UNA sustainability major offers variety of career choices

by News Editor Anna Brown

Since humans play a major role in the sustainability of our planet, students can now major in practices to make it more sustainable.

This fall, UNA added the Earth Systems Sustainability major to the Department of Physics and Earth Science. Previously, the department only offered a minor in Earth Systems Sustainability.

“What it’s about is looking at the challenges and finding solutions,” said Director of the Center for Sustainability Studies Terry Puckett. “We are looking at, and evaluating, the environment of the future and creating solutions for the long-term health of humans and the planet. It’s an exciting time to find solutions (for our environment).”

The Earth Systems Sustainability major prepares students for a variety of careers, Puckett said. Students can use this major to go into everything from politics, geography or even to becoming a chief sustainability officer.

A Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) is someone within an institution or company who ensures the company’s practices are environmentally friendly and sustainable, he said. Many universities have one of these on staff, but UNA does not.

“I can’t say that UNA will get a CSO right now,” Puckett said. “Some universities have half-time officers and professors. That may be a possibility for UNA in the future.”

Many universities justify having a paid CSO by the amount of money they save the university, he said.

The course of study also has 16 hours of built-in electives, so students can tailor their degree toward what they want in a career, he said.

Students must take courses in environmental studies, economic geography, physics, chemistry and world politics, according to the course catalog.

“There are a ton of different paths that you can take with this degree,” said sophomore Earth Systems Sustainability major Collin King. “You have to take a wide spectrum of classes so you really get a full understanding and perspective of it.”

While UNA does not have a CSO, the Science and Technology Building has many energy-saving features.

The lights in the hallways of the building turn off after several minutes of inactivity in that part of the building, King said.

“I know these buildings are very busy, but you’d be surprised how many times you walk down a dark corner of the building because no one is in there for five minutes,” he said. “I think it would be cool to see this across the whole campus.”

Puckett said he thinks universities and students have to be the catalyst for true environmental change.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “There is a significant challenge in the next decade. The young people of today will make the changes so we can keep living. We can’t rely on the government to do meaningful change.”

While sustainability is technically a science, it is different than any other science or math-related discipline.

“If you take chemistry or math, those solutions were discovered a long time ago,” Puckett said. “You can buy a book with all the answers. You can solve everything. Nobody has all the answers (in sustainability).”

He said not only will students learn from professors, but the professors will also learn from students.

“We have to learn from each other,” Puckett said.

Freshman Owen Edwards came to UNA as an undecided major, but soon found her niche with the Earth Systems Sustainability major.

“I guess I’ve always kind of considered myself an environmentalist,” Edwards said. “I think that we as humans need to look at the earth and realize that it takes care of us in so many ways so we should try to return the favor.”

Edwards said she hopes to build sustainable communities after graduation.