University of Montana students flock to new major in environmental science

November 5, 2021

MISSOULA – Earlier this fall, a group of students from the University of Montana majoring in environmental sciences and sustainability spent the weekend in UM’s Lubrecht Experimental Forest, learning about environment and conservation in western Montana.

Their thirst for knowledge on topics such as restoration, climate and water reflects a growing interest among students in the use of environmental sciences to promote sustainability – an interest that has made ESS the one of UM’s fastest growing new majors.

“I think the students are really excited about connecting science – especially environmental science – and sustainability,” said Laurie Yung, professor and director of the ESS program. “They want the science base, but they also want the skills to change the world.”

Housed in the WA Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, ESS started with 15 students in 2020 and a year later 115 students – of which 88 are new to the major and 68 are new to UM this semester.

The field course in Lubrecht is one of the first courses taken by ESS majors. Students participated in discussions on public land policy and the history of the region, including Native American perspectives. They met with representatives from local land management agencies and community partners like the US Forest Service, Blackfoot Challenge and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. They also did a service project with the Blackfoot Challenge, pulling weeds, pulling down old fences, and building a nature trail in the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area.

“The vision of the course is to bring ESS students in western Montana to reinforce that their classroom is larger than the walls of the UM,” said course instructor Brian Chaffin, associate professor of water policy and governance. “We want students to get a feel for the current challenges on the landscape and present them to university partners who are on the ground and working on these issues right now.”

Lark Olson, a freshman at UM in Kalispell, chose ESS as a major after developing an interest in environmental issues while completing a two-year course in Environmental Systems and Society as part of the his high school’s international baccalaureate program.

Olson said she especially enjoyed the weekend trip to the Blackfoot River, where she collected and sorted aquatic invertebrates to sample the water quality of the river.

“Overall, however, my favorite part of the seminar was all of the amazing people I met,” said Olson, who specializes in music and plays for the UM Symphony Orchestra. “I have never been surrounded by so many people who share my interests. It was a great way to get things done in terms of learning about what I might want to do in environmental science. . “

The interdisciplinary nature of the ESS program attracts students, Yung said. They receive extensive training in environmental science and can specialize in six concentrations, including the very flexible concentration on resource conservation. The major requires hands-on learning, so that students come away with a real-world experience.

“Our students want a very integrated science degree and they want to learn how to use this science to solve problems,” Yung said. “The ESS diploma links science to action. UM is a beautiful and amazing place. You can travel directly to western Montana and gain hands-on experience in the subjects you are studying. social systems work in the field but also in meeting the leaders who solve environmental problems. “

UM junior Brooke DeRuwe initially took a different direction at university, but immediately changed her specialization as soon as she heard about the new ESS program.

“I think the degree gives me a full education in environmental science,” she said. “It’s a broad specialization that you can focus on something specific. Especially for students who don’t want to declare a specific path. If you are interested in nature, specializing in environmental science will open up so much to you. of doors. “

Originally from Spokane, Washington, DeRuwe is a minor in climate change studies and is part of the Franke Global Leadership Initiative. She is also a lawyer at UM and a member of the Climate Response Club. She eventually wants to work with the ocean and study marine science.

“People are laughing just because there is no ocean in Montana,” she said. “I am well aware of this. “

Last summer, DeRuwe worked as an intern at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida, helping with data collection and research for its sea turtle program. Tasks included releasing baby sea turtles into the wild.

The internship provided significant work experience and met DeRuwe’s experiential learning requirements. She says her experiences in the ESS major and the College of Forestry and Conservation helped her land the internship.

“I want potential students to know that they will be supported by the faculty and other students,” DeRuwe said. “It’s a very welcoming community. If there is something you want to accomplish, the people around you will help you achieve it to the best of their ability.”

Chaffin said the ESS program encapsulates the best of what the Franke College of Forestry and Conservation has to offer.

“Students who know they want to work in the environmental field, but are not sure whether they want to be something very specific like a forester or a wildlife biologist, can explore all aspects of human relationships. -environment, “he said. “They can take courses on the fire simultaneously with courses in rural community development. They can taste it all and also gain a solid foundation in environmental science. There is no limit in the environmental space where the children are. students can work with this degree. “


This press release was produced by the University of Montana. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.


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