by Sara Calvert-Kubrom, former admissions officer at Lewis & Clark College
In a time of increasing concerns about environmental sustainability, many students are passionate about protecting natural resources and actively engaging in environmental sustainability efforts. For most students this is a strong conviction that shapes their lifestyle and extracurricular activities and, for some, it will develop into an academic and career calling. Many parents I speak to are concerned and unsure of how a student can turn a passion for sustainability into a career, but do not fret—there are lots of options!
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “green jobs” are rapidly on the rise. Sustainability-related fields vary widely and include:
- Urban planning (My home town of Portland, Oregon, has a local elected wing of government called Metro, a great example of these career possibilities.)
- Environmental law
- Political lobbying
- Environmental science
- Sustainable energy
- Education and teaching opportunities, from youth programming through higher education
- Public transportation planning
- Waste management
- Entrepreneurial businesses focused on sustainable products and lifestyles
- Nonprofit and government work regarding environmental advocacy, protection, and regulation
The list goes on, and there are many emerging and innovative opportunities. Similar to the diverse career options, there are many undergraduate college majors that can lead to sustainability-related careers. When exploring majors, it is important to look closely at the classes that make up the programs and reflect on the strengths and interests of the student. Here’s a sampling of these majors:
- Environmental studies or sciences. These terms are not standardized, so look closely at college websites to see what courses they offer. Quite often, environmental studies programs are interdisciplinary and look at the intersection of science and social sciences, and how humans interact with these topics). Here are a few examples:
- Sustainability Studies majors are interdisciplinary and often address topics related to renewable energy, economic and social equity, development, policy, ethics, business, and more. Hofstra University’s program is one example.
- Lab sciences such as biology, chemistry, and biochemistry
- Engineering (environmental, civil, chemical, industrial)
- Social sciences, such as political science, international affairs, and sociology may be good fits for students interested in policy, the impact of environmental concerns in marginalized communities and developing countries, and education.
- Computer science, math, analytic sciences
Beyond major, it is also helpful to learn about a college’s overall commitment to sustainability. Are there clubs and organizations on campus to augment the student’s engagement? Are there pathways for internships in the field of interest? Does the college have robust course options, skilled faculty, and prioritize green practices on campus? Although I am often not a fan of most college rankings (there is simply not a way to quantify which college is “best” for each student), one of my favorite resources for students passionate about sustainability is the Sierra Club’s Top 20 Coolest Schools List and their extensive information about 282 colleges and universities with strong programming and academic programs in this area.
As an Oregonian and proud alumnus of a college with an excellent environmental studies program, I know that I am biased, but I objectively think there is compelling evidence that this is an academic and career area of exciting growth and innovative possibility for this generation.