College goes green with new program

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / May 16, 2010

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North Shore Community College students can expand their knowledge of green issues and better prepare for jobs in the field through a new academic initiative.

This fall, the college will begin offering a liberal arts associate degree in environmental studies. The program will have two tracks — environmental science and environmental awareness — both for students who want to transfer as juniors to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a four-year college or university.

Maureen S. O’Neill, North Shore’s dean of liberal studies, said a number of faculty members had been advocating for the program for some years, and the college, which has campuses in Danvers and Lynn, decided “the time is right.’’

“I think all of us are becoming more educated about the threats to the environment and also about the careers that go into preventing environmental problems and correcting bad things that happen, such as when there is an oil spill or a water main break or dangers to wetlands,’’ she said.

The environmental science track is intended for students who are interested in transferring into an engineering or environmental science bachelor’s degree program. The environmental awareness track is for students who do not have that specific career direction but want to broaden their knowledge of green issues and jobs.

About 20 are expected to enter the program in fall, but the number is likely to grow, college officials said.

The move is one of several by colleges and universities to increase green offerings in curriculums and degree programs.

UMass Lowell’ School of Health and Environment this fall is introducing a bachelor of science degree in environmental health, a branch of public health that studies the effects of the environment on human health, and of human activities on the environment, and ways to address those impacts.

Middlesex Community College, with campuses in Bedford and Lowell, is starting an associate in science degree in environmental health, intended for students who want to transfer to UMass Lowell in their junior year to pursue the new bachelor’s degree, according to Cathy Pride, associate dean for academic programs and articulation at Middlesex.

According to O’Neill, Mt. Wachusett and Berkshire community colleges have associate in arts in environmental studies degrees, while Mass Bay Community College offers an associate in science degree in environmental science and safety.

The introduction of the new degree program at North Shore is an outgrowth of the Green Curriculum Project, a three-year-old initiative in which faculty members are encouraged to integrate environmental topics into their traditional courses, in subjects ranging from English to math.

“We are trying to ‘green’ the college curriculum,’’ said English professor Joseph Modugno, who with natural sciences professor Gregory Reppucci coordinates the Green Curriculum Initiative. He said the college now has 22 “green curriculum’’ classes.

Modugno and Reppucci are spearheading creation of the degree program, with help from history professor Warren Ford and Barbara Ikalainen, an adjunct professor of environmental sciences.

Like the Green Curriculum Initiative, the degree program has an interdisciplinary approach: The emphasis is to familiarize students with the multi-faceted nature of environmental study.

“If you want to deal with sustainability, you can’t deal with sciences alone,’’ Reppucci said.

Students in both tracks will be required to take a seminar, Introduction to Sustainable Living, to expose them to that broad approach to environmental study. Other courses will include a mix of required and elective offerings.

College officials say the degree and the Green Curricular Initiative reflect an effort by North Shore to promote environmentally sound practices on campus. President Wayne Burton signaled that in 2007 when he became the 100th signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, an effort by higher education chiefs to address global climate disruption.

North Shore’s building projects are also in step with that policy. The Division of Capital Asset Management is constructing the state government’s first “zero net energy’’ building on the Danvers campus, the 58,000-square-foot Health Professions and Student Services building. It has installed a solar array on the roof of Thomas M. McGee Building in Lynn, and is doing energy upgrades on both campuses through a state program to finance such improvements with general obligation bonds.

“Higher education is finally stepping up to the plate to integrate sustainability in to their campuses, and now into their education,’’ Modugno said.

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