As the evidence for global climate change continues to mount, students are becoming increasingly aware that the implications of a more extreme climate are vast and, as are the opportunities for a coming generation to combat them.
In recent years, as environmental issues have become more central to the public eye, opportunities for students at the University of Wisconsin to pursue degrees in environmental sustainability have greatly increased, Tracey Holloway, an associate professor of environmental studies, said.
In response to student demand in the past few years, UW has taken several steps to provide students opportunities in this field, Holloway said. This includes the development of two environmental studies majors, added sustainability tracks to degrees such as engineering and law, as well as the creation of the Wisconsin Energy Institute, a leader in clean energy research, education and outreach, she said.
Jim Miller, a graduate student advisor at the Nelson Institute, said he believes there is a rapidly growing job market for individuals with degrees in environmental studies.
“Careers in the environment are a hot topic right now, no pun intended,” Miller said. “As the reality of climate change sets in, I think more and more people are going to have to pay attention.”
Tyler Huebner, executive director of Renew Wisconsin, said technological advancements in green energy are imminent and there is a huge demand for passionate, innovative people looking to improve and develop sustainable energy technologies.
Miller said energy technology is a job hotspot, adding an individual going into the energy sector with knowledge of environmental issues has a strong chance of getting a job right out of college.
However, Holloway said in Wisconsin the jobs are in environmental conservation, pointing to the Energy Center of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation and the many conservation consulting companies across the state as key employers.
Miller said businesses are increasingly paying attention to the environment and they want people in environmental studies to help them understand how environmental factors will affect the future of their businesses.
“In general, there is an upward tip in applications of students interested in pursuing careers in the environment,” he said.
Applications for graduate degrees in environmental studies are unusually low this year, down by about 120, Miller said. In the past five years his department has averaged about 300 applications a year.
Miller said a possible explanation could be an improving economy, which causes fewer graduate applications or the shifted application deadline for the degree. It could also just be a blip in the trend, Miller said.
Because Wisconsin is a state with large investments in agriculture, there is a demand for knowledge in sustainable agriculture and water resource management, Miller said.
Going green gives companies a competitive advantage in the marketplace, Holloway said. Consumers are increasingly mindful of the environmental impacts of their choices, so firms that make a point of prioritizing their commitment to the environment are more attractive, Holloway said, pointing to Madison’s Green Cab as an example.
“It is imperative for us as a university to be training the next generation to understand what the problems are and try to innovate solutions,” Holloway said.