First Graduates

A dozen students in USF’s School of Global Sustainability receive the first Master’s Degrees in Global Sustainability.


Graduate Maryhelen Shuman-Groh flanked by USF anthropology Professor Linda Whiteford and Patel School Director Kala Vairavamoorthy.


By Vickie Chachere

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 5, 2011) – When the University of South Florida launched its new School of Global Sustainability in early 2010, it was a new venture aimed at rewriting the rules of creating academic programs, preparing students for an emerging field and confronting some of the great global challenges of the time.


On Saturday, 12 students are poised to graduate with USF’s first Master of Arts in Global Sustainability having completed the novel program of study and traveled the world exploring different facets of the “green” being used and what can be done to make the most of limited resources.


“I began asking the what-do-you-want-to-look-back-on question, and I could think of nothing more enduring than sustainability,” said graduate Joy Ingram, who had a background in business and software development when she became part of the School of Global Sustainability’s first class of 16 students. “From an economic perspective, I think this is the right time for a career in sustainability – kind of like getting in on the ground floor.”


The class represents an important milestone for USF and for the sustainability movement itself, said Kala Vairavamoorthy, the founding director of the Patel School of Global Sustainability.


“For the first time, we have a class of students with in depth studies and knowledge specifically geared toward a new way of looking at creating sustainable systems and industries,” he said. 


“Their passion, creativity and intellectual power now have a precise focus on transforming the very way communities function on a daily basis and that coupled with widespread awareness will help change the way we use and manage all our limited resources.”


The Patel School of Global Sustainability – a newly renamed entity that also houses the Patel Center for Global Solutions, a research institute, and USF’s Office of Sustainability, which puts new sustainability measures into practice on campus – now has 37 students enrolled in its master’s program.


In addition to the original degree offering which focused on water issues, this fall the school will launch a sustainability and entrepreneurship program that will prepare students for creating new products and services or bringing sustainability practices to the business world.


The first graduates experienced an entirely new type of school: as a truly interdisciplinary field, the School of Global Sustainability drew its faculty from existing USF colleges. Students examined the issues of sustainability from all angles: the use of limited natural resources; climate change; population growth; globalization and developing resilient communities.


Much of their coursework was done on-line and heavy emphasis was placed on learning out in the field: which in global sustainability quite literally meant the world. The students documented their travels this summer on an internship blog that united their experiences from Africa, Australia, Latin America, Asia and Europe.


For many students, that new approach was what led them to their new degrees. Graduate Matt Booker was a high school teacher looking for a change in his career path.


“I wanted a degree that mattered and would make a long term difference. I just happened to stumble upon this programs website one day when I was looking at the various degrees USF offered,” Booker said. “When I read about it, I knew instantly this was the program and career field that I wanted and was meant for me. It was the perfect blend of hard and soft sciences.”

Booker focused his studies specifically on flood hazard – an issue particularly relevant in Florida where extreme weather events, rising sea levels and aging flood-control infrastructure make flood management a high-priority issue. Booker said his studies allowed him to learn about hazard risk reduction and reducing vulnerability, but he also had an opportunity to explore related issues such as water policy and how to connect individual stakeholders to bring about change.


“I think sustainability as a new profession is defined as connecting all stakeholders - corporations, public, government, NGO's, etc. - with options that are economically and environmentally lasting,” he said. “This much more than just adding a recycling bin in the break room. This is leading change in the way business and all aspects of life are and should be conducted.”


Randall Pape, the school’s academic adviser, said the school will add additional concentrations in the near future: global security, sustainable tourism and energy. The program, he said, is designed to evolve as the sustainability movement grows and changes itself.

“It’s applicable to every facet of everyday life, not just in water and energy,” said Pape, who holds an MBA from USF and who served as president of the university’s Graduate and Professional Student Council at a time when the student group pushed hard for the campus to embrace sustainable practices. “It has crossed into everyday life.”


New graduate Patty Smith joined the program after earning an undergraduate degree in environmental studies with a minor in human development. She said pursing a graduate degree in sustainability was a natural progression in her interest in global health.


I believe the water crisis and the access of basic sanitation are closely related,” she said. “Currently 2.6 million people do not have access to basic sanitation. This results in the contamination of fresh water sources and in essence a health crisis is formed.”


Smith traveled to El Salvador as part of her studies to examine ecological sanitation systems in two rural communities. Her goal is to start a business that would implement more ecological sanitation systems in rural El Salvador and other areas of the world in need.


Fellow graduate Maria Booker said she pursued the master’s in sustainability to give her an edge in the job market, but ended up opening her eyes to the breadth of the world’s water crisis. She travelled to Ghana where lagoons once used for religious ceremonies have been destroyed and some water bodies have no fish because the pollution is so bad.


Booker recently received her LEED accreditation and is interning with Bausch & Lomb where she will be working on green building, green chemistry and energy conservation projects. Her goal is to become a sustainability manager for a corporation.


Maryhelen Shuman-Groh’s interest in sustainability stemmed from her interest in diving, travelling and working in marine animal rescue and rehabilitation. Her study program led her to the Commonwealth of Dominica in the Caribbean, where she worked with the national water company in preserving clean water as the local economy grows. Shuman-Groh said the small nation is trying to maintain its natural beauty and diversity which includes some of the most pristine rainforests and reefs in the Caribbean.


Shuman-Groh recently was selected as the Tampa Bay Green Living blogger for where she will be writing on local issues starting this fall.


“Aside from the textbook definition of sustainability, my personal definition and the message I’m trying to get out there is that none of us can do this perfectly but that if each one of us in all our different environments - the workplace, at home, in our activities, by our travel choices – make informed decisions, we can make a difference,” she said.


Ingram said she is interested in pursuing work in two areas of sustainability:  conservation of water, including recycling water for drinking water, and the role of business and technology in sustainability. She said she hopes to bridge the gap between businesses, scientists, and politicians – all of whom approach sustainability differently.


“I am often asked about the difference between “global sustainability” and “sustainability”.  I have become convinced that there really is not a big difference,” she said.


 “Global sustainability speaks to the interconnectedness of how each country’s environmental actions and international trade can impact the rest of the world - similar to the idea of the global economy.  It also concerns the equitable use of limited resources.  But it is not about some monolithic solution administered by a world committee.  It is about local sustainability that encourages implementation of sustainability in other locations. Most momentum seems to be coming from individuals and groups leading in their homes, workplace, communities or the college campus.”


To learn more about the Patel School of Global Sustainability, click here.


Vickie Chachere can be reached at 813-974-6251.