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Sustainability at UD: A major opportunity

By Mark Gokavi

NOTE: First printed Sept. 15, 2019 in the Dayton Daily News

Emily Skill graduated in 2017 from the University of Dayton with a bachelor’s degree in geology and a minor in sustainability, energy and the environment. She heard then that a major in sustainability may be in the works. This fall, it’s happening.

“It’s really nice to see all these new courses,” said Skill, who earned a master’s degree at Utah State University this summer and is now a project developer for Enyo Renewable Energy in Utah. “I kind of felt like I want to go back to school and start all over so I can do this.”

Skill credits the Global Change and Earth Systems class taught by geology professor Shuang-ye Wu for igniting her interest.

“That, to me, was like a foundational class for just understanding climate change and its severity and really got me passionate about this sustainability effort,” Skill said. “I think that was kind of the driving force.”

Starting this fall, current and future UD students can earn sustainability bachelor’s degrees in both arts and sciences in what is an ever-expanding field hungry for qualified graduates. UD’s board of trustees approved the new program in May.

In September 2014, George and Amanda Hanley jump-started the University of Dayton’s ongoing sustainability efforts with a $12.5 million gift, the largest in university history. A key goal along with starting the Hanley Sustainability Institute was expanding the university’s curriculum.

Residing in the College of Arts and Sciences, the new majors add to the College's academic offerings in sustainability including the minor and a 12-credit-hour graduate certificate in sustainability. The School of Engineering already had a master's program in renewable and clean energy.

“It greatly expands the educational opportunities at UD,” said Rebecca Potter, the Sustainability Program director. “I don’t think you can find a major – whether bachelor of science or bachelor of arts or in any of the schools – that is as integrative and innovative as this one.”

The bachelor of science degree will have tracks in energy and sustainable watersheds. It includes classes in biology, economics, engineering, chemistry, geology, math and political science.

The bachelor of arts degree will have tracks in food studies and urban sustainability. It includes courses in advanced writing, data analysis, ecology, geographical information systems, philosophy and statistics.

“The sustainability major, maybe also with the human rights major, are really speaking to the issues of our day,” Potter said. “It approaches study in the way that I think the 21st century workplace and life demands. It’s very unique that way.”

Students in the new majors will engage in collaborative sustainability projects such as Kennedy Union’s green roof, a nationally-recognized composting system, the Lincoln Hill Gardens in Dayton’s Twin Towers neighborhood, a solar prairie at Daniel J. Curran Place and the Old River Park garden.

Shannon Stanforth, a graphic design student, is excited about possibly adding the new major.

“As the field of sustainability continues to grow, this new major will prepare students for careers in this discipline,” she said. “ It would also be beneficial to couple with other majors and would be useful to other career paths, as sustainability is applicable to environmental, economic and social facets of life.”

The Hanley Sustainability Institute is formulating a long-term strategic plan to complement the educational offerings with enhanced efforts in campus sustainability and community resilience, as well as a sustainability scholars group for faculty with relevant interests.

“Our role is not just to help implement projects,” said Ben McCall, the institute’s executive director. “I like to think of us as providing strategic leadership in how sustainability can be approached on campus.”

The University earned a gold rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). UD is the top-rated school in Ohio.

For a second straight year, UD is in the top 20 on Sierra magazine's latest "Cool Schools" list for displaying "a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues and encouraging environmental responsibility."

At No. 19, UD is the only Midwest university in the top 20 and third among U.S. Catholic schools. UD was the first U.S. Catholic university to divest from fossil fuels.

“If somebody talks to me about sustainability, I would recommend UD, mostly because it gave me a lot of really unique experiences and opportunities,” Skill said. “I would recommend that to a younger student looking at going into college for sustainability.”

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