A job in sustainability encompasses the concept of stewardship—the responsible management of resources. Sustainability professionals seek to improve an organization's environmental, social, and economic impact. (“Is a Sustainability Career on Your Green Horizon?” US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 31, 2012)
Sustainability is the ability to continue important functions indefinitely without a decline in quality. Resilience is the ability to thrive in the face of change. Together, these two concepts identify today’s key social, economic, and environmental goals: to create systems that enhance, rather than degrade, the world around them, and in turn that can withstand inevitable shocks from environmental and technological changes.
Building sustainability and resilience requires understanding whole systems, rather than just individual pieces; being able to use quantitative and qualitative data to make choices; being able to work with diverse stakeholders to build consensus around plans for progress; and the ability to develop specialized skills to bring ideas to fruition.
The Sustainability and Resilience (S & R) major at Drake was designed with these goals in mind, to help students develop critical thinking, integrative abilities to succeed in a field of constant change. Drake S & R students do hands-on work throughout their studies, solving real-world problems in class and in internships to emerge with critical, marketable skills, applicable both in their careers and personal lives.
The S & R curriculum is built around the four major outcomes of developing students’ abilities to analyze choices, think holistically, engage diverse stakeholders, and build the skills they will need to succeed in the workforce. Each year in the S & R major is organized around one or more central courses.
In their first year, students will take an introduction to environmental sciences to familiarize themselves with local and global issues and how to think about the science behind these topics. They also generally take earth science and economics, as both underlie the work they will be doing later on.
The sophomore-level organizing course is called Environmental Case Analysis, and it uses real-world local, national, and international cases to get students started working with scientific data and competing stakeholders to solve complex environmental problems. Sophomores also take courses in environmental sociology and learn to use software (Geographical Information Systems) in the analysis of spatial data.
Juniors take Sustainability and Resilience, where students develop their theoretical understanding but also collect and use data to create a climate footprint for the University and to build a sustainability blueprint for a subset of campus.
Seniors finish their studies with the Capstone, where external stakeholders bring real problems to Drake students. With the oversight of ESS professors, students use this experience to prepare for post-Drake careers and to demonstrate their mastery of the curriculum. Previous capstone projects have included creating a “net zero” plan for the Des Moines Arts Fair (one of the top art festivals in the nation) to become carbon- and waste-neutral, and developing a green stormwater management plan for the city of Perry, Iowa.
In addition to these courses, students customize their curriculum by choosing upper-level classes that meet the four outcomes but combine to create a unique profile that suits their goals in the rapidly growing S & R field. At the same time, Drake’s location in Iowa’s capital city provides opportunities for internships with governmental agencies, advocacy organizations, businesses, and environmental consulting firms. These internships develop skills, allow students to explore career options, and provide contacts and job references for the future.
We see S & R as preparing students for careers in fields such as environmental consulting, sustainability management, green business, urban and regional planning, policy development at the national, state, and local levels, environmental advocacy, international development, and energy systems. Combined with other majors, careers in green product design, environmental marketing, green building, environmental communication, environmental entrepreneurship, and many others are available.
We see S & R as preparing students for graduate work in urban and regional planning, law, environmental studies, public policy/affairs/management, environmental management, and sustainability/resilience studies, green MBA, and international development.
The website Sustainability Degrees gives more information and statistics on what one can do with a degree in sustainability.