By Caitlin Schudalla
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — A new master’s degree program through the University of Oklahoma’s College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, approved this month, could spell expansion for a young department within the college, boosting enrollment, faculty innovation and collaboration with the professional sector in the years to come.
The new master of science degree in environmental sustainability continues a curriculum re-structure which created the undergraduate degree of the same specialization.
“In 2009 the deans decided to introduce the undergraduate program after building on the idea of the kind of degrees a 21st century graduate would need,” said Aondover Tarhule, chairman of the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability. “We expected to have 25 students after four years. The first year we had 30 students and currently we have upwards of 70.”
The undergraduate and now masters degree are structured to help students become adept at understanding and researching the interaction between natural ecosystems and resources and social and economic institutions, making them prime candidates for work in the private sector, the nonprofit sector, government and education.
The immediate strong student response and great potential for social contribution was only boosted by what Tarhule called an encouraging reaction from employers and faculty as well.
“In recruiting professors for this program, the first question they asked was about a graduate program. We recognized a need from both students and faculty for a research component,” Tarhule said.
Additionally, Tarhule observed that the new master’s degree provides an opportunity for those already working in related fields who could benefit from the education and added credentials.
College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences Dean Berrien Moore III called the new master’s a “milestone.”
“It places OU in a position to contribute meaningfully and competitively to educating the next generation of business leaders, researchers, decision and policymakers who will be critical in assuring the sustainability of our high standard of living.”
The possibilities are exciting and likelihood of expansion is high — given the program’s success thus far — but the M.S. program will need time to start small and grow.
“Enrollment capacity is tricky,” Tarhule said. “It depends on the ability of individual professors to take on students, and six or seven graduate students for one professor is too many. We anticipate starting with four graduate students.”
The first M.S. students for environmental sustainability will begin classes with the Fall 2013 semester. To learn more about this and other programs through the college, visit ou.edu/ags.