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Pitt adds environmental science major

(Chicago Tribune/MCT)

(Chicago Tribune/MCT)



(Chicago Tribune/MCT)

By Lianna Rana / For the Pitt News

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Pitt students can now study the environment through the lens of human influence on the earth.

Starting this semester, students can officially declare environmental science as their major after the Department of Geology and Environmental Science announced the new major in a release Feb. 17. The program, which is replacing the current environmental geology major over the next four years, will offer a course load focused on research and application of environmental issues.

According to Department of Geology and Environmental Science adviser Mark Collins, about a dozen students have declared the major this semester.

The Department of Geology and Environmental Science now offers three options for students:  environmental geology, environmental studies and environmental science.

According to Collins, the environmental geology major will remain as is for students who are already declared. Over the next four years, there will be a transition period where students can graduate with a BS in environmental geology but can no longer declare.

The environmental science major will have a similar focus to the environmental geology program, but will address both the physical entity and nature of the earth as well as how humans have affected the earth and its environment. The environmental science major encompasses policy and legal issues related to the environment.

“Environmental Science provides a solid background for both career and academic goals,” Collins said. “All students take classes in geology, chemistry, ecology, statistics — from there, each major allows students to take classes that best suit their intent, whether that leads to field work, consulting, working in industry or policy or education or graduate work.”

Environmental geology and environmental science both take a scientific approach to understanding aspects of the planet, but environmental science takes the discipline one step further by focusing on the impacts that people have on the environment, according to the Department of Geology and Environmental Science website. The department made the switch based on student interest in the subject.

Students who graduate with a degree in environmental science enter career paths involving research with a focus on environmental issues and how they affect people socially and in terms of public health. Students with this major often go on to work for a branch of the government, a nonprofit or a private sector company, according to the Department of Geology and Environmental Science website.

First-year Chelsea Huddleston plans to declare the environmental science major, hoping to pursue a career in green design and sustainable infrastructure. She first learned about the major on a PantherConnect Orientation Retreat — a retreat for incoming students — a few days before move-in day at Pitt this fall semester.

“When school started, I really wanted to get involved with the SGB Environmental Committee and PittServes Green Team,” Huddleston said. “Through networking with that community, it felt like the right place to be and a lot of people recommended checking out the department because it felt like a good fit to me.”

To complete the major, students must take the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences general education requirements and 30 credits of courses that range from biology and chemistry to geology and environmental management.

Charles Jones, an adviser in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science, emphasized the wide range of classes that the department put together. Although the new major did not create any new classes, it offers a more comprehensive range of classes than the Environmental Geology program by focusing on more subjects.

The expectation is that students who are already enrolled in the environmental studies program will continue and finish their degree, but he expects students who are interested in the environmental geology major will switch to environmental science.

“I think that we might get some [environmental studies majors], but oftentimes environmental studies majors pick that major because they’re interested in law and policy and nonprofit advocacy, so I think they will be comfortable staying there,” Jones said.

Advisers in the program are not yet sure how many students will declare the major this spring, but several students expressed interest in the program during Pitt’s Majors and Minors Expo in October.

Through the major, Huddleston has had more opportunities to get involved with classes and clubs aligned with her interests in sustainability.

“I think Pitt has a long way to go to have our campus embrace a green mindset, but the new major shows a forward momentum,” Huddleston said.

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Pitt adds environmental science major