New Brock program tackles sustainability and the environment

Tieg Lapointe a sustainability master's student, measures plant water status in a vineyard.

Student Tieg Lapointe measures plant water status in a vineyard. There will be more of such activities in Brock's future, with a new master's program in sustainability.

A new master’s program at Brock University will prepare graduates for careers that help address our most pressing and complex environmental challenges and opportunities.

The program, Sustainability Science and Society, responds to a growing social need to better understand and positively shape our relationship with the planet’s natural systems.

Students who successfully complete the program will earn a Master’s of Sustainability (MS), which is available with or without a co-op option. The program is housed within Brock’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC), which researches the environment, sustainability and social-ecological resilience.

“There are few master’s degrees specifically designed to address contemporary challenges through the transdisciplinary lens of sustainability science,” says Ryan Plummer, director of the ESRC

“Confronting the complex problems we face going forward requires new perspectives that are transdisciplinary in nature,” he says. “This program will allow for the cross-pollination of ideas among students coming from different backgrounds of study.”

The new sustainability program also highlights the University’s unique geographical position atop the Niagara Escarpment in St. Catharines, Ont.

“Brock is one of only a few Canadian universities to be located in a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve,” Plummer says. “This privileged location provides us with a unique mandate for sustainability education.”

The ESRC, located within Brock’s Faculty of Social Sciences, is also one the University’s five flagship transdisciplinary hubs. As such, it will foster the kinds of environment and sustainability research that go beyond conventional disciplinary boundaries to advance scholarship, inform policy and enhance on-the-ground work.

“This is a milestone for Brock, as it is the first graduate program to arise from one of our transdisciplinary hubs,” says Neil McCartney, Brock’s Provost and Vice-President, Academic. “The program will help to meet the growing demand for skilled researchers and workers with the kinds of environmental expertise that cut across disciplines like biology, economics, psychology and tourism.”

With the growing public consciousness of the importance of environmental conservation, studies and careers in the environmental field are on the rise.

Environmental Careers Organization Canada notes enrolment in university environment-related programs from 2000 to 2007 showed increases of 40.1 per cent compared to a 25.4 per cent increase in all programs.

“Job vacancies for students studying in sustainability studies, not just environmental or climate related programs, is robust,” says Cindy Dunne, director of co-op programs at Brock. “Our office is contacted frequently by employers seeking students with the kinds of skills and academic foundations offered by this degree.”

This new program is an important part of Brock’s Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) submission to the provincial government, which aims to enhance innovative and high-quality teaching and learning, establish a culture of research leadership, and engage with communities for transformative change in the Niagara region.

Addressing environmental challenges as well as realizing emerging opportunities is especially fitting in Niagara. The region is undergoing a transformation from its historical manufacturing base by building a green economy that offers enormous potential.

Brock’s Sustainability Science and Society graduate program received strong support from community partners. This includes the City of St. Catharines, Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, and Niagara Region.

In a letter of support, Marty Mako, chair of the City of St. Catharines’ Sustainability Committee, notes, “I would be proud to recommend a graduate-level program right here in our city geared to developing change agents who can think critically to help build sustainable communities of the future.”

Brock University’s new Master’s of Sustainability program will accept its first intake of students in September with an application deadline of March 1.

This story has been edited from a previous version in which Tieg Lapointe was incorrectly identified as a master’s student.

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