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Environmental Science - Overview


Programs in environmental science prepare people to approach problems in the natural world using scientific principles. Students take courses in subjects such as biology, geology, and chemistry to understand the environment and its needs. They study ecosystems and learn methods for protecting habitats and other natural resources for human and wildlife.

Wendell Berry, a well-known writer and Kentucky farmer, once said, "To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only hope of survival." This is a dramatic statement, no? But if phrases such as "global warming," "pollution," "coastal erosion," and "endangered species" popped into your head, you probably already know that Berry is not exaggerating.

The word "environment" involves many different areas in our surroundings. It involves oceans, rivers, and lakes. It involves forests, deserts, and mountains. It involves the air all around us, the atmosphere high above us, and the earth far below the ground. And if you think the environment is where you go to escape the city, think again. It also includes the streets, sidewalks, and open lots of even the most urban areas.

The environment is where we humans coexist with animals, plants, and other living creatures. You can begin to imagine just how varied the environment and its inhabitants are. In the same way, the scientific disciplines that we study to understand the environment span a wide range. When you major in this program, you study various aspects of environmental problems and search for solutions from different angles.

Because environmental science is interdisciplinary, you usually take science courses based on the area of environmental science that most interests you. For example, let's say you want to help control urban pollution. In order to do this, you might first take courses in chemistry to understand the nature of pollutants in car exhaust fumes and other sources. You would study atmospheric science to learn how pollutants affect air quality. You might also study horticultural science to learn if pollutants also affect plants, or whether plants can improve air quality instead.

Your work in environmental science often becomes the information base for people who decide how to use natural resources and how to create laws to protect the environment.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree programs in environmental studies. In general, a bachelor's degree takes about four years of full-time study after high school, and a master's degree about one to two years after that. If you want to pursue a doctoral degree, you need three to four additional years after earning your master's degree.

Some two-year colleges offer an associate degree program. In some cases, you can transfer your credits from this type of program to a bachelor's degree program at a four-year college or university.

In this program of study, you typically choose to focus on a particular area of environmental science. Possible areas vary from program to program, but some examples follow:

• Environmental Biology
• Environmental Engineering
• Environmental Geology
• Environmental Health Sciences
• Environmental Instrumentation and Measurements

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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