New York College launches Department of Environment and Sustainability

The Earth is warming. Coastlines are eroding due to rising seas. Many cities are rife with air pollution. Household chemicals and medicines are finding their way into water and soil. Many animals are endangered or have gone extinct due to human activity.

A Ph.D. student in evolution, ecology, and behavior, one of the programs housed in the new Department of Environment and Sustainability, studies coral reefs in the lab of Howard Lasker (left), chair of the department.

To address these and other pressing global challenges, the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences has launched a Department of Environment and Sustainability.

The University at Buffalo New York is consistently recognized as one of the world’s most exceptional, most affordable universities, making it a top choice for students and faculty around the globe according to a October 16 news release by Charlotte Hsu, News Content Manager. 

This new unit brings together faculty from disciplines spanning the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. These experts will conduct research and prepare students to address some of the most important problems facing humanity our new century century.

Researchers in the department possesses expertise in fields ranging from geology and ecology to history and media study. Many hold joint appointments in other departments. The department’s interdisciplinary nature is vital to its success, says Robin Schulze, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Science helps us understand how humans are altering the environment,” Schulze says, “but science alone cannot begin to tell us what to do about the problems we are creating. Any question of how to address a problem is a question of value that demands that we employ expertise from every discipline. Businesses, governments, universities, and nonprofits all recognize that meeting the challenge of sustainability will be increasingly central to their success, and no single discipline can provide all the tools and insights they’ll need. This new interdisciplinary department will be a home for innovative teaching and research about one of the pressing issues of our time.”

“We’re living in a time of rapid human population growth, and humans are modifying the environment in myriad ways. Understanding these effects and deciding what level of impact we find acceptable are important goals.”

Howard Lasker, chair

“The environment and sustainability are areas of study that are — and should be — the focus for many students,” says Howard Lasker, chair of the Department of Environment and Sustainability, and a coral reef researcher. “The daily headlines underscore the urgency of these issues. We’re living in a time of rapid human population growth, and humans are modifying the environment in myriad ways. Understanding these effects and deciding what level of impact we find acceptable are important goals.”

New Master’s in Sustainability Leadership

UB junior in environmental geosciences, and a UB senior in biological sciences, hold a butterfly in a net during an ecological methods course taught through the Department of Environment and Sustainability. As part of the class, students captured, tagged and released monarch butterflies monarch butterflies to help track the insects’ spectacular migration.

Starting in spring 2020, the department will offer a master’s degree in sustainability leadership. This program, an MA, will prepare its graduates to lead organizations in adopting sustainable practices and creating plans to minimize environmental impact.

Students pursuing the degree will consider sustainability through multiple lenses, from the perspective of environment and ecology, social sciences and cultural studies, and economics and business. Graduates will have a diverse skill set in marketing, policy, and sustainable development. These will equip them to manage sustainability efforts in corporate, governmental and nonprofit organizations.

The degree interdisciplinary nature reflects its roots: While it will be fully administered by the new department, the program was developed by a committee that included representatives from the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, School of Architecture and Planning, and School of Management.

In addition to the new MA program, the Department of Environment and Sustainability offers an advanced certificate in sustainability and houses several existing degree programs at UB that previously did not have a departmental home. These include a BA/BS in environmental studies, a BS in environmental geosciences, and an MS and Ph.D. in evolution, ecology, and behavior. About 250 students are already enrolled in these three programs.

In an ecological methods course, Nicholas Henshue (center, blue shirt), clinical assistant professor in the new Department of Environment and Ecological Sustainability led students in tagging monarchs to help track the insects’ spectacular migration by placing stickers on the wings of butterflies.

These lightweight tags were designed by Monarch Watch program for tagging monarchs and do not interfere with flight or otherwise harm the butterflies when applied correctly, according to the program.

The new department — which will grow in coming years through additional faculty hires — underscores the UB College of Arts and Sciences’ commitment to sustainability.

Researchers in the college have long been engaged in environmental research, education and outreach, investigating topics that range from the history of environmental activism to the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, both on land and at sea


Source: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2019/10/019.html

Photos Credits: Douglas Levere / University at Buffalo

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