One of the first Catholic universities in the U.S. to offer a degree program in environmental science, Creighton’s program has undergone tremendous growth since its founding in 1992. This year, the department celebrates its 25th anniversary.
A Grassroots Movement
The concept for the degree program grew from the grassroots passion of Art Douglas, PhD, former faculty member in atmospheric sciences, and John Schalles, PhD, biology professor and first director of the program. Mary Ann Vinton, PhD, who is the current director of the Environmental Science Program, cites the program’s stable foundation to her colleagues’ genuine interest in the subject matter. “I really think it was the product of those two having a lot of enthusiasm for this area. They knew it would work here – they collaborated, cooperated and figured out how to offer something that we didn’t have before.”
Today, the program boasts an impressive network of alumni – more than 300 graduates. While some environmental science majors continue their education at graduate or professional schools, more than a third of the program’s graduates have found jobs in the field. The results of an email survey with the program’s alumni found 80 percent of them were currently working in some aspect of environmental science.
Approximately 80 Creighton students are majoring in an environmental program – whether their focus is on sustainability, energy or environmental science. For Vinton, the department’s vibrant, interdisciplinary community is one of its greatest assets. “It’s not just one department; it’s an umbrella that unites people from different backgrounds who have some interest in an environmental dimension. So it gives us an opportunity to get together and talk about these issues from different perspectives.”
For students studying environmental science, there is an emphasis on educating the whole person and delving into environmental issues from a multitude of different angles. Students not only learn about environmental science from a biological and physical side, but also from a humanitarian perspective. While a large portion of faculty come from the Biology Department, several have backgrounds in history, philosophy and communications studies.
Looking to the Future
According to Vinton, the leadership of Pope Francis with regards to global environmental concerns has been a driving force in implementing more sustainability measures on campus.
“In Pope Francis’ view, care for the people and care for the environment in his view are really linked – he brings in social justice issues, poverty issues. And that’s where I find that being at a Jesuit school with an integrated worldview, environmental science is so consistent.”
Father Hendrickson’s interest in reducing Creighton’s carbon footprint has also prompted several positive changes. This year, Creighton established a sustainability program office and hired a full time sustainability program coordinator.
For Vinton, the goal now is to generate more awareness about environmental issues on Creighton’s campus. “I’m hoping there is more of a campus culture change where we become much more cognizant of environmental issues and environmental impact. The trajectory is looking very positive right now, and I don’t know if I could have said that three or four years ago.”