1) What kind of students major in Environmental Studies?
It is my experience that students who major in environmental studies are passionate about their beliefs and concerns. That could be about protecting important habitats, making sure that people have access to a clean and healthy environment, or doing their best to educate others. I find environmental studies students very interested in putting their education into action.
2) Is the broad and interdisciplinary nature of an Environmental Studies degree too generalized to have useful applications in jobs out in the field? Why or why not?
This depends on the program. One needs to make sure that the interdisciplinary nature of an environmental studies program allows the student to make the connections between issues and perspectives. There is a great difference between the "buffet" approach where students take a wide range of topic courses like policy, sociology, conservation biology, GIS, etc. and curricular opportunities that are designed to support interdisciplinary analysis. Some have said that the "buffet" approach creates ecological illiterates - people that know a little bit about a lot of things but not enough to make a difference. An interdisciplinary focus should provide students with both breadth and depth. With our Community and Environmental Studies program at Colby-Sawyer College we support interdisciplinary study in three ways. First, students are required to have a minor in another field. This provides them with additional depth of study in one area - biology, communications, business, etc. Second, we also require students to complete 5 general areas of study for breadth - ecology, ethics, literature, business and sociology. Finally, in their junior year students work on a year-long community based research project. This is a problem-solving studio in which students are asked to work on a problem or initiative for a local environmental organization. We have analyzed a wetland for a town conservation commission, conducted a natural resources inventory for a national wildlife refuge and are currently conducting a watershed inventory for a lake protective association. Working on the project over a whole academic year gives us the opportunity to examine topics from a variety of perspectives. When we study policy, it is policy that is relevant to the project. When we study natural history, it helps us answer questions we have for the project. Working on projects like this naturally forces us to consider things from an interdisciplinary perspective. Students also complete a project report, which is great way to demonstrate to employers how they have experience with interdisciplinary work. In my discussions with employers I have found that there is a general appreciation for interdisciplinary analysis, but there must be integration.
3) What kinds of jobs are available to ES graduates? What kinds of companies are specifically looking for ES graduates?
There is a wide range of jobs available to ES graduates. Our graduates are working as research technicians for companies conducting environmental impact assessments, site managers for national wildlife refuges, and environmental project assistants for consulting firms. Positions are available with for-profit, government and non-governmental groups. I find that the range of companies that are looking for ES graduates is continually expanding. The Environmental Careers Organization has done some great research on who is hiring ES graduates and where the jobs will be in the next decade.
4) How can Environmental Studies students gain an edge in the post-graduation job market? What's the best way to land a job with an ES degree?
I think there are three ways to get ahead. One is to have great communication skills - oral and written communication. Students need to push themselves to get this. The more confidence one can build the more interested potential employers will be. Students should try to take advantage of as many public speaking experiences as they can. Volunteer to give a report on your research to other students in your major, ask to speak to a college administrator about a campus concern you have, sign up to give a poster presentation at a conference. Next, students should make sure they have a basic understanding of and skills with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS). Regardless of the focus of your degree you need to be able to talk about GIS and GPS applications. This is one important way to make your resume stand out from others. Finally, students need to do an internship. This demonstrates that you can do a job in your field. It also gives the student the change to test the waters and see if a particular career field is really where they want to be.
5) Do you have any advice for prospective students entering an Environmental Studies program?
Talk to upper class students about what their experiences with the program. Ask program directors to set up opportunities to hear about what other students are doing for their internships or senior research projects. You can also just talk to people in the cafeteria or in the residence hall. Most upper class students are willing to share what they know about the program with new students.