OVERLAND PARK — The KU Edwards Campus in Overland Park (KUEC) is launching an environmental studies degree for the 2019-20 academic year, giving students who need greater higher education course flexibility a chance to enter this growing field. KU’s Lawrence campus is home to one of the first environmental studies programs in the country, established in 1970. Its popularity there, and the need for highly skilled environmental employees in the Kansas City area, helped prompt the addition to KUEC’s undergraduate degree offerings.
“Environmental studies is ideal for students who like to think across disciplines and connect knowledge and skills from science, social science and the humanities to address environmental problems and issues,” said Mark Jakubauskas, director of science programs for KUEC. “Environmental studies students take classes in environmental history, water resources, law, field methods and data analysis, to name a few.”
Jakubauskas said the program will offer students in the Kansas City area flexible course schedules with evening and online courses to help fulfill high demand from local companies.
Scott Schulte is a senior environmental planner at Kansas City’s and Omaha’s Vireo, a landscape architecture, planning and design firm, focusing on ecologically based solutions for parks, streets and cities with community input. He said both his Omaha and Kansas City offices work with KU environmental studies graduates regularly, and he welcomes the chance to compete for more highly skilled workers.
“Whether employed by our firm or our partners, it's great to have a larger pool of local environmental professionals who understand our local conditions and 21st-century environmental challenges and opportunities,” Schulte said. “It will help our community-of-practice to grow and will improve creativity, decision-making and collaboration across the board.”
Vireo is one of the many ways KU collaborates with area employers and community colleges to create pathways for students to earn a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of General Studies in environmental studies from KU, according to Jakubauskas.
“The Kansas City metro area is home to numerous environmental agencies and companies, from big multinational firms such as Black & Veatch and Burns & McDonnell down to small one-person consulting companies, as well as the headquarters for Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 and state and local environmental agencies,” Jakubauskas said.
According to KUEC Vice Chancellor David Cook, these partnerships benefit both the students and the area companies who may eventually employ them.
“We are constantly in touch with business leaders and employers in Kansas City and the region and seriously consider their needs when our teams develop new programs,” Cook said. “We strive to provide meaningful degrees to our students while fulfilling the needs of the local workforce.”
Environmental problems can be found anywhere in the world. Professionals with a degree in environmental studies apply their knowledge in a variety of fields, including sustainability, conservation, water resources, environmental policy and environmental health. Environmental studies graduates are needed to find innovative and effective solutions to many kinds of difficult problems.
This diverse professional skill set is expected to be in increased demand during the coming years. As awareness of environmental issues grows, the need for people with a blend of science and policy knowledge will also grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects demand for environmental scientists and specialists to increase by 11 percent through 2026, outpacing the average for all occupations. Environmental issues are found in every kind of workplace. Some examples of occupations environmental studies majors may pursue include:
- Environmental consultant
- Environmental educator
- Public relations specialist
- Environmental engineer
- Sustainability specialist
- Fundraiser for environmental initiatives
- Policy analyst
- Environmental planners
- Corporate compliance officer
- Environmental auditor
According to Jakubauskas, students in KU’s environmental studies program are some of the most active and engaged on campus and in the community.
“We partner with community organizations and other units across campus to give our students hands-on experiential learning,” Jakubauskas said. “Our students participate in research, projects and internships that change the world around them. We also have an accelerated bachelor’s-to-master’s program, which will allow qualified students to earn both degrees in just five years.”
Schulte said his team is always looking for more “well-educated, adaptable and passionate people who want to create thriving communities and who understand how to apply principles of sustainability, resilience and environmental planning and design in the real world.”
The new KUEC environmental studies degree, supported by the Johnson County Education Research Triangle (JCERT), aims to produce more of these types of high-quality students ready to fill jobs in the Kansas City area.
“It's wonderful that Kansas City-area students can earn an outstanding and affordable education close to home, and hopefully they will remain here after graduation,” Schulte said. “It's good for the students, their families, our economy and our community.”