Water is Focus of Global Sustainability Master's Program

The inaugural class of master’s of arts program in the School of Global Sustainability look to make a difference around the world.



By Saundra Amrhein

Special to USF.edu


TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 21, 2010) - Brandon Johnson entered the new master’s degree program for Global Sustainability at the University of South Florida this fall with plenty of science under his belt.


But several weeks into his studies at USF’s new program, the 33-year-old marine biologist is learning about other aspects of global sustainability that he’d not considered much before – like public health and anthropology.


“It’s so broad to me,” Johnson said of his evolving view of global sustainability. “One of the things that stands out is that everything is so interconnected.”


Johnson is among the 17 inaugural students enrolled in the new master’s of arts in global sustainability program through the School of Global Sustainability, which opened earlier this year. The new director of the School, Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy has just joined USF.


The master’s degree program kicked off in late August with a week-long residency at USF, where the students attended lectures, classes, field trips and a reception. The focus of this first class is on water.


The lectures touched on topics ranging from local water management; the impact of rampant residential development on water supplies; and the global commoditization of water.


The reception and classes provided them with an introduction to the professors with whom they’ll be taking courses throughout the next year, as well as the subjects they’ll be studying.


The field trips took them on a tour of Disney World’s sustainability program near Orlando; to Tampa Bay Water’s seawater desalination plant in south Hillsborough County; and to the aquaculture park at the Mote Aquarium.


During the residency, some days began at 8 a.m. and didn’t end until 10 p.m., said Karen Liller, Dean of the Graduate School.


Liller led the proposal-writing efforts for the new master’s program, which was formally approved late last year by the USF Board of Trustees.


In writing the proposal, Liller drew input from the faculty members on the advisory board for the master’s program. They desired a curriculum from a broad spectrum of disciplines, many of which were already working individually on pieces of global sustainability issues, Liller said.


“Solutions are not going to be just from engineering and business, but from the social sciences, humanities, health, and several other disciplines“ Liller said. “It’s going to be a wholly integrated approach.”


Students are moving through the program as a cohort and will be taking the majority of their classes online to accommodate their workday schedules. They are currently all enrolled in the same three core classes: seminar in public health; engineering; and medical anthropology. Some of the classes they’ll take in future semesters will include aquatic chemistry; green infrastructure for sustainable communities; and advances in water quality policy and management.


The program consists of 33 credits and runs for one year. During the spring and summer semesters they will take part in an international internship that could be in several settings. During their internships, they will develop projects that identify sustainability problems and work through multi-disciplinary solutions based on what they learned through their courses.


“That makes it real,” Liller said of the internship and project. “The program is all about solving sustainability problems. It’s a very hands-on, practice-based degree.”


For this first cohort of students, the school received more than 120 inquiries and 70 official applications, while about a half dozen names form a waiting list for next year’s class, said Malcolm Randolph.


Randolph serves as a liaison between the students and faculty and was responsible for marketing the new School of Global Sustainability nationally and worldwide.


“Some students are already working in the field and are looking for credentials,” Randolph said. “Others are looking for a way to implement this in the field and bring some global aspect back to work places.”


Indeed, the “Green Jobs” sector is exploding with possibilities, according to national reports.


In 2007, renewable energy and energy efficiency industries represented more than 9 million jobs and more than $1 billion in U.S. revenue, according to the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society and Management Information Services. By 2030, they forecast as many as 37 million jobs from those industries.


Johnson, the student with the background as a marine biologist, said he hopes to obtain an internship in Australia, where he has spent time in the past with his wife. After he graduates, he would like to get a job there, possibly through his current employer, an environmental engineering firm with offices in Tampa and around the world. The St. Petersburg resident envisions possibly working on issues like the impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef and the potential impact of rising sea levels on heavily populated coastal regions of Australia.


Maryhelen Shuman-Groh, 56, of Clearwater, does not yet know what she’ll do with the degree after she graduates. But the diver and rehabilitator of marine mammals is already drawn to an internship and project on the Caribbean island of Dominica, whose multitude of natural rivers help produce turbine-generated energy. She is wary of the international investment descending on the island, including water-bottling companies promising jobs that haven’t materialized.


Martin Booker, 25, teaches Advanced Placement History at Riverview High School in east Hillsborough County. He joined the program after becoming interested in sustainability issues in part through his wife, who is adamant about recycling.


Booker is interested in an internship on water quality issues and agriculture in Ireland. Eventually after graduation, he thinks he’d like a job in a government agency or the for-profit or agriculture sector. So far the program’s inclusion of anthropology and public health has been a big eye-opener for him, particularly the case studies on the effects of water privatization in South America.


Programs like this will give future business leaders a different outlook, he predicted.


“Companies can still make a profit, but they have to do that with responsibility and with a conscience,” he said.