Interview with Dr. Thomas R. Hudspeth, Professor, Environmental Studies

Interview with Dr. Thomas R. Hudspeth, Professor, Environmental Studies

Dr. Thomas R. Hudspeth, Professor
Environmental Studies Program, University of Vermont, School of Natural Resources

1) What kind of students major in Environmental Studies?

At UVM, our Environmental Studies students tend to be highly values-driven. They want to make a difference, to make the world a better place. Most are strongly committed to social change. Personally, they tend to be adventurous, visionary, and passionate about some aspect(s) of the environment.

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?

Certainly not at UVM. If the student and her/his advisor are disciplined in selecting appropriate courses and experiences, the breadth and interdisciplinary nature of ENVS are major advantages over majoring in a single traditional discipline.

If immediate job placement upon graduation, repayment of college loans, etc. are important to a student, s/he will be advised to take more skills-oriented courses like Geographic Information Systems, spatial analysis, statistics, etc., at the expense of mind-expanding courses like environmental art, ecofeminism, environmental philosophy, environmental ethics, etc. that might not lead as directly to immediate job placement.

The courses a student selects as part of her/his major are definitely important. But, as emphasized below, internship experiences and service-learning courses and summer jobs and study abroad/international experience are also very important.

3) What kinds of jobs are available to ES graduates? What kinds of companies are specifically looking for ES graduates?

First, it is important to recognize that many of our ENVS students do not come to UVM for immediate job placement upon graduation. More than one-third of our graduates go immediately for advanced degrees in some aspect of environment or to professional schools (law, business, public administration, architecture or landscape architecture, etc.); and many others go on for advanced degrees a few years after graduation, during which time they travel, work, etc.

Secondly, more of our students end up working for NGOs (non governmental organizations) than businesses/companies. And some find jobs with government (for example, a recent graduate is heading up the Ten Percent Challenge for Burlington Electric Department).

Some of our students-especially those who take a course offered jointly by the Environmental Program and the Business School called Eco-entrepreneurship-- are entrepreneurs and create their own jobs (one graduate started a company that composted yard wastes for municipalities).

Our ENVS program is somewhat unique in requiring an introductory-level International Environmental Issues courses as well as an advanced-level environmentally-related international/global course. More than 75 per cent of our students go on a study abroad program for at least one semester or take one of our own travel-study courses to Belize, Costa Rica, Brazil, Honduras, etc. So it is not surprising that quite a few of our graduates go into the Peace Corps or work for international development organizations.

We have found that there are lots of jobs available to our ENVS graduates, depending on the students' particular environmental interests-environmental education, sustainability, ecological design, gardening, planning, policy, economics, business, etc. Our students with high grade point averages and a variety of internship and summer job experiences most often get jobs related directly to their internship and summer employment experiences.

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?

  • Gain a broad environmental background and, at the same time, specific analytical skills in a "traditional" discipline (e.g., ecology, economics, policy, education).
  • Work hard, play hard. Do your homework. Study hard, make good grades. Select difficult, challenging courses, and do well in them.
  • Have several different internship experiences and service-learning courses and summer jobs during your undergraduate experience….and document these experiences!
  • Network. Go to conferences. Join list serves.
  • Get to know your faculty members personally-even as first year students, even in large lecture classes. That way they will be able to write meaningful letters of recommendation on your behalf when you apply for summer jobs, internships, career jobs, graduate school.
  • Ask job and internship supervisors to write letters of recommendation for you while your experience with them is fresh in their minds. If they are able to document that you are bright, conscientious, highly-motivated, hard-working, an effective team player, and have excellent time management skills and excellent organizational skills, it will definitely help your job prospects considerably.

5) Do you have any advice for prospective students entering an Environmental Studies program?

  • Work hard, play hard. Do your homework. Study hard, make good grades. Select difficult, challenging courses, and do well in them.
  • Push yourself. Take courses that help you develop or hone your skills in higher order thinking (problem-solving, critical thinking, holistic thinking, systems thinking, futures thinking, synthetic thinking, decision-making, environmental action) as opposed to ones that simply have you regurgitate "instant recall" information on exams.
  • Make sure you are an effective communicator (written and oral communications); if you don't gain the necessary proficiency in your classes, get it through jobs and internships.
  • Interdisciplinary problem solving teams are the modus operandi for environmental problem-solving, so make sure you select courses that give you practical, real-world experience in working with others on complex environmental problems; hone your group dynamics and team work skills.
  • Fit in some fun, wild, mind-stretching courses---this is your rare opportunity.
  • Get involved with extracurricular activities that afford you the opportunity to meet lots of different and interesting people and to develop various learning styles-clubs, organizations, etc., both on campus and in the community.
  • Sign up for seminar series on your campus, and go hear as many guest speakers visiting your campus as you are able to.
  • Have several different internship experiences and service-learning courses and summer jobs during your undergraduate experience.
  • Study abroad-expose yourself to otherness (other languages, other cultures, other approaches for addressing environmental problems, etc.).
  • Turn off the TV, and put down the video games!
  • Don't worry what others around you are doing or what they think-be true to yourself.
  • Follow your passion.

6) Anything else?

This is the unique opportunity in your life to pursue "matters of the mind." Take advantage of it. If immediate job placement upon graduation, repayment of college loans, etc. are part of your personal story, be savvy….but don't try to train for a vocation at the undergraduate level at the expenses of "learning how to learn" and exposing yourself to "matters of the mind." Those who pursue the narrow vocational training will get the mindless, boring technician level jobs that don't allow for job advancement, and they will burn out within a few years, while those who emphasize transferable higher order thinking skills will have the flexibility to move into a wide range of jobs and experiences, and will end up being leaders and managers and decision-makers.

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