learning

New degree trains environmental decision-makers

November 10, 2014
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Students who have a passion for making positive environmental change now have a new degree option at Simon Fraser University—Canada’s first bachelor of environment (BEnv) degree.

The degree program begins in January 2015 and aims to graduate environmental problem-solvers and decision-makers capable of making a contribution to mitigating climate change.

Unlike existing degree programs in environmental studies, or environmental science, SFU’s new BEnv won’t focus exclusively on the social sciences or on science.

Instead, says Ingrid Stefanovic, dean of the Faculty of Environment (FENV), “it aims to ensure a genuinely collaborative, interdisciplinary understanding of environmental problems and opportunities by integrating the human and physical dimensions of environmental change.”

She says BEnv’s academic designers recognize there are no simple answers to the current, unsustainable environmental path that society is following.

“The biggest challenge, to me, relates to the complexity of climate change and the global scale of environmental problems,” she says.

“By integrating socio-economic and scientific approaches, this interdisciplinary program ensures that students recognize the importance of collaborative, multi-dimensional ways of thinking as a condition of creative, innovative approaches to climate-change solutions.”

BENV students have three options for majors: Global Environmental Systems, Environmental Resource Management, and Sustainable Business—a joint major offered collaboratively by FENV and SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

“BEnv majors help students first begin to understand the various aspects of environmental issues (BEnv 222 Environmental Controversy) and then begin to see how these parts may interact (BEnv 221 Systems Thinking and the Environment),” says Dan Burns, manager, curriculum and academic planning.

Other courses expose them to tools and methodologies, such as statistics, geographic information systems and modeling, that are used to understand how different systems affect each other in complex ways.

In their final year, students collaborate in teams on projects that address local real-life sustainability challenges.

The degree’s emphasis on interdisciplinarity, methodology and content in systems and complexity, says Burns, will cultivate a new breed of graduates prepared for a wide variety of career options or further studies at the graduate level.

Current in-demand jobs addressed by this degree include environmental managers, conservation officers, compliance coordinators, environmental planners, restoration ecology professionals, business development managers, sustainability-policy analysts and urban planner