TU blends natural and social sciences in well-rounded, versatile degree - The University of Tulsa
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TU blends natural and social sciences in well-rounded, versatile degree

At many universities across the United States, environmental programs tend to fit into one of two frameworks: either a focus on courses in chemistry, geology, and biology or through a social sciences lens.

Chad Settle

At The University of Tulsa, neither framework fits – or maybe it’s both – said Chad Settle, economics professor and director of TU’s environmental policy program.

“Our students are required to take a series of courses at a minimum in chemistry, biology, and geology and required to take at a minimum courses in economics, sociology, and political science,” he said. “And then there are additional courses that they can take on top of that core that all of our students need to take when they come through the program.”

Students can elect to earn a bachelor of arts degree if foreign language skills are more their interest, or a bachelor of science degree if they want to focus more on STEM courses.

“The intention is that the TU graduate can be the one person at the table who understands what everyone is talking about,” Settle said. “Oftentimes, there will be biologists using terminology that is incomprehensible to economists. And economists are using terminology that’s incomprehensible to biologists. And since our students are versed in each of those individual disciplines, they’re going to be able to go through and understand what everybody is saying.”

He added that because there are so many different areas where a student can use their environmental degree, the program offers an area of emphasis at the upper division level.

“From a long list of courses that are possible, they choose the ones that are going to give them the narrow focus that they need for whatever job or internship or postgraduate degree they’re interested in pursuing,” he said.

Students may go into graduate programs in biochemistry or biology or in economics and sociology, or earn an environmental law degree, for example, Settle said.

“In terms of potential postgraduate education, there are abundant opportunities available for our students,” he added. “In terms of jobs, it’s all over the map in terms of what students are interested in pursuing.”

Michelle Merchant

Michelle Merchant graduated with an environmental policy degree and an economics degree in May 2021. “As one of TU’s interdisciplinary majors, the BS in environmental policy exposed me to both hard and soft sciences, providing a well-rounded knowledge base that’s important to grasping environmental issues and working to address them,” she said.

Merchant is currently the sustainability programs planner at INCOG in Tulsa.

“My work at INCOG requires me to understand the technical sides of environmental issues while being able to communicate on those issues in a way that’s digestible by the general public, which the environmental policy program prepared me well for,” she said. “In my current role as a sustainability programs planner, I manage programs and coordinate projects that reduce air pollution and promote resilience. To move projects forward, I must match the needs and wants of the community with impactful solutions that are financially accessible.”

Merchant said students in TU’s program learn how to think critically about environmental issues and solutions through both scientific and people-centered lenses. “The BS option in environmental policy provides a solid base understanding of natural and social sciences that are deeply intertwined in environmental issues and solutions, preparing students well for a wide range of environmental career options,” she added.