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When nature calls

In a world where issues involving the environment are becoming more prevalent, the study of environmental science and policy is quickly becoming unavoidable. With natural disasters such as last year’s hurricanes, a growing awareness of global warming and an imminent issue of a growing world population, an understanding of the environment is a critical responsibility that humanity shares.

With that said, students at USF who have an interest in the environment might want to think about majoring in environmental science and policy.

This major is divided into two different tracks: science and policy. The classes offered focus on natural and physical sciences, along with classes emphasizing public policy and law in regards to the environment.

“Something that we try to emphasize to prospective students is that we’re environmental science and policy – so students quickly appreciate the value of developing sound environmental policy and regulatory decision making in the context of a strong scientific understanding of environmental problems,” said Rick Oches, associate professor and chair of the department.Oches’ main area of research is in climate change and environmental responses to it. He also works closely with archaeologists in order to understand how past human societies adapted to climate and environmental changes thousands of years ago. His research is field oriented, taking him to eastern Europe, Yemen, Alaska, Argentina and various U.S. project sites.

“We’re not just a bunch of ‘treehuggers’ as some might suggest – our students are solidly trained in the basic sciences, while becoming educated in environmental politics, law, economics and ethics,” he said.

Oches does research in the area of past climate change and environmental response to climate change. The program is not as easy as some might think. Along with their introductory environmental classes, students in the program must take classes in chemistry, biology, geology and calculus.

According to Oches, a major in environmental science and policy usually attracts students interested in environmental problem solving.

“Environmental problems are only going to increase in the future, as population grows and demands on natural resources and the natural environment increase in unsustainable ways,” Oches said.

Environmental health issues, such as water and air quality, and issues involving ecosystems are all related directly to human life.

“With policymakers and the general population better educated in the area of environmental science, we can expect more responsible environmental regulations and environmental planning to coincide with the increased demands on the natural environment,” Oches said. “The end result will be improved health and a cleaner environment for future generations worldwide”

In addition to the in-depth curriculum, this major also requires students to take part in a 180-hour internship during their senior year. The students are placed with local or national environmental agencies and receive hands-on training. This helps students become more accessible in their field and makes them “more marketable to environmental consulting companies and government agencies when it’s time to look for a permanent position,” Oches said.

Students who plan on majoring in environmental science and policy can expect many jobs awaiting them when they graduate. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in the next eight to 10 years there will be an increase in the amount of environmental laws and regulations for companies in the United States. This will create a larger need for environmental scientists in order to take care of issues such as water decontamination, food control and clean air. In the most recent research done by the Department of Labor in 2004, environmental scientists and hydrologists (environmental scientists specializing in the study of underground and/or surface water) held about 81,000 jobs. Employment of environmental scientists is expected to grow from 9-17 percent through the year 2014. However, the numbers of jobs available to hydrologists is expected to grow at a much faster rate due to the movement of the population to coastal areas. The employment rate for hydrologists will increase by 27 percent or more by the year 2014.

“The ESP B.S. degree prepares students for careers with environmental consulting companies and environmental regulatory agencies at local, county, state and federal levels,” Oches said. “Many of our graduates work for agencies such as Southwest Florida Water Management District, Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission, U.S. Geological Survey and so on.”

This degree also prepares students to excel in graduate school.

“Many graduates continue in master’s degree programs in environmental science and related fields,” Oches said.

There is a plethora of options for someone with a degree in this field.

“Many branch out in new directions altogether,” Oches said. “For example, they become teachers, work in medical labs, run Girl Scout camps or even join the Peace Corps.”

This is a growing field, and students involved in this major have a variety of reasons for specializing in environmental science and policy.

“I chose ESP as my major because I knew I wanted to do something in the environmental field,” senior Nate Smith said. “USF’s ESP program was perfect for me. It included both my interests in the natural sciences with my interests in politics and law. I am graduating this semester and plan on going to law school to pursue environmental law. I think my background in environmental studies will benefit me greatly in pursuing environmental law.”

Shaun Simmons, a senior majoring in environmental science and policy, said he’s always been interested in the living sciences.

“I’ve narrowed down what I want to do to solid waste management, wetland reconstruction, or invasive species control,” Simmons said. “I’d encourage anyone with some interest in the environment to take a couple of classes.”

Melissa Madden, a senior majoring in environmental science and policy, said, “I think that the environment is our future and understanding it and protecting it is key for our survival.”

This major is fairly new. According to the department’s Web site, it began offering a bachelor’s degree in 1995 and a master’s degree became available in 2000. There are about 250 undergraduate majors and 30 students pursuing a master’s degree. A graduate certificate in environmental science and policy is available, in addition to a doctorate in geography and environmental science and policy that became available this January.

Oches welcomes any student interested in this major to contact him. The department also offers a Web site with information about the program located at The department of environmental science and policy is located in the Natural and Environmental Sciences building in room 107.