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Master of Environmental Science program shows rapid growth

FIELD WORK: Students map and record details about a giant slab of material that was once part of a submarine volcano and has been pushed up on dry land as a result of plate tectonic movements. They are on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica for a field course. (Photo by Ken Howard.)

The Master of Environmental Science program at U of T Scarborough is growing in leaps and bounds, with almost 60 students enrolled just 18 months after the launch.

The M.Env.Sc. offers a unique interdisciplinary approach that gives students a well-rounded grounding in the sciences they will need to tackle the serious issues that affect our planet. The 12-month program prepares them to deal with vital environmental challenges and includes an internship.

Thirty-nine new students arrived in September, joining the 18 others who are finishing their studies, for a total of 57 students. The first admissions took place in January 2006 to get the program started.

The advent of this new program, the only one of its kind in Canada, is changing the face of the graduate student body on campus. Roughly one third of the approximately 170 graduate students registered here at Scarborough are pursuing a Master of Environmental Science, either full- or part-time.

“Environmental issues are beginning to dominate the agenda and discussions in the public domain. The need for people who are skilled in dealing with the wide range of challenges in this emerging career field is only expected to grow,” said Prof. Don Cormack, director of the program and the chair of the department of physical & environmental sciences. “We are thrilled that the program is growing so quickly and that we are producing graduates who are in high demand.”

“Whereas other universities offer environmental master’s programs that focus on environmental policy and soft sciences, our program has a focus on hard sciences,” said Cormack. “We are getting calls on a daily basis from interested applicants from all around the world.”

The newest cohort that arrived in September is taking classes in chemistry, hydrology, geophysics, field work, environmental remediation, risk assessment and environmental regulation and law. So far, the placement rate is 100 per cent after graduation, Cormack added.

An exciting component of the M.Env.Sc. is a travel opportunity in the form of a “field camp.” Offered as an optional course each summer, the Environmental Science Field Camp runs about 10 days in duration. This past summer, the class traveled to Costa Rica in a course led by Prof. Ken Howard and Roberta Fulthorpe. In the summer of 2006, the class went to the Canadian Rockies to conduct field research in a course led by Prof. Nick Eyles. While in the field, the class studies water, land, vegetation and wildlife, employing techniques from geology, hydrology, microbiology and other areas of environmental science.

Seventeen people teach in the program on a full-time or part-time basis, and all are cross-appointed with U of T’s Centre for Environment, located on the St. George campus. Teachers in the program include: George Arhonditsis, Donald Cormack, Mike Doughty, Nicholas Eyles, Roberta Fulthorpe, Bill Gough, Brian Greenwood, Nasrat Hijazi, Ken Howard, Eva Ligeti, Monirul Mirza, Anthony Price, Andre Simpson, Myrna Simpson, Frank Wania, Matthew Wells, and Dudley Williams.

The newest faculty member to join the program this year, Prof. Nasrat Hijazi, is an experienced environmental scientist and consultant. Hijazi has a PhD in physical chemistry and worked for 30 years in the environmental field, including work at the Ministry of the Environment.

“Prof. Hijazi has come to us after years of working in industry and his presence enables us to bring a very practical element to the program,” said Cormack. “He will help us to produce graduates with the range of skills that will be needed in the work force.”

Hijazi is teaching several new courses that range from the science of contaminated site remediation to a course on interpreting the complex environmental regulations that govern all activities that impact the environment.

“The students in the program are dedicated and enthusiastic, so I’m happy to be here,” said Hijazi. “A solid understanding of the environmental industry relies on good science. Our students will have the sound scientific grounding to go out there and solve real-world problems that make a difference to everyone who shares our environment.”

by Mary Ann Gratton

© University of Toronto Scarborough