WPI Launches Environmental Studies B.A. Program

New Major Takes Interdisciplinary Approach to Solving World's Environmental Problems
Media Contact
April 15, 2008

WORCESTER, Mass. – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has launched an interdisciplinary environmental studies bachelor of arts degree program that provides students with both intensive technological and social policy training. The new major will focus students on working toward solving the complex environmental problems of our time. The program is designed to educate future environmental professionals with the knowledge and skills that will cross boundaries and foster thought leadership in this important area.

"Today's policy maker, environmental consultant, or environmental advocate won’t come from one single discipline; some technical expertise as well as environmental policy knowledge is required for many entry-level positions," said Professor Robert Krueger, WPI's director of environmental studies. "The WPI environmental studies program offers future environmental professionals a unique combination of technological skill and knowledge of environmental policy, philosophy, and history. We work both sides of the brain to induce creative, multifaceted solutions to environmental problems."

The complexity of our world's environmental problems becomes more apparent as experts continue to realize the effects of lifestyles on human health and the environment. The next generation of environmental professionals will need to understand not only the technical aspects of environmental decision making, but also the social aspect of those decisions. Through core courses, research projects, and seminars focused on integrating approaches to these critical issues, WPI's environmental studies major is designed to provide a liberal arts experience that focuses on the 21st century's most pressing environmental challenges: issues such as water management, carbon dioxide reduction, building “greener” housing by using less toxic materials, improving transportation planning in suburban areas, and approaching issues of environmental justice, among others.

The rigorous, yet flexible, program of study will engage students in fundamental principles of mathematics, natural science, environmental engineering, social science, and the humanities. Another primary theme of the program is cross-disciplinary communication, which will be emphasized in a series of four core courses taught by six faculty members from various departments.

"WPI's BA program in environmental studies complements our environmental engineering degree, with an emphasis much more on the human side of the ledger," said WPI Provost John Orr. "It emphasizes human-induced changes to the environment, strongly drawing from areas of social science and providing education in humanistic as well as scientific analysis. Of course, this program is conducted within the context of WPI's long-term strengths on the technological side."

The university also offers countless opportunities for research and community engagement from its project-enhanced curriculum and Global Projects Program, through which students travel to project centers around the world – or stay in the city of Worcester – to tackle real-world problems and develop real solutions for them. The Global Projects Program's project-based approach offers students unique opportunities to engage environmental issues in practical, hands-on ways through experiential learning projects with external sponsors in the United States and abroad. Graduates will have strong, marketable skills that are translatable into graduate school, law school, or a professional environmental position upon graduation.

The launch of the environmental studies major also coincides with WPI’s efforts to promote sustainability on campus and around the world. For more information on the university’s efforts on behalf of this cause, visit the Sustainability Web site.