MAKING THE GRADE
by Linc Wonham

With the nation’s economy in a perpetual state of red, and the forecast for most job seekers a dark and gloomy shade of gray, it is becoming increasingly difficult to try to see anything in a positive color.

 The so-called Green Sector, however, continues to prove itself immune to this trend toward negativity. Educational and employment avenues abound in the many different fields related to sustainable living and business practices, spurring a growing number of people from a variety of backgrounds to explore exciting new options. And the Willamette Valley in particular, being a hotbed for higher learning as well as for sensibilities toward sustainability, is ripe with opportunities for those looking to gain a deeper knowledge of all things green.

 Whether you are a student who seeks a sense of professional purpose and direction, an experienced worker at a crossroads in your career, or simply an impassioned and concerned member of the human race, the sustainable educational resources in our area are virtually limitless. From local workshops to a variety of associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs, depending on one’s level of interest and commitment, you do not have far to go to simply increase your environmental awareness or embark on an entirely new career in one of the hottest markets of our time.

 Targeting the Green Job Market

“I consider it my responsibility to match the number of students with the job prospects out there, and I am convinced everybody who wants a job can get a job after completing one of our programs,” says Roger Ebbage, the Director of Energy and Water Programs/Northwest Energy Education Institute (NEEI) at Lane Community College in Eugene. “My job as the coordinator is to see that there is something out there for everyone at the end of the pike, and I think it would be criminal for me not to allow that. The caveat is that you should also be willing to relocate for the right job, but that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of opportunities here in the Northwest or right here in the Willamette Valley.”

 The cornerstone of all of the current NEEI programs is a two-year degree program in energy management that first began in 1980, when it may have been ahead of its time. The program was forced to shut down between 1988 and 1992, but has been operating steadily since then and continues to rise along with the overall sustainable-living awareness curve.

 Lane’s Energy Management program can branch off into several different directions, the first being the education of students in the practices of evaluating the energy profile of a commercial-scale building. The program also offers a course of study in renewable energy systems, which can include education in solar water-heating and photovoltaics (solar panels), for example; whereas a brand new curriculum in resource conservation management launches in the fall of 2009 and will be geared more toward energy-efficiency practices and the management of waste streams in institutional settings. Employment trends for students who complete the Energy Management program lean toward the installation of systems on the renewable-energy side. Ebbage says “an even wider range of opportunities exists on the resource-conservation side.”

 Another two-year NEEI degree program available at Lane is in water conservation, in which students are prepared for careers as technicians, coordinators, and specialists for water-service and utility companies. This field is expected to experience rapid and significant growth over the next several decades, particularly in the Northwestern U.S.

 “We recently did a survey with 42 water-service companies,” says Ebbage, “and every single one of them said they expected to be hiring new people. The different programs here ask you to do different things, but the jobs are out there for everyone. We train the renewable energy folks to be installers and technicians mostly, but if they want to go out and be salesmen, they can do that, too. And our Resource Conservation Management program is new, so we don’t really know what the job market will hold for those students yet, but I think it’s going to be a broader scope of jobs for them than anyone.”

 There are also a number of non-credit programs at Lane aimed toward enhancing the career training one might already have, and at helping professionals adapt to and ultimately succeed in a more sustainable-minded world. The most prominent is their 10-year-old Energy Management Conservation program, an intensive, project-oriented certification program that essentially siphons a two-year curriculum into two weeks each summer. Others include the Sustainable Building Advisor’s Certification, a nine-month weekend program that covers all things sustainable in the building environment, including commercial and residential sites, land use, sustainable building materials, lighting, heating, and cooling systems; and the Building Operator Certification, which specifically targets facilities’ workers such as electricians, carpenters, and landscape maintenance professionals, and offers them valuable cross-training in sustainable-building practices and theory.

 A Vision for the Future

Also in Eugene, one of the initiatives of incoming University of Oregon president Richard Lariviere is to keep the school at the forefront of educational opportunities in the area of sustainable-business practices. The U. of O. is already nationally recognized for its commitment to sustainable education, offering a combined “Green MBA”/law degree for students who strive to add a Master of Business Administration in the sustainable-business field to their legal studies. The university’s Environmental Studies, Journalism and Communications, Architecture and Applied Sciences Departments, as well as others, all have significant opportunities and coursework related to sustainable living and practices.

 “It’s an ongoing process for people looking for the best educational opportunities in a growing field, and the university is moving pretty aggressively to make it as rewarding as we possibly can for them,” says Tom Osdoba of the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business. “Today’s students want a fair opportunity to connect business and law, and business and policy, and we’re always searching for new ways to offer dual degrees and hybridization.”

 Osdoba heads Lundquist’s Center for Sustainable Business Practices, which was created a little over a year ago using the same blueprint as the business school’s highly rated centers for sports marketing and entrepreneurship. The sustainable-business program, he said, is the result of the growing demand from students, as well as from the field itself.

 “It reflects the growing need for a better understanding of our environment and what’s needed to increase sustainability,” Osdoba says. “The center is only a year old and we’re still fleshing out the specific curriculum, but we’re focusing on a lot of experiential learning and building business partnerships throughout the community. Students want interdisciplinary training in the sustainable fields, and today’s employers are demanding it as well. The program is intended to train people and give them the skills that will put them at the forefront of knowledge about sustainable-business practices.”

 The First of its Kind

In Corvallis, Oregon State University is also renowned for its groundbreaking advances in sustainable education. In 2007, OSU introduced the nation’s first undergraduate degree program in ecological engineering. Ecological engineers combine basic and applied science from engineering, ecology, economics, and natural sciences to design sustainable systems that integrate human activities with the natural environment to the benefit of both.

 “Many students study engineering because they want to solve complex problems that move the world toward a healthier, more sustainable place,” said Ron Adams, dean of engineering at Oregon State. “This degree was a major step in offering our students another engineering option that will impact the future in a positive way.”

 The degree is offered through the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering, headed by John Bolte. “Graduates working in ecological engineering and ecosystem-restoration engineering are involved in the design, construction, and management of ecosystems that have value to both humans and the environment,” Bolte said. “Students in this program develop a unique set of skills and experiences that will enable them to create solutions for some of our most pressing environmental problems.”

 Oregon State also has an entrepreneurship program through its College of Business that focuses on sustainable-business practices and exemplifies the importance of sustainability in the business plans of today’s entrepreneurs. Sustainable-minded students and professionals in Corvallis – or elsewhere – may also receive graduate-level credits and a graduate certificate upon successful completion of OSU’s 18-credit online program in sustainable natural resources. The program is designed for students and employees who desire more training in assessing and solving complex sustainability problems.

 The Head of the Class?

A little bit further up the road from the two state-university heavyweights is liberal arts college Willamette University, which takes its own sustainability education as seriously as any other institution in the Northwest. Located in Salem, Willamette U. offers more than 30 courses in which sustainability themes have been heavily incorporated, spanning virtually every discipline from the humanities to applied sciences. Willamette offered one of the first environmental science programs back in 1973, and the College of Law offers an innovative certificate program in Sustainable Environmental, Energy and Resources Law.

 In 2006, Willamette established its Center for Sustainable Communities, an academic center that offers conferences and workshops and promotes sustainability research and curriculum, as well as partnerships across the valley. Willamette also offers a Sustainable Enterprise Certificate program, which sets out to introduce students to the inter-connectedness of social, economic, and environmental soundness.

 It was, in fact, the comparatively tiny Willamette U. – not the University of Oregon nor Oregon State – that was recognized last year by the National Wildlife Federation as the top school in the nation for its efforts toward sustainable education. NWF’s Campus Environment 2008: A National Report Card on Sustainability in Higher Education surveyed over 1,000 participating colleges and universities and ranked Willamette U. as the school it found to be involved in the highest number of sustainability activities.

 Getting Started

So, there’s certainly no shortage of opportunities for local residents to add some green to their educational backgrounds, and the Willamette Valley, in fact, shapes up as something of an epicenter for sustainable schooling. For details on each school’s individual programs, class availability, and schedules and fees, the best first step is to go to their websites.

 NWEEI programs at Lane Community College: www.nweei.org

 University of Oregon:www.uoregon.edu/about/academics

 Oregon State University:www.oregonstate.edu/academics

 Willamette University:willamette.edu/about/sustainability

 

Linc Wonham is a freelance writer and editor living in Eugene, Oregon.

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