As the world prepares for Earth Day on April 22, The University of Texas-Pan American Department of Biology will be doing its part to save the planet by producing the next generation of environmental scientists through its new bachelor's degree program in environmental science.
Approved in December 2008 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the interdisciplinary degree program, which starts in fall 2009, will provide students with a broad foundation in the sciences and specialized knowledge in environmental biology, chemistry, geology, physics, and mathematics.
"Having an environmental science degree is a very useful thing. These days more and more environmental laws are being enacted because we now recognize that the Earth is our support system. Companies throughout the world are also having to abide by certain environmental regulations, which will take an expert to figure out how to do that," said Dr. Robert J. Edwards, director of the Environmental Science Program.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of environmental scientists is expected to increase by 25 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations, through 2016. In addition to public policy, the surge in employment will result from the population growth that will increase the demands placed on the environment and water resources according to BLS.
Edwards said environmental science career opportunities can be found in government agencies, environmental consulting firms, and industry. BLS reported in 2006 that 35 percent of environmental scientists were employed by state and local governments and 21 percent in management, scientific, and technical consulting services.
"We think we are in a good situation here because so many of our students are bilingual and that is important in the international business world. We are hoping that this will be a program where students can get a job with a bachelor's degree straight out of school. Also, if they choose to go on to graduate school they will be set up for that as well," Edwards said.
Dr. Edwin LeMaster, College of Science and Engineering dean, said the implementation of the program will bring more opportunities for the college's faculty and students to contribute to community health issues concerning water quality, air quality, water-borne diseases, soil contaminants in relation to agricultural production, and much more.
"We will strive to build a water quality lab and develop certification programs so our graduates have the qualifications to do environmental impact studies and other related employment. We expect the program to quickly grow to several hundred majors," LeMaster said.
Edwards said another advantage of the Environmental Science Program at UTPA is that it can be combined with The Department of Physics and Geology's Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing program that allows scientists and planners to map, analyze, and predict environmental scenarios.
"One of the nice things we have here is that we have a very good Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing program. That is going to be very useful to students who are trained in this, as they will have a real leg up on their competition in getting the tough jobs. This is one of the wave of the future things that we find ourselves in a really good position for, so we need to take advantage of it," Edwards said.
To learn more about the new Environmental Science Program, contact Edwards at 956/381-3545.