Jeremy Venditti, director of environmental science, chats with SFU News about the new School of Environmental Science.

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New School of Environmental Science opens this fall

August 23, 2019
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SFU News chats with professor Jeremy Venditti, director of environmental science, about the Faculty of Environment’s new School of Environmental Science.

Q. What prompted the faculty to create a new School of Environmental Science?

A. As environmental issues have become more prominent in public consciousness, and as demand has increased for a science-based understanding of problems and solutions, student demand has also increased.

The faculty’s interdisciplinary, undergraduate environmental science program began in 1996 with courses from the School of Resource and Environmental Management and the Departments of Biological Sciences, Earth Sciences, Geography, and Statistics and Actuarial Science. Since 2009 the program has grown rapidly, with a more than 200-per-cent increase in majors. In fall 2019, the Environmental Science program will experience its largest intake of students. The school currently has more than 300 undergraduate students, with more than 70 students starting this fall. This is a 25-per-cent increase over fall 2018. The program is now SFU’s fourth-largest science undergraduate program and the second-largest undergraduate program in the Faculty of Environment (FENV).

We’ve found that having so many students in an undergraduate program without a group of core faculty members, and without core courses or central space on campus, is challenging for our students. The new school will better support the undergraduate experience by allowing us to hire a group of core faculty, and by giving students a better sense of a ‘home’ on campus.

Q. What specific needs will the school meet? What will students gain from studying in the new school?

A. Our goal is to train the next generation of scientists to tackle the environmental problems we face today and into the future. Our graduates are in demand by industry, governments and NGOs. Many go to work for environmental consulting companies, where they are involved in environmental impact assessments, mitigation and restoration. Others work in natural resource industries to ensure that companies are meeting Canada’s environmental regulations. Some work in environmental monitoring and regulation compliance for governments. And some of our best graduates work for NGOs, where they bring a scientific perspective to environmental problem-solving.

Q. Why is it important to create the school now, in the faculty’s 10th year?

A. As the world begins to grapple with both local and global environmental impacts that have occurred over the past century, a scientific perspective is needed to find solutions. The demand for environmental scientists is increasing. To meet this demand, FENV needed to find a way to better support its growing student cohort.

So we made a bold decision to create a new school, which signifies our commitment to provide the same high-quality undergraduate experience as that provided by disciplinary departments that have existing groups of faculty. The new school reflects the faculty’s commitment to an interdisciplinary education in science.

Q. How is this field of study changing?

A. Environmental science has historically been disciplinary-based. But the environmental problems we currently face are multi-faceted. We need a more interdisciplinary approach to solutions. This requires training across scientific disciplines, but also in areas where scientists do not often receive training, such as in policy, law, ethics and economics.

The most important change in the field of environmental sciences is happening in the way we train students. They will have a wide breadth of knowledge, which gives them the knowledge and skills to lead teams of disciplinary-based scientists, who bring greater depth in particular areas. It is often these teams of scientists that can make meaningful progress in solving the world’s major environmental problems.

Q. Describe the program offerings/any new degrees etc. and how it will evolve (i.e. faculty from FENV or others?)

A. The School of Environmental Science currently supports an innovative and novel graduate program in ecological restoration, in collaboration with BCIT. This professional, course-based master’s program is designed for those wishing to enter the emerging environmental restoration industry, or for people already in the industry who seek to broaden their education and accelerate their careers.

We anticipate developing new graduate programming in environmental science that focuses on training in integrative water science, offering professional, course-based master’s degrees and research-based master’s and PhD degrees. There is considerable expertise in water sciences on campus, spread across different faculties and departments, but interdisciplinary training in water sciences is not presently available. This seems an obvious area where the new school can provide some leadership and help augment disciplinary-based graduate programming relating to Earth’s most important natural resource.