More than a month after Unity College participated in the Global Climate Strike that began Sept. 20, the school’s distance education program has announced the launch of a new environmental science and climate change undergraduate degree program.

The school created the degree to address the growing interests of students and demands of the job market, and to maintain its mission of being “America’s Environmental College,” according to a statement released Oct. 11.

“I think this is a really natural fit in our strengths and what we do here,” said Pieter deHart, dean of environmental conservation and research at Unity. “We’ve always recognized climate change and the problems, so the new program can create ways for students to come up with some solutions for it.”

In addition to general education courses, the degree focuses on ecology, environmental justice and leadership, natural resources law and policy, chemistry, geology, biology and soil and water analysis. Students will also be afforded opportunities to study and do research in Arizona, New Mexico and Brazil.

“The major works on specific skills to solve some of these problems while still being rich in the sciences,” deHart said. “The program is set apart from other programs because it covers policy, geology, biology and chemistry. It’s spread across different fields because climate change is a multifaceted issue, and students will be able to address it with a diverse skill set.”

The program was designed with working adults in mind, according to Unity College President Melik Peter Khoury.

“This program understands that there are many working adults who have lives all over the country,” Khoury said. “So this four-year bachelor’s degree course is offered online.”

Adding climate change as an environmental studies program sends people the message that climate is not a “niche” part of a larger subject, according to Amy Arnett, vice president for distance education, who collaborated with deHart to create the program.

“Climate change came to the forefront in the ideas of environmental studies because of the employment opportunities but also because climate issues are not just a niche part of environmental studies,” Arnett said.

“It’s impacting everyone every day. It’s part of humanity today and how we live our lives as human and how we look at development. How we manage the environment is about climate change.”

Added Khoury: “The conversation on climate change right now is focused in politics, but every industry impacts the climate. I challenge anyone to think of one industry that doesn’t impact the environment. It’s been too long now that people have looked at climate change as a niche part of environmental science.”

According to deHart, the program will expand beyond the “online classroom.”

“This is an experiential program. Students will not just be engaging with material online, but will also have the chance to do some hands-on work,” deHart said.

“Students will pursue a lot on their own in their own areas of the country, but will also have the option to meet physically with faculty and attend courses offered in Brazil and the desert of the Southwest in Arizona and New Mexico.”

Unity College students, staff members and others, seen here at the college’s main campus, demanded action at the Common Ground Country Fair in September to reverse the effects of climate change. Photo courtesy of Unity College

The experiential programs are projected to take place next spring.

“The program in Brazil focuses on the ecology of the Amazon rain forest,” deHart said. “Students will look at fishing techniques, working with Brazilian students at a local university, learning about subsistence communities along the river and how they use and interact with the environment. In the desert of the Southwest, primarily in Arizona, students will see what biologists do out in the field.”

Arnett hopes the program will change the conversation surrounding climate change and the opportunities studying it can bring.

“There are so many opportunities for employment,” Arnett said. “Students can work in consulting, agriculture. Studying climate change is no longer just for activists and advocates. It’s for scientists who are dealing with a changing environment. It’s to train people to manage the change that’s coming.”

Currently, the distance education program has 250 students. The college expects to add at least 60 more with the launch of the environmental studies and climate change degree program.

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