New sustainability degree fosters new discussion on environmentalism

Nrhari Duran

Most Longhorns may be content to bleed orange, but the Office of Sustainability suggests that we think green too. Though most students don’t have time to do anymore thinking, a new degree will facilitate how we think green.

After many years of collaboration between UT’s Office of Sustainability, the Provost Office, the Liberal Arts Dean and staff from almost every college on campus, the College of Liberal Arts now offers a degree in sustainability studies. With a new major dedicated to ensuring our planet’s future, this campus can lead in discussions on radical environmental policy and innovation.

According to Sheryl Luzzadder Beach, chair of UT’s Department of Geography and the Environment, the new degree came to exist because of a campus-wide interest in reducing each Longhorn’s environmental “hoof print.” 

Sustainability studies coursework will be varied as “the major is by necessity multidisciplinary,” Beach said. “Students will study sustainability methods in courses across campus, ranging from weather and climate, to anthropology, urban studies and landscape ecology.” In addition to the corresponding courses, students will take 12 hours focused on sustainability culture, environmental ethics or resource management.

For some, the new degree just means more time spent scrolling during degree audit requests, but the symbolism behind the new degree reaches much further than any amount of scrolling. 

When students are so invested in sustainability that they inspire a new degree, the campus becomes open to big change. While the courses cover a broad range of subjects, the new degree sets a precedent for pursuing innovations in traditionally controversial or stagnant fields, such as space-based solar power.

The U.S. Department of Education identifies universities as leaders in sustainability discussions, but identifies colleges such as Arizona State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The University of California, Berkeley regularly hosts guest lecturers to discuss topics such as Thorium nuclear power, and staff at the University of Houston are quintessential in the advocacy of space-based solar panels, but UT currently has very little stake in the frontier of sustainability. This new major, however, may put the university on track to change that.

According to Beach, students will gain valuable experiences in relevant fields and put Longhorns in the forefront of innovation. 

“Sustainability studies majors will have the opportunity to engage in experiential learning through internships and though senior capstone projects,” Beach said. “We expect some study abroad courses will qualify for major course work as well.” With UT’s College of Liberal Arts boasting “one of the largest and most active study abroad programs in the country,” the hope is that students will have an incentive to travel to countries such as India, where multinational efforts and private space agencies primarily develop and research the aforementioned space-based solar panels. 

What starts here changes the world, and soon, graduates will be painting the world a lovely shade of orange and green.

Students interested in sustainability studies are encouraged to attend information sessions on Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 from 3-4 p.m. in CLA 1.302E.

Duran is an international relations and global studies freshman from Spring. Follow him on Twitter @bboydeadfish