UC Santa Cruz to offer sustainability minor beginning in fall

UC Santa Cruz will offer a minor in Sustainability studies beginning in the  fall 2014 quarter with a strong engineering component that is aimed at giving students extensive hands-on experience that can lead to jobs in a "green economy."

The minor, which will accept 30 students during its first year, is multidisciplinary and is affiliated with College Eight. It's been approved for a three-year trial phase. College Eight Provost Ronnie Lipschutz said the minor will focus primarily "on the built environment" with the goal of providing students with hands-on skills and experience they might not receive in their majors, particularly majors outside of environmental studies.

"There is a considerable amount of student interest in sustainability," said Lipschutz, a politics professor. And there is considerable interest from employers in graduates who have broad problem-solving skills.

The minor took about two years from initial design to final approval but the seeds were planted in 2007 when Lipschutz and a group of faculty organized Sustainability Engineering and Ecological Design (SEED) with the goal of creating new courses in sustainability.

SEED is a collaboration between the Baskin School of Engineering and the Social Sciences division made up of faculty, graduate students, and research staff in electrical engineering, environmental studies, politics and sociology, core subjects for the sustainability studies minor.

Lipschutz said faculty had hoped for campus funding but the initiative was getting organized at the same time as UC and UC Santa Cruz began several years of significant budget cuts. When funding was not forthcoming, faculty raised more than $1 million from the National Science Foundation and other sources and were able to establish several classes, he said.

UC Santa Cruz has a tradition of college-based classes and sustainability studies seemed to fit the model, Lipschutz said. "One of my goals as provost was to formalize a curriculum that did not compete with other departments or majors, and College 8 seemed an appropriate place to do this."

Lipschutz said he wants to get "students to think in terms of broad problem-solving rather than narrow disciplines." Students will undertake many research and service learning internships to encourage personal and collaborative projects.

“We’re trying to put more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) into it," Lipschutz said, "and trying to make it more hands-on and provide students with certain capabilities they could use if they wanted to go into specific professions. I’m building on notions of the green economy and green entrepreneurship, so it’s oriented in some ways to more modern professional tracks.”