New degree offered for environmentally conscious


The Earth and Environmental Studies bachelor’s degree, approved two weeks ago by the Arizona Board of Regents, has so far attracted 11 students, about one a day, said Kelin Whipple, a geology professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

In the coming years that number could grow to around 200 students, Whipple said, because the degree is marketable.

“There is a great demand for people who know about science and policy and who can communicate with the real world,” Whipple said.

He said he helped design the course work for the new major — work that will prepare students to deal with market demands for professionals who not only understand the geological processes that take place on the surface of the Earth but how to balance those realities with economic and land rights issues.

Whipple said he expects a “groundswell of students interested in protecting the environment” to enroll. He said part of this expectation was based on the enrollment success of the School of Sustainability.

Three introductory classes on the geology of the surface of the Earth and how humans interact with it provide the foundation for the degree, he said. These classes are also available to non-major students.

Whipple said upper-division classes are more “free wheeling” and allow students to emphasize social science, policy and law aspects, and a variety of other topics associated with earth and environmental science.

He said that everyone in the major must complete the same capstone class called “Solving Environmental Problems.”

During the class, groups of students who have taken specialized classes in a variety of topics, including public policy and economic sides of environmental science, must work together to solve a real environmental problem in Arizona, he said.

A geochemistry professor for one of the major’s introductory classes, Ariel Anbar, said his class “Habitable Worlds” will explore the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and how Earth supports life. He also said the class will help students to understand scientific arguments about environmental issues.

They will know an intelligent argument from a dumb one

An astrophysics graduate student, Karen Knierman, said she has worked with an elite nationally run program called Earthwatch for high school students interested in planetary science and environmentalism for two summers at ASU. Eight excelling high school students were chosen for the program from across the United States.

She said she saw potential for the new major to fit in with the programs already in place.

“We could partner that program with the new major,” Knierman said.