinary, off-campus, and part-time graduate programs offered at universities throughout the country. Many universities have established combined-degree programs, enabling students to combine their master's and doctoral work or to mix academic and professional studies. Researching environmental programs requires careful consideration of all of these factors, and more.

Environmental Career Opportunities in the 1990s

As you begin your search, you will first need to decide which type of degree or program is most appropriate for you. If you have been out in the working world, you may have already experienced the "glass ceiling" in your career advancement that can come with holding a bachelor's degree alone. Regardless of your professional background or lack thereof, the prospect of attaining certain career goals may influence your choice of a particular environmental discipline.

Those interested in an environmental career today are no longer limited to working as a park ranger or biologist—though talented professionals in such fields continue to play an important role in protecting our environment. In fact, today there are millions of people working in a wide variety of environmental professions. For example, an environmental manager may work for a consulting firm or large company to develop and implement pollution prevention strategies. Environmental engineers conduct technical analyses of water and air pollution controls or work in the bioremediation field, which uses bacteria to destroy chemicals. An ecological scientist may specialize in fish and wildlife management for the U.S. Forest Service, or in biodiversity research on behalf of The Nature Conservancy. And master's graduates who specialize in geographical information systems (GIS) are in great demand by public and private agencies: computerized GIS systems are increasingly used by national and state parks and forests, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, private companies, and tourist developments to analyze data on natural resources and land use.

For prospective graduate students less inclined toward the natural sciences, there is plenty of room within the environmental field for "generalists." In the nonprofit sector, fund raisers or public relations experts are in high demand; graduates with broad-based environmental knowledge and strong writing or communications skills are valuable assets for many organizations. Particularly in Washington, D.C., but also in state capitals all over the country, policy analysts—who may work for advocacy groups, public agencies, or legislative bodies—are coveted for their strong familiarity with environmental laws, economics, and the political process. Environmental educators are needed in K–12 classrooms and at colleges, nature centers, parks, zoos, and museums across the country. Environmental lawyers work for public agencies, corporations, private firms, insurance companies, and nonprofit think tanks and advocacy groups. And there are numerous opportunities to work in the field of environmental services or products, whether as an ecotourism guide or in the marketing department of a manufacturer of "green" products.

For additional information on environmental career opportunities, there are several guides currently available, many of which are listed in Appendix C of this book.

Since environmental issues cross such a range of disciplines, and with such a wide range of employment opportunities available, structuring a coherent and directed educational agenda can be a difficult task. Many employers are acknowledging this challenge by remaining flexible and opening their minds to a variety of hiring criteria. Indeed, the academic preparation of some of our most celebrated environmentalists ranges from the traditional to the alternative. Deceased scientist-writer Rachel Carson, who alerted the world to the dangers of pesticides with Silent Spring, earned a master's in zoology from Johns Hopkins. Wangari Maathai, who launched Kenya's Green Belt Movement—a women's grassroots project that has planted 10 million trees throughout Africa—was the first Kenyan woman to earn a Ph.D., in the study of anatomy at the University of Nairobi. Politician, author, and professor Dr. Barry Commoner, currently director of the Queens College Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, holds a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University. And eco-entrepreneur Tom Chappell, president of Tom's of Maine, a line of natural body care products, earned an M.A. in theology from Harvard Divinity School.

Some students feel that it is important to know exactly what their career goals are before applying to graduate schools. Several years of working within a particular field may make your course work more meaningful when you finally do attend, providing a relevant context for a more directed course of study. However, others view graduate school primarily as a means to further clarify career goals. An illuminating class, a fulfilling internship, or participation in a community activity during graduate school can help focus the academic experience, inspiring enthusiasm for future career opportunities.

Choosing Your Degree

You will also need to decide which type of degree—master's or doctoral—to pursue. While master's degrees are indeed becoming a minimum requirement for many jobs beyond entry level, bear in mind that a Ph.D. may be considered too advanced, too specialized, or too esoteric for other positions; preference may be given to candidates with more practical job experience. Talking to people working in your chosen field may help you decide just how much education you want and need.

Finally, you should also consider whether to follow an "academic" or "professional" course of study. Recently, as the demand for graduate education— and particularly for more flexible graduate education—has grown, the distinctions between academic and professional programs have become less clear. Because only a small portion of programs officially label themselves as either "academic" or "professional," in many cases it is necessary to review a variety of aspects of a program—course requirements, career counseling services, alumni career paths—to determine its orientation.

Generally, academic doctoral degrees, most often the Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., require highly focused and original research in a chosen field; this is the degree students interested in "hard" sciences—such as environmental biology or chemistry—might pursue. Professional doctoral degrees include the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), and Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D.); a student interested in environmental law would pursue the latter. Master's degrees may be either academic or professional in orientation and are now offered in many fields. In professional fields such as environmental marketing (M.B.A.), public policy (M.P.P. or M.P.A.), and environmental engineering (M.S. or M.Eng.), a master's is often sufficient to find a good job. In general, the programs offering a professional degree tend to provide a broader and more interdisciplinary range of courses than most academic programs.

Beginning Your Search

To allow ample time for completing the application process, it is a good idea to begin gathering information on programs and universities up to a year and a half before your expected date of matriculation. If you are applying for national scholarships, or if your undergraduate school has an evaluation committee through which you are applying to a law school, you may need to begin the process two years before matriculation in order to meet the necessary deadlines.

A useful way to begin your research is to consult this guide to find out what environmental programs exist in your field of interest. As you scan the profiles in Part II, you will find the quick facts you need—such as which degrees are offered, areas of student and faculty specialization, program details, tuition costs, and financial aid availability—to come up with a preliminary, manageable list of programs suited to your interests and budget.

You may then want to compare similar programs by considering such questions as: How stringent are admissions and degree requirements? What are the academic abilities, demographic representation, and success levels of the students that have completed this program? What research, library, and computer facilities are available? What is the student-faculty ratio? What internships, assistantships, international study opportunities, and career counseling services are available to graduate students? The profiles in this guide address such questions as well.

To obtain the literature you need to conduct your research, contact the schools directly—a neatly typed or hand-printed postcard is all that is necessary. All materials requests should be addressed directly to the admissions office. In addition to your return address, most admissions offices are interested in knowing your intended matriculation date. Items to request include: an admissions application, information and applications for scholarships and financial aid, recommendation forms, program brochures or catalogues, faculty profiles and research interests, lists of student projects and papers, a student handbook, information on related institutions and research facilities, and a list of recent alumni employers. Also, always request the general graduate bulletin or catalogue, which may reveal additional programs of interest.

Continue your research by consulting professional associations and by requesting information via e-mail and the World Wide Web. (Most universities and many academic departments now sponsor Web sites; the profiles in Part II provide information on locating sites for almost every program.) As you hone in on the universities you really want to apply to, it is a good idea to become familiar with publications and professional journals that focus on the current issues in your field. Note which universities are on the journals' editorial boards—their inclusion reflects strength in that field. Article bylines will let you know who is publishing often in your field of interest, and where they are teaching.

Weighing Key Factors

As you delve deeper into your search, you will find that in addition to course requirements, tuition, and facilities there are a variety of less quantifiable factors that distinguish one program from another. These elements range from the size of the program (our survey indicates that program size ranges from a minimum of 5 students to a maximum of 550, with the average being 72 students) to whether the program is heavily structured or highly flexible. Some of these aspects can only be determined through discussions with students or faculty; others are buried within course catalogues or promotional brochures. And many elements of a program can only be appreciated through the "gut reaction" that comes with a campus visit. In the following pages, we describe some of the most fundamental factors that can set one program apart from another.

Cross-Registration and Concurrent Degrees. As testimony to the highly interdisciplinary nature of environmental studies, 92 percent of the universities we surveyed allow students to cross-register with other departments, and 40 percent offer joint degrees with other schools or programs within the university. This latter option, also known as the combined or concurrent degree program, allows the student to enroll in two separate programs and earn two separate degrees (e.g., an M.S. and an M.B.A.) at once. Students pursuing a concurrent degree find that a well-organized program can result in a tremendous amount of synergy, not only programmatically but also in terms of the opportunity it provides for interacting with classmates who hold diverse perspectives on environmental issues.

Among the universities surveyed, the most popular joint degree programs combine environment with business (17 percent), law (12 percent), education (10 percent), public policy (5 percent), and public health (5 percent). It is also possible to obtain joint degrees in such fields as international relations, engineering, landscape planning/architecture, and the physical sciences. Completion of a concurrent degree program can take anywhere from a semester to several years longer than an individual degree, but it almost always requires significantly less time and money than the separate completion of two individual programs.

Recognizing the value of information sharing in addressing environmental problems, as well as the relative strengths and weaknesses of individual programs, many schools are forming research and educational partnerships involving "team teaching" and cross-registration among universities. In this way, students enrolled in a school that is lacking in certain disciplines—for example, forestry or coastal zone management—can benefit from course offerings and instruction at neighboring institutions.


Excerpted from The Guide to Graduate Environmental Programs by Scott D. Izzo. Copyright © 1997 The Student Conservation Association, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

The Student Conservation Association (SCA) is a nonprofit organization that conducts educational and vocational programs that provide job skill training, work experience, and exposure to career options in natural resource fields for high school and college students and other environmental job seekers.

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