Alternative Environmental Study Programs

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Many small environmental colleges established in the 1960s and 1970s have developed outstanding environmental studies programs. Most of these schools offer an alternative educational experience where students are encouraged to be independent and creative thinkers. These schools have shed the rigid classroom structure of larger colleges and universities in favor of a more individual and hands-on approach to environmental issues.

Students are motivated by curiosity rather than grades and a good number of these schools have done away with the rigid grading system altogether, in favor of faculty and peer review of the student's progress. Learning is demonstrated through small group interactions, individual projects, fieldwork, and internships. The major advantage of these small and focused schools is the faculty's deep commitment to teaching. Descriptions of two of the better-known alternative schools follow.

The College of the Atlantic is a four-year, independent college located on Mount Desert Island in Bar Harbor, Maine. The campus consists of 26 shore front acres adjacent to Acadia National Park and overlooking Frenchman Bay. The school offers both Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in ecology. Teaching the interconnection of humans with their physical surroundings is a central mission of the college. The curriculum is split into three areas of concentration: environmental science, arts and design, and human studies. The college has a strong concentration of classes in marine biology, environmental design, environmental media, and education. Undergraduate requirements include at least two courses in each area of concentration, a human ecology essay, an internship, a senior project, and community service. The master's program is a more intensive extension of the undergraduate program, and many students who enter the program continue with their undergraduate focus.

The college and Acadia National Park have a cooperative agreement, and students conduct much of their fieldwork in the park. The college also maintains the Island Research Center where, "students monitor populations of endangered or threatened bird species, develop censoring techniques for bird populations, and observe the impact of changes in island vegetation on animal species" (excerpted from the college bulletin). For more information write to: College of the Atlantic Bar Harbor, ME 04609

Evergreen State College is a four-year public school tucked away in the rolling and forested mountains of Olympia, Washington. This is one of the few state schools that has both an alternative curriculum and an environmental focus. Evergreen offers both a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree, as well as a master's degree in environmental studies. The environmental studies program stresses the interaction of human societies and nature. This program is also linked with the political economy and social change, and science, technology and health programs. The master's program combines public policy and environmental science so that graduates can use a combination of management and technical skills.

A student's academic pathway is at first structured, with a number of core program requirements, but later becomes more independent and specialized. Instead of grades, faculty members write a narrative evaluation of each student's work and, in turn, students prepare both a self-evaluation and an evaluation of the instructor. Thus, Evergreen stresses learning through an open and hor.est two-way communication system between faculty and students. Further information can be obtained by writing:

Administrative Office, The Evergreen State College Olympia, WA 98505

Other notable, small, environmentally focused alternative colleges include Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts; Williams College in Williams town, Massachusetts; Colorado Mountain College in Leadville, Colorado; and the Huxley College of Environmental Studies, a unit of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

Sources of Further Information:

The Right College (1991). Published by Arco Press. A reference guide that lists 55 interdisciplinary environmental study programs.

Opportunities in Environmental Careers (1992). By Odom Fanning and published by VGM Career Horizons, the National Textbook Co. This book has an in-depth chapter on educational opportunities focusing on alternative schools.

Graduate School

The environmental field is ripe for professionals with advanced educational training. Most companies and government agencies are looking for individuals with both advanced scientific training and modem management skills. A recent salary survey by Hazmat World magazine found that 20 percent of all new environmental professionals have a master's degree. The most popular graduate training today is a master of business administration (MBA) combined with an undergraduate engineering degree.

Graduate school can be a wonderful learning experience and very helpful for your career, but you should think long and hard about your motivations for wanting a graduate degree and the type of degree and training you hope to receive. Unlike most undergraduate programs, which have their core subject matter and offer a general learning experience, graduate programs are intensive and specific.

If you have just finished your undergraduate education and are tom between going directly to graduate school or first getting some work experience, most college faculty find that returning students are generally more focused and successful because their studies are tied directly to their careers. This doesn't mean that you should not go directly from undergraduate to graduate school, but today many students enter graduate school as if it were an extension of their undergraduate training, with little if any idea of what they would like to do after finishing their degree.

Sources of Further Information:

Peterson's Annual Guide to Graduate Study. Peterson's Guides, Princeton, New Jersey. The most complete and detailed information source on graduate programs. Comes in five volumes and gives a detailed description of schools, programs, departments and faculty, and their present academic focus: Vol. 1-Graduate and Professional Programs, Overview; Vol. 2- Humanities and Social Sciences; Vol. 3-Biological, Agricultural, and Health; Vol. 4-Physical Sciences and Mathematics; Vol. 5-Engineering and Applied Sciences.
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