Curriculum and Research
Studies in Sustainability and the Environment
NAU offers a wide range of curricular and co-curricular learning opportunities (a wide range of opportunities to learn in the class room and engage in the community). All NAU undergraduate students participate in the Global Learning Initiative, integrating sustainability, global engagement, and diversity learning through every NAU major. Students with more focused interests in sustainability or the environment can chose a major in environmental studies with a sustainability focus area, other focus areas in environmental studies, environmental sciences, biology with a focus in ecology or fish and wildlife management, civil and environmental engineering, construction management, mechanical engineering, forestry, geographic science and community planning, geology, parks and recreation management, or the interdisciplinary minor in environmental sustainability. Participation in undergraduate research projects or internships is either highly encouraged or required in all of these programs.
Co-curricular activities include living learning communities like SEED or ECOHOUSE, Action Research Teams, Student Environmental Caucus and its many affiliated student organizations. A great place to start exploring these activities is on Green NAU.
At the graduate level, NAU focuses on professional training through a wide variety of graduate degree and certificate programs including the Master of Arts in Sustainable Communities, M.A. in Rural Geography, M.S. in geology, environmental sciences and policy, climate science and solutions, and the PhD in Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Forestry, Biological Sciences, or Politics and International Affairs.
Careers Planning in Sustainability
The most important concept in planning a career and an education in sustainability is to recognize that sustainability is not a single discipline or program of study. NAU does offer an undergraduate environmental studies degree and a minor in sustainability. In addition, we view sustainability as the broadly based concept of building resilience and long-term stability in natural, social, and economic systems. This concept is being applied at NAU in many forms across many disciplines. There are three general academic areas where you can obtain the professional skills necessary to implement sustainable technologies and concepts in society.
You can chose a technical or natural sciences discipline to focus your efforts on developing specific technologies. Biology; chemistry; chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering; and physics are all examples. Majoring in biology or microbiology gives you the tools to work on biofuels and genetic and genomic solutions to energy generation and waste disposal. Chemistry sets you up for careers in nanotechnology and fuel cell research. Engineering and physics provide the background necessary to break new ground in renewable energy technologies.
Implementing New Technologies and New Practices
It is not sufficient for society to just develop new technologies, we must insure that they are economically and socially viable and actually widely utilized. Business, economics, environmental studies, political science, sociology, psychology, humanities, environmental education are examples of fields that can achieve these ends. Business and economics majors focusing in the new field of ecological economics help to bring concepts into the market place. Environmental studies and political science majors help develop government approaches to fostering and implementing new technologies. Majors in sociology, psychology, and the humanities can work on environmental education and environmental justice issues to provide a more fertile social setting for acceptance and use of sustainable concepts and technologies.
Improving Ecosystem Services
A fundamental concept of sustainable living is to recognize, value, and protect the services that healthy ecosystems provide (clean abundant water, clean air, Carbon sequestration, pollution remediation, agricultural and forest productivity, natural resources for industry and manufacturing etc.) Majors in environmental sciences, biology, forestry, geology, civil and environmental engineering, and resource management all study ecosystems and their components from different perspectives. Some are more concerned with resource utilization and preservation (forestry, geology, resource management), some with ecosystem restoration (environmental sciences, conservation biology, civil and environmental engineering). New management strategies and well as new technologies will be crucial in the future to ensure or restore the resilience of our natural ecosystems, thereby guaranteeing a future with clean, abundant water, air and agricultural resources.
Connecting people and the natural environment
Another fundamental concept of sustainable living is understanding the links between social, cultural and environmental sustainability. Working toward environmental and social justice and using the arts and religious studies to enhance our relationship with the environment are keys in strengthening these links. Majors in applied indigenous studies, criminology, political science, sociology, psychology are fundamentally important in ensuring healthy connections between natural and human systems.
In any field, practical experience is the key
Sustainability is still a new concept in academia, government and the private sector, so there is no one clear path to take toward a career. One of the most successful strategies in discovering what career possibilities might interest you and in building your resume is to pursue an internship, practicum or research project. Look for programs like those in our School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability: Program in Community, Culture and the Environment; or MA Program in Sustainable Communities, which work to build a community of practice, helping students participate in local sustainability projects.