The university is the only one in the state to offer a Ph.D. program for a degree in environmental science. (Photo by Noah Buscher, Unsplash.)

By Hannah E. Jones

This fall, the first cohort of students will start their educational journeys at Georgia Southern University’s (GSU) new School of Earth, Environment and Sustainability (SEES). Launched on July 1, the SEES combines several scientific disciplines to better support the interests and needs of students in sustainability and environmental science fields.

The decision to establish a new school was two-fold — with university leadership wanting to help expand Georgia’s environmental education opportunities while also meeting the increased demand for this type of education from students. Careers in environmental sciences increase by five percent every year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

“[Environmental science] is such an important area right now,” said Daniel Gleason, director of the School of Earth, Environment and Sustainability, and the James H. Oliver, Jr., Institute for Coastal Plain Science. “The last week has really shown us that — we hit three new global temperature records last week. This morning, I got up and the water in the Florida Keys was 95 degrees, and all the corals are bleaching down there or will be very soon.”

The SEES brings together two existing programs, the geosciences program and the James H. Oliver, Jr., Institute for Coastal Plain Science. By combining pathways, students can learn outside of the parameters of traditional disciplines. 

“The traditional disciplinary lines that we have — biology, chemistry, geology — those are really breaking down because the questions are so complex,” Gleason said. “You really have to have the sciences combined with social sciences to get a lot of these questions answered.”

GSU is ahead of the curve with its new, green school. The university is the only one in the state to offer a Ph.D. program for a degree in environmental science.  

The SEES has also been a long time coming, with different iterations in the works for about 20 years. Now, though, Gleason said the time was right.

“It’s been exciting and challenging,” Gleason said. “We’ve been trying to get this degree for 20 years. That’s how long I’ve been working at it. We were just persistent… and now we’re going over the top of the mountain. It’s a good feeling.”

As the school grows, Gleason expects to have a maximum of 75 students in the bachelor’s program, 40 for master’s degrees and 20 pursuing a doctorate. 

“There’s a lot of interest in that bachelor’s program. I’ve had students who have transferred now from other institutions in Georgia and are coming this fall specifically because they want the sustainability degree,” Gleason said. “Students these days, they want to be in a career where they feel like they’re making a difference. Sustainability and the environment are areas where you can do that.”

Ultimately, the team will measure success based on their graduates’ careers, hoping to arm them with the knowledge and skills to play important roles within the world of sustainability. 

“In the end, the real measure of success will be the number of students that go on and get established in sustainability and environmental careers,” Gleason said. “That’s the bottom line, right? We want to see that we’re providing [students] with the tools and education that will allow them to go out and be successful in the major that they obtained.”

Hannah Jones is a Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for...

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  1. This sounds great, very similar to a Bach degree I did at RMIT in the 90s; Socio-Environmental Assessment and Policy (SEAP), at the time a groundbreaking collaboration between departments of Social Science and Architecture.
    A lot of great green policy has been implemented in state and local government from graduates of that course.

  2. Great news. Perhaps they will expand that focus to include their own facilities. The new GSU convocation center clear cut an entire hillside of trees early this year so it would have a view of downtown.

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