NIU kicked off the environmental studies program in 2012, and already it has become the largest program of its kind in the state, with more than 150 students majoring in the area of study.
So what’s up with environmental studies? We asked students and faculty that question and came up with a list of seven reasons students are flocking to the major.
NIU professor Holly Jones (left) conducting research with students Heather Herakovich and Angela Burke at the Nachusa Grasslands preserve.
Enjoy the great outdoors
Raise your hand if you’d like to be cooped up in a cubicle for 40 hours each week? You won’t see many volunteers here. “I chose to be an environmental studies major because I don't want a typical 9-to-5 job,” says NIU senior Adam Czamanske, 24, of Glen Ellyn. “I would rather have a career working outdoors that not only financially supports me, but also benefits the environment.”
Professor Neil Blackstone and his students are studying reefs and conducting research on the serious problem of coral bleaching.
Make a difference
Young people today are eager to improve the world we live in, and environmental studies is a make-a-difference major. “I love that this major allows me to help both myself and others reconnect with our surroundings,” says Cora Dyslin, 21, a senior from Tinley Park majoring in environmental studies with an emphasis in biodiversity and minoring in biology. “I also love that I can get a job that will allow me to help benefit the environment, which in turn benefits society and future generations.”
NIU students work to promote the coexistence of people and wildlife in Madagascar
See the world
Cora Dyslin suggests one more reason for choosing environmental studies. Many NIU students conduct environmental research while pursuing their degrees. Often, the work requires travel, so you could get a chance to see the world. NIU students, for example, have worked in Mexico, Myanmar, Madagascar, Indonesia and New Zealand—in addition to sites in the Midwest. “It gives me the opportunity to travel, discover and study amazing things—and to help mitigate the damage that humans have done to the environment,” Dyslin adds.
Develop expertise that matters—to everyone
Expertise is needed to help solve difficult environmental challenges facing our world today
Our world today faces serious environmental challenges—pollution, climate change and species extinction, to name a few. These challenges will require significant adjustments in the way we work, play, live and govern. “Everybody will need to become more educated about environmental issues—whether to learn how to adapt to these changes or mitigate them—and we'll need some people who are particularly specialized,” says professor Emily McKee, who holds a joint appointment with anthropology and environmental studies. “This means your degree in environmental studies will be highly relevant as you start your career after college.”
Gain a better understanding of the world around you
NIU students conduct water-quality research in the laboratory of Professor Melissa Lenczewski
What happens to the garbage we put on the curb? How do soil microbes affect the health of people? How will climate change influence the animals around us? How does environmental policy impact sustainability and alternative energy? Environmental studies, as opposed to environmental science, gives you a more complete understanding of the role of people in critical environmental issues and how they can be mobilized to help solve problems. “There are far fewer programs in environmental studies than in environmental science, so we'll have a real need for individuals who can work across disciplines such as biology, economics and anthropology,” McKee says.
Choose from a lot of career options
NIU's full-service greenhouse provides a green laboratory for faculty and students
You'll be preparing yourself for a career that can include everything from crunching numbers at a desk (that is, if you like the cubicle idea), to gathering plant and water samples in the field, to interviewing residents about disaster preparedness, to meeting with lawmakers in Washington to influence policy.
Enter a fast-growing job sector
Environmental career options are thriving, according to monster.com.NIU professor Holly Jones, who holds a joint NIU appointment with biology and environmental studies, says students, when considering employment-growth areas, should “think clean energy, corporate sustainability and ecological restoration.”