Welcome to Green U!

Today’s Globe and Mail has an exciting article about the growing number of environmental programs at universities across Canada and the United States. SOI alumna Deeva Green is featured prominently in the story! Graduates of these new and exciting programs represent the new generation of Canadian development planners, policy makers and environmental scientists!

Welcome to Green U

SIRI AGRELL

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail

June 6, 2007

When Deeva Green starts university in September, she plans to major in saving the world.

The 18-year-old is one of an unprecedented number of high-school students who have applied to environmental programs at Canadian universities this year, seeing green not just as a cause, but a calling.

“We don’t want to screw ourselves over any more,” Ms. Green said. “We need to be prescient thinkers right now, whether it’s to have a good job or to really think about the future.”

Applications to environmental programs – including science and engineering as well as programs in sustainability, resource management, environmental policy and even green tourism – have jumped dramatically for the 2007-2008 term, even doubling at some schools.

At the University of British Columbia, inquiries about the environmental science program are running at twice what they were last year, while applications to the natural resource conservation program are up 33 per cent.

At Dalhousie University in Halifax, the environmental engineering program has gone from 18 students in 2004 to 66 enrolled this year. The school’s environmental science program has almost doubled in two years, to 68 students from 38.

The increased interest is the product of greater awareness of issues such as global warming, but also due to a growing contingent of role models for environmentally inclined teenagers who idolize people such as David Suzuki, Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore.

Nineteen-year-old Jessica McNally of Calgary was studying general science at Stanford University in California until she saw Mr. Gore speak.

“He came to campus during the first semester of her first year, and she was hooked,” said her stepfather, Tom Couture.

Ms. McNally had previously planned on becoming an astronaut, but instead of heading into space she is now spending her summer break at sea, participating in a six-week research project off the coast of Honolulu that is organized by Stanford’s environmental science program.

From there, she heads to a high-altitude station in Colorado, where she will run an experiment on butterfly migration, and next semester she will be in Australia, studying at the Great Barrier Reef.

This is the kind of course work that Peter Clark, an 18-year-old student at Upper Canada College in Toronto, is eager to pursue.

He is trying to decide between enrolling in a sustainable-development program at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a business program at Dalhousie with a focus on sustainability.

“It’s a hot topic right now, but it’s going to be a huge issue in the years to come – resource management, sustainability, climate change,” he said. “I just really want to make a difference.”

Universities in Canada are marketing themselves to teens such as Mr. Clark by promoting their role in environmental advances. The universities of Guelph and Ottawa helped standardize a DNA barcode to assist in cataloguing all living things on the planet and to monitor whether a species is at risk. The University of New Brunswick has harnessed wind to create electricity by transforming the fluctuating power caused by changes in wind direction and force into a steady current.

The public-affairs office at Dalhousie notes that student Zoë Caron was recently pictured in Vanity Fair’s spring “green issue” along with other young environmental activists.

But even as environmental programs begin to produce star alumni, some parents worry that there is no guarantee you’ll get rich while fixing the planet.

“There’s no regard for what the income will be. I always say, ‘Hang on a second here, what about law school? What about medicine?’ ” Mr. Couture said of his stepdaughter, Ms. McNally. “But it’s only thinking about what she can do for mankind.”

He and his wife Kristine Eidsvik, an Alberta judge, say they will most likely have to work until they are 80 to pay for Ms. McNally’s education, and joke that they are giving her as their “contribution to the global warming problem.”

But even though he at times worries about Ms. McNally entering a field that has no real income model, Mr. Couture said her passion gives him confidence about the future.

“If we have young talented people wanting to do this, maybe the problem is not so insurmountable,” he said. “Their optimism at 19 is through the roof – anything is possible for them and solving this problem is very real.”

Ms. Green’s motivation came from a trip to the Arctic last June with an international program called Students on Ice.

She recalls arriving on the edge of the ice floe and seeing a pod of beluga whales swim by, something the group thought was incredible until the expedition leaders explained that the creatures should not be seen that far north. “So right away, it clicked that things were really changing,” she said.

Even with real-world experiences to back up her activism, Ms. Green says some kids her age jump on the environmental bandwagon not out of concern but as a route to sure-fire employment.

“There’s a girl at school who’s not into [environmentalism] at all; she’s going to Queen’s [University] for business,” Ms. Green said. “But her mom wants her to take environmental studies because she said it will be a big sector.”

Although she applied to several Canadian universities, Ms. Green plans to attend the London School of Economics next year, where she will major in policy and environmental studies. She hopes to work in government or with a non-governmental organization.

“I think our generation will have to fix it,” she said of the environment. “And hopefully we’ll become something cool.”

Non-carbon credits

It may be difficult to fit the words “renewable energy technology” on the back of a sweatshirt or print “musical theatre with a minor in environmental tourism” on the side of a mug, but universities across Canada are expanding their course offerings to fit the taste of green-minded students.

At Dalhousie University in Halifax, students in any faculty may now take environmental science as their minor, an option spokeswoman Marla Cranston says has been exercised by young people studying everything from neuroscience to theatre.

Last fall, Brock University in St. Catharine’s, Ont., launched a new program called tourism and environment with 41 students enrolled, a number that grew to 61 by the end of the year.

Next year, McMaster University in Hamilton will launch an energy technologies program focusing on renewable energy technology.

“It’s an important program because as … Canada searches for new green energy sources, the sector will need a large number of qualified people to meet demand,” spokeswoman Jane Christmas said.

The faculty of civil engineering at Queen’s University in Kingston has added a mandatory first-year course called humanitarian engineering.

Brian Cumming, head of Queen’s environmental science department, said the school has broadened its focus to accommodate the new realities of climate research, hiring professors to teach economics and philosophy courses with an environmental bent, and recently adding urban and regional planning courses.

“There is an awful big awareness on campus that things have to change,” he said.

Queen’s is beginning to track where students who graduate with environmental degrees end up after graduation. Mr. Cumming said many go into the business world or start environmental companies, while others go into education, government or non-governmental organizations.

“A lot of our students are taking jobs before they’re actually finished,” he said. “They’re highly in demand.”

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