LaGuardia Community College’s New Degree Program Helps the Environment in a Fast Growing Field

March 22, 2012 | LaGuardia Community College

Long Island City, NY—As more demands on our fragile environment are spurring a dramatic increase in the need for highly skilled environmental scientists, LaGuardia Community College is helping to address this issue with the establishment of its newest degree program, environmental science.

“Environmental science is a rapidly growing field, but there are only a limited number of programs in New York City to meet our needs for smart, skilled talent,” said Dr. Gail O. Mellow, President of LaGuardia Community College.  “LaGuardia’s program will prepare our students for one of the hottest and most diverse scientific fields by training them to be geospatial technologists, resource managers, urban planners, conservation biologists, and food and water safety technicians.”

Dr. Burl Yearwood, the chair of the Natural Sciences Department, said that the field’s job growth will result from a continued need to monitor the quality of the environment, to interpret the impact of human actions on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and to develop strategies for restoring biological systems.  He added that environmental scientists will also be needed to help planners develop and construct buildings, transportation corridors, and utilities that protect water resources and reflect efficient and beneficial land use.

Recent studies support his claims.  The American Solar Society estimates that the U.S. has 8.5 million jobs in renewable energy or energy efficient industries; the Apollo Alliance predicts that the U.S. could generate between three to five million more green jobs over 10 years; and the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of environmental scientists is expected to increase by 25% between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average. 

Dr. Holly Porter-Morgan, the director of the program, said that to prepare its students for these future jobs, LaGuardia has developed a degree program that sets it apart from other college programs.  What distinguishes this interdisciplinary program, which combines environmental science courses, including environmental sociology and macroeconomic, with specific natural sciences such as chemistry, biology and ecology, is a required course in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).  GIS is a fast growing computer technology field involved in capturing, analyzing, and mapping geospatial information.

Citing a U.S. Department of Labor report that there is a demand for tens of thousands of trained geospatial workers in the country, she said, “Many colleges offer it as an elective, however LaGuardia realizes how important hands-on GIS experience is to our students when they enter the job market.”

What also makes environmental science at LaGuardia a one-of-a-kind program is its teaching approach.  In each of their core courses, whether it is GIS, ecology, environmental science or environmental sociology, students will leave the classroom to do primary research in the community.

“Queens will be our laboratory,” said Dr. Porter-Morgan. “We are not just going to sit in a lab and do canned exercises on insects.  We are going out into the borough to collect actual data that will be publishable, and that will contribute to what we know about the community.”

One of the neighborhood sites will be Newtown Creek, a 3.5-mile estuary between Queens and Brooklyn that is the site of one of the largest underground oil spills in the world.  Students in the environmental science class will be collecting water and soil samples to learn what chemicals, animals and bacteria exist in this polluted Superfund site.

Coupled with classroom instruction is an internship requirement that will allow students to apply their classroom knowledge in a real work experience.  Placements are being arranged with the Departments of Environmental Conservation and Environmental Protection, the Sierra Club, the New York Botanical Garden, as well as local green businesses and community groups.  Students will also be able to join faculty advisors on such research project as analyzing the distributions of endangered plants and animals across Central America.

While there are entry-level jobs in environmental science for students with an associate’s degree, the program also encourages students to go on for their bachelor’s degree in the field.   To help with the transfer process, the College has formed an articulation agreement with Queens College and is in discussion with Lehman College.

What awaits students after graduation is a variety of jobs.   Depending on their interests, graduates can find themselves slogging through wetlands, examining specimens in a lab or working on policy or ethical issues at a desk.  “It runs the full gamut,” said Dr. Porter-Morgan.

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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.

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