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Environmental Science Degree: Year One

Lynn Dudley, Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University


The departments of Geological Sciences, Oceanography, and Meteorology at Florida State University were merged April 2010 creating the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science (EOAS). The circumstances surrounding the merger were described in a number of articles in the Chronicle of Higher of Education and since space is limited will not be recounted here. Succinctly stated, the three departments lost 20% of their combined faculty lines to budget reductions, but retained all of their degrees: bachelor degrees in geology and meteorology; masters degrees in geology, oceanography, and meteorology; and doctoral degrees in geology, oceanography, and meteorology. All three programs have been strong producers of graduate degrees. In addition, Oceanography brought a Professional Science Master's degree program in Aquatic Environmental Science. The Meteorology degree was healthy with about 150 majors, but the Geology degree had been struggling with low enrollment. At the time of the merger, the new department had a thirty-seven faculty, a productive graduate program with five degrees and an undergraduate program with one healthy program and one struggling program. The University demanded an increase in undergraduate major production while maintaining graduate degree production.

The merger created an opportunity for a new undergraduate degree program leveraging the strengths of the three units. The department created an environmental science degree that was unique in Florida in that it emphasized the physical science base of the department. The University of Florida had an environmental science degree with a strong ecology component and Florida State University offered an environmental studies degree with a policy basis. EOAS created an environmental science degree with a strong physical science basis. Our objective was to create an option that complimented the existing degree at FSU and provided an alternative for students seeking a degree stronger in physical sciences than that offered by the University of Florida. The degree would also create an undergraduate major with a track that would lead to graduate school in oceanography and provide a route to graduation within the department for students in meteorology that had difficulty with the third semester of calculus. The degree was conceived with some career objectives. Florida State University is located in state capital making it possible to consult with the Department of Environmental Protection and Division of Environmental Health as we developed our degrees. Our curriculum was designed with sufficient flexibility to allow students to graduate with the scientific background that they would need to meet the requirements of different state agencies. We created both BS and BA degrees the difference is in a calculus requirement in the core for the BS and a stronger science requirement.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts strong growth in the geosciences over the coming decade. However, the specific jobs that are expected to grow are less certain. Our degree program allows students flexibility in creating a degree consistent with their career objectives. We seek to provide students with a background in the physical sciences, but one that is tailored to their individual interests. The core of the BS degree requires student to take at least a semester of chemistry, biology, and physics, as well as courses in subject areas composing the department: geology, oceanography, and meteorology. Students must also complete an additional semester of chemistry or biology, a GIS course, and a capstone course. We are committed to maintaining the capstone requirement but are struggling with implementation. The first year (2010/2011) the capstone relied on internships with the Geologic Survey, Department of Environmental Protection, and Division of Environmental Health to provide students with a challenging data collection, analysis, and synthesis experience. This year (2011/2012) we were able to organize a course and the course has not been complete at the time of this essay. Student numbers have made it extremely difficult to provide a challenging experience within limits of instructor time and resources.

As stated at the beginning of this essay the BS in meteorology had about 150 majors and we hoped to that the environmental science BA and BS together would attract a similar number. There are approximate 350 declared majors in the two degrees and possibly 100 more undeclared students attending classes. The new major exceeded our expectations and the University's requirement for increasing undergraduate productivity, but we are concerned that the enrollment will not be sustained. We wonder where this number of majors will find employment and graduates are not finding employment, it seems natural that interest will decline. Engaging our students during their time on campus is an obvious key to sustaining the program, but it is a challenge to find resources with reduced faculty numbers and increased expectations. One objective of attending this workshop is to learn about student engagement programs.

Sustainability is an issue on both ends of the pipeline in Florida. Our graduates with BS degrees in meteorology and geology have virtually 100% employment. The sustainability issue is, as is the case with many other institutions, at the supply end of the pipeline. Florida faces the demographic situation of the shift in the racial composition of high school and younger population to Hispanic and Black, groups that currently make up about ten percent each of the FSU student body but much less than ten percent of EOAS students. Sustaining the geosciences at FSU will require increasing the diversity of EOAS students. A second objective of attending the workshop is to learn about diversity enhancement programs.

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