Sustainability is an Interdisciplinary Study
by Kellie Shanaghan
Environmental studies and sustainability are fields that overlap with nearly every major, degree, and career. Improving Earth’s climate so that humans can continue to live here should be on the forefront of the minds of educators, politicians, students, and everyday citizens.
Yet, even at institutes of higher education, such as Wake Forest, a majority of the student body lacks both knowledge and initiative to make sustainability a priority.
“Even though I realize that climate has a large impact on the world, I as an individual do not feel as though I can help or harm the environment in any way,” said Sierra Burick, a sophomore pre-dental student.
On a campus where the general public shortsightedly lacks both knowledge and initiative to enact change, there are alumni from Wake Forest who have gone on to have significant roles in environmental protection and sustainability. There is also an increase in sustainability careers, as well as an increasing interdisciplinary application of the subject.
Class of ’75 graduate Stanley Meiburg is the Acting Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of the highest positions in the agency.
“The EPA is experiencing a generation of turnover,” Meiburg said while visiting campus during Homecoming. “Many people who came into the agency in the 70s and 80s are retiring. With that comes a lot of opportunity to bring in new people.”
The career opportunities currently available in the EPA are a microcosm for the career potential of the field.
Carrie Henderson, a ’98 graduate of Wake Forest, works as an Environmental Consultant specializing in pollution prevention. She truly enjoys her work and recommends it to others because it has allowed her to grow as professional while also enacting change on a larger scale.
“Almost 700 environmentally-related jobs are open now on www.usajobs.gov,” Henderson said in an email.
These 700 jobs are only listings from the federal government. The Environmental Career Opportunities website lists hundreds of other jobs, a majority of which are not through the government.
Even outside the direct field of environmental studies and sustainability, these topics are still important and relevant for everyone.
Politicians need to be able to create policies to promote sustainability, educators need to inform students, biologists and chemists need to conduct research, and the list continues.
“People don’t necessarily understand how issues that are important to them can also be connected to climate change,” junior Sebastian Irby said.
Irby is the first student at Wake to create an interdisciplinary Sustainability Studies major.
At Wake Forest, many students are uneducated about climate change, and in turn do nothing to combat it. Irby believes that, specifically on our campus, people become very focused on their personal goals, interests, and success. They forget to see the big picture, especially on topics like environmental sustainability.
However, arguably one of the best ways that we can hope to reverse the negative effects humans have had on the Earth is to educate students who will soon determine the future; motivating them to enact change.
Irby suggested that educators everywhere, and specifically here at Wake could integrate climate change awareness into more classes and topics. Especially since it is such an interdisciplinary subject, relevant across many majors and careers.
“It is important to be able to connect the issues that are important to some, to this greater picture of the health of the Earth” Irby said.
The Wake Forest Office of Sustainability lists 212 classes that “stimulate and facilitate learning for sustainability” across multiple majors and disciplines.
This is impressive until you realize that, according to Wake Information Network, there are 1,185 different courses offered to undergraduates in the spring of 2017 alone. The number of classes fluctuate each semester.
Even if all of the sustainability courses were being offered this spring, which they are not, this number would include only 17% of classes.
The lack of incorporation means that a large number of students are leaving Wake uneducated about sustainability.
Irby explained that the general public does not need to understand the details of climate change in the same way someone with a PhD in Environmental Studies would, but they still have to play a significant role in trying to understand the subject.
In general, a majority of students at Wake appear to lack a basic understanding of climate change and its causes. Many simply do not care, because it is not immediately relevant to their short term career and life goals.
“People need to realize that if we don’t do anything, your passion won’t be here anymore, because we won’t be here anymore” Irby said.
Originally published in the Old Gold and Black (http://wfuogb.com/2016/11/sustainability-is-an-interdisciplinary-study/).