A growing environment

Generations entering college have never known a life that didn't include recycling and to keep up with their environmental mindset schools are greening up not only the curriculum but their campuses as well.

Mark Olson, dean of enrollment at North Park University in Chicago, says they haven't had a lot of students asking about the environmental offerings and careers until recently.

"I think this is a growth area," he says. "Urban environmentalism is a need we see. It's where most people live."

Wilbur Wright College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, has always aimed to stay ahead of the curve on environmental issues. David Inman, director of sustainability initiatives at Wilbur Wright College, says his phone rings off the hook with interest, especially in the last six months.

Lifestyle to career

As environmentalism continues to be in the forefront more and more students are looking to make their interest or passion in the area into a career. While some schools have programs they are building on, others continue to add new courses as the landscape continues to change.

North Park University has always had a strong biology and pre-med program but is launching an entirely new major in environmental science this fall.

Olson says the new major will continue the university's history of interest in the environment.

"It is Christian stewardship of the environment balanced with environmental science. It integrates science with the stewardship ethic," Olson says.

The program will partner with agencies outside the university dedicated to the environment such as the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and Morton Arboretum in Lisle to offer opportunities through its classes and possible internships in the future.

Olson says the courses were already being taught at the university, but they have repackaged them into this new major.

"We thought 'Why don't we have a degree? We're right on the edge of it'," Olson says. "It was an easy step for us to take."

Jasmika Cook, executive director of career and technical education for City Colleges of Chicago, says they are "greening" the existing curriculum across all areas of study. Wilbur Wright College, which is the City Colleges leader in the environmental realm, is helping the rest of the campuses catch on, Cook says.

Wilbur Wright College has had an environmental technology program since the mid 1990s when there was a government demand for those skilled in cleaning hazardous waste sites. Inman says the program requires an extensive group of classes such as hazardous waste management and environmental geology.

Several years ago the college also received funding from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to begin a Building Energy Technology Program centered on energy efficiency in building construction.

On the non-credit side, the colleges also provide workshops and courses for professionals such as OSHA health and safety training courses and a home energy rating system certification program.

That's where Michael Sullivan and his wife Pat Mills-Sullivan, vice-president and president of Northpoint Construction Services Inc. in Chicago, first began learning about five years ago when they decided to "go as green as we could and be involved in the green movement" with their business as general contractors for residential and commercial construction. The couple has taken courses for two years at Wilbur Wright College and already has incorporated the knowledge into their business.

"It's the only reason we are still in business," Sullivan says of the growth during a recession. "It has really made a difference in the last year or so."

Sullivan says they also have knowledge to create energy efficient high rises, schools, hospitals and other fascilities, will become LEED certified at the end of the year and eventually plan to have employees take some of the courses as well.

LEED by example

Not just hoping students will follow a "green" lifestyle; schools are leading by example and working to effect change.

Illinois Institute of Technology and its graduates are considered at the forefront of environmental technologies from architecture to engineering. The college has made a commitment to the environment and was one of the first universities to construct a LEED certified building on its Chicago campus following international guidelines for a "green" building, says Joseph Clair, IIT director of campus energy and sustainability and chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council, Chicago chapter.

"If we are to teach all that and not live it, it would be very hollow," Clair says. "Students need to see these things where they live and breathe." ■

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