Climate Science is a fascinating study that is grabbing more interest. The number of professional science master’s degree programs has dramatically increased over the past 15 years. Since 1997 more than 300 Professional Science masters programs have been created with climate change at the forefront of environmental and political discussions. Some universities now acknowledge the value of nurturing leaders who not only understand climate science, but can also engage in informative dialogue on the topic.
Northern Arizona University (NAU) is one of the few higher education institutions with a Professional Science Masters program focused on climate science and the environment. Through the NAU Climate Science and Solutions master’s program, the university trains students for careers in sustainability in the growing climate industry. The NAU program is distinctive and comprehensive, in that it focuses on developing students’ communication and public discourse skills that relate to a broad spectrum of climate science issues. According to Debbie Huntzinger, graduate coordinator of the CSS program, “the goal is to train students to talk with policymakers, corporation heads and stakeholders in an educated way around issues that might be controversial or complex.”
The following is an interview I conducted with Debbie Huntzinger on how NAU and other universities are tackling the need for more science leaders in the U.S. This is a captivating science as the nature of global climate affects everyone, everywhere.
MG: Please talk a bit on NAU’s decision to implement the Climate Science and Solutions master’s program. Was there a noticeable demand for such a program – a find a void and fill it realization — or was the course on the agenda for a while?
DH: The Climate Sciences and Solutions (CSS) master’s program at NAU was designed to allow students to pursue advanced scientific training related to the emerging climate related job sector, while also developing workplace skills highly valued by employers through internships and hands-on career development workshops. Because of the professional component of this degree, it differs from thesis-based master’s degrees by helping broaden career opportunities for graduates. Professional Science Master’s (PSM) programs such as CSS have been on the rise, and the one at NAU directly serves a need by offering students the skills for obtaining a job in sustainability and successfully leading discussions about climate change.
MG: Although Arizona’s climate varies throughout the state, its lack of rainfall is pretty consistent. Is the state’s climate profile one reason a university climate science program is a good fit?
DH: In short, yes. This area is known for its extreme dry climate, and we’re expected to see even warmer temperatures and more prolonged periods of drought due to climate change. We’re seeing a concentrated effort by communities and businesses in the southwest and elsewhere to reduce their vulnerability to the changing conditions. Our program trains students to meet these industry needs by drawing from the expertise of NAU’s faculty in forest carbon management, basic climate science and climate change mitigation policy and technology.
MG: Which undergraduate majors are recommended for students who ultimately want to enter the climate science graduate program?
DH: Our program is very interdisciplinary in nature. As a result, we attract students from a number of undergraduate majors spanning from the environmental sciences to business to political science. This program is really open to anyone who wants to enter the climate related job sector, no matter what your background.
MG: As graduate coordinator of the CSS program speaking directly to potential students is there any comment, recommendation or insider note you would like to add?
DH: Students in our program build a unique combination of science and professional skills. Many of our courses are built around hands-on projects that engage students with industry and the general public. These activities help students gain the technical, communication, and project management skills desired by employers.
I will quote one of our industry advisor board members Dan Kalafatas, CEO of 3 Degrees Group Inc: “The master’s in Climate Science and Solutions provides a rare, integrated combination of academic climate science and professional management training for leaders in tomorrow’s low-carbon economy.”
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