Why study environmental science? 🌍

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I am pretty old (lol), so for me, sustainability, climate change, going green and reducing one’s carbon footprint didn’t gain momentum until my third degree program. During my second degree program, it was all about leadership qualities like self-awareness, developing others, strategic thinking and cross-culturalism, but from 2011-2013, the importance of sustainability seemed to surpass emotional IQ in every reading and writing assignment I was given.  

Today, even little children are aware of the importance of protecting the environment for future generations. It’s not just popular to reduce, reuse and recycle, but critical that we do so. If you have a passion for the environment, an interest in contributing to the health of the city of Detroit, a desire to work outside, a love for nature, or an interest in preventing the industry from robbing the Earth and its inhabitants of beauty and resources, it is possible that environmental sciences might just be the path for you.

Xavier Walker collects water samples for testing at Belle Isle.
Xavier Walker collects water samples for testing at Belle Isle.

During my time as student recruiter in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), I would often reach out to faculty to help me communicate the many amazing programs students can pursue at Wayne State. I know that if I’d been exposed to the vast array of majors CLAS offers as an incoming student, I would likely have chosen an undergraduate program that I enjoyed more. I would have saved myself time and heartache and found my way to an enjoyable career sooner.  

As a recruiter, I wanted the students I was meeting to benefit from the depth of experience that faculty bring to our exceptional research university. One of the faculty members who is always willing to reach out to students and share her knowledge and passion is Dr. Donna Kashian, our director of the environmental sciences program.  

I recently spoke with her, and hope her answers might help you decide if environmental science is the right major or minor for you. 

What led you to environmental science?

I have had a passion for the environment from a young age and always enjoyed just being in nature. But I think what really propelled me into this career was when I was college-aged. At that time, I started questioning the high cancer rates in my family and I blamed the environment. The largely immigrant town I was born in had high pollution rates in the local estuary associated with clothing mills. My family also commonly obtained food from the bay; lots of shellfish! I came to learn of the relationship between pollution and cancer. Then when taking a class during my undergraduate program, I had a professor who was passionate about aquatic sciences. That started me down the environmental science road. At that time, I double majored in biology and earth sciences (there was no environmental science program) and then sought out graduate work in that area.  Once I found my path, my grades went up and school became less and less a chore and more interesting and fun. I watched my high school friends go down paths in the auto industry and business, and I could not imagine that life for myself. Environmental Science and even graduate school never really felt like a job. I feel I can (and have) been able to make valuable contributions to the world following the path I chose to take in environmental science.

What do you wish you had known about environmental science before you chose to study it?

During my days as an undergraduate student, I wish I would have known of the value of gaining research experience and doing an internship. I never knew about NSF-REU opportunities, working in faculty labs, and undergraduate research grants (at WSU we have UROP and Barber, among others!). 

Why should students choose WSU for environmental science? 

Environmental science is a bit unique at WSU. It is a program, but also a major in a department, so it has a unique structure which allows for a truly interdisciplinary program. Our faculty and courses reside in the Department of Environmental Science and Geology, but also include faculty and courses from other departments like biological sciences. We are a bit of a unique group with two active learning communities (LC). One LC is a live-and-learn community where students live together in the residence halls and the other has a focus on sustainability. The environmental science program hosts professional development Brown Bag lunch talks on how to find internships, how to apply to graduate school and résumé writing. The faculty know this is a competitive field, so we want our students to have a competitive edge and be networked with environmental scientists in the field. Through this program, you will be grounded with a strong science-based background. Our curriculum is also flexible enough to allow you to develop expertise in the aspects of environmental science that are less science-based and that excites you, whether that is policy, sustainability or environmental justice.  

What is unique/beneficial/exciting about studying environmental science in Detroit? 

Detroit provides an unlimited template for environmental science research and opportunities. WSU sits in the heart of Detroit on the connecting waters of the lower and upper Great Lakes, sharing an international border. It allows the passage of fish (and invasive species) between the Great Lakes, and it is a major migratory flyway for birds and insects. Yet it is a diverse city highly influenced by industry — particularly the auto industry — and has undergone radical environmental transformations in the last 50 years. In the last decade, we have seen beaver and bald eagles return to the Detroit area, and we have Peregrine Falcons nesting on the building that houses the environmental sciences program. Research and learning opportunities present themselves in every aspect of the city. Both WSU and the ES program pride themselves on community engagements that enhance the learning culture in Environmental Sciences. And that, I believe, you cannot find anywhere else.   

If you are interested in majoring in environmental science and would like more information, I encourage you to reach out to Dawn Niedermiller, the undergraduate advisor, or Dr. Kashian. If you would like to hear about environmental science from a student, check out this video.

If you still aren’t sure about the major that is right for you, this piece about how do I pick a major might help.

By Jill de Jesus, former academic services officer III

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