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Turning the Dream of Sustainability into Reality

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, February 03, 2014
Sustainability is more than a buzzword. It is critical to protecting and improving the water we drink, the air that we breathe, and the diversity of life forms on the planet. Over the centuries, human beings have created engineering marvels and a built environment that has made our lives longer, healthier, and happier.
However, we are still highly dependent on the natural environment. Understanding environmental systems is an active and innovative field of education and research. Moreover, those who dedicate their careers to sustainability typically have a strong sense of service to humanity, other animals, and even the earth itself.

Degrees that are focused on environmental sustainability can go by a broad variety of names. ‘Earth and Marine Sciences’ is typically the catch-all term for the field. However, more specific specialties in environmental science include remote earth sensing, coastal zone management, oceanography and ocean engineering, resource management, and meteorology. Moreover, as the ecosystem is, as the name implies, a system, there is significant crossover between specialties. Creating something sustainable in one area can bring negative consequences to another. Therefore, having an understanding of how a human intervention will affect the entire system is important for the intervention to be effective over the long term.

Undergraduate programs related to sustainability are typically broad ranging in order to prepare students to begin careers in diverse aspects of earth and marine sciences. However, graduate programs are generally more focused. This can pose a dilemma for students seeking graduate education as they need training from a variety of specialties in order to design projects that promote sustainability. Therefore, you might want to choose a school that encourages students to work across specialties in a collaborative environment. Florida Institute of Technology’s (FIT) Department of Marine and Environmental Systems offers master's and doctoral programs in 7 different specialties, but the program emphasizes integrating specialties and developing the ability to work effectively as part of a team.

Science programs that focus on sustainability also typically offer students the opportunity to work on field projects. These programs can be a great way not only to gain real world experience but also to work on a team comprised of members from around the globe who are all passionate about sustainability. While finding the right program for you can take a little more research than it might for other fields, the payoff comes in joining a program that has exactly the training and encouragement you need to do the work you love.  
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