Down to Earth: Going green at school and beyond
Students interested in a major in the environmental field have numerous options available to them, many of which were non-existent a few years ago. Jobs in the environmental fields are on the rise with ecological degradation having a direct impact on people’s lives through super storms damaging property, asthma from air pollution, diminishing supplies of clean drinking water, contamination from factory farms, high costs of energy and so on.
When I went to college in the 1970s, the environmental movement was in its infancy. From a young age, I was passionately interested in the care of the planet. My birthday is even on Earth Day. However, when attending university, the few environmental majors available were strictly science-based and I wanted to focus on public policy and advocacy. Now there are hundreds of colleges, technical schools, online courses and internships that offer education and training in the environmental field.
In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics started a "Green Careers" section, because of the interest and growth in this job sector. The website includes descriptions and employment outlooks for many green jobs.
"Green" jobs are jobs that help in some way to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. The jobs range from entry-level positions up to jobs that require advanced degrees. A small sampling of jobs follow: biochemists researching alternative energy sources, chief sustainability officer monitoring a company’s environmental impact, conservation scientist developing strategies to protect the earth’s resources, director administrating an environmental organization, energy auditor analyzing the energy efficiency of buildings, environmental engineers developing solutions to environmental problems, environmental lawyer advocating for the environment, LEED architect designing with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and urban planners designing communities with less impact on the environment.
Erin Espinosa has fond memories as a child of playing in the woods by her house. She was upset when she saw her childhood woods turned into a subdivision. This triggered her commitment to environmental causes. When she was in high school she was instrumental in starting Project Green, a club bringing awareness to environmental issues such as composting, carpooling, growing local food and working to install solar PV panels on the high school.
Espinosa is currently a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Spanish with hopes to travel in South America to do environmental work in the field, not the lab. Some of her courses included conservation biology, land management and natural resource economics. She is planning on working at an internship each summer to gain varied hands-on experiences. Her recommendations for college students are, "… to take advantage of what the professors have to offer and get to know them… keep an open mind to learn where your passion is…" A good source for colleges with environmental majors is The College Board.
Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges is also a good resource. College is not the only route to gain important skills that help the environment. Check with your local high school and technical schools for options available, such as solar installation, wind turbine maintenance or energy efficient construction.
To learn about online schools that offer degrees in the green careers visit The Guide to Online Schools. There are also valuable internship opportunities. A good place to start is with the nonprofit Student Conservation Association (SCA). SCA offers over 2,000 internships for students, over 18 years old, ranging from restoring native trout at Yellowstone National Park to being a ranger at Red River Gorge to teaching elementary students about canyon ecology. To find other internships opportunities visit The Green Jobs Networks' internships site.
Anne Mazar is an environmental advocate and a member of the Mendon Land Use Committee in Massachusetts.