An Interdisciplinary Approach: Diversity of the 2019 IES Masters Cohort

By: Noah Miller

The mission of the Institute for the Environment & Sustainability is to educate students as professionals and global citizens through interdisciplinary programs in environmental science and sustainability, and to provide leadership in areas of research and outreach that address environmental problems and promote a more sustainable society.” This is the mission statement of Miami’s Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IES), and every year, the program continues to exemplify this directive. Through public service projects (PSPs), interaction with world class faculty and the ability to personalize the masters program, IES students will be well equipped to handle the incredibly complex environmental problems of today. 

The IES curriculum presents a diverse and interdisciplinary set of problems for its students, and the makeup of the 2019 student cohort reflects that diversity. Some students graduated from Miami’s undergraduate curriculum and launched right into  graduate level coursework, like first year masters student Seth Swearingen. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Seth graduated in 2019 with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Earth Science and a Minor in Supply Chain Management from Miami. In graduate school, Seth will work for the Butler County Soil and Water Conservation District (BSWCD). This aligns perfectly with his area of concentration (akin to declaring a major) of Water Resources and Management, where he “will take classes like hydrogeology, limnology, and GIS” to round out his skillset before entering into the professional world. Seth’s work with the BSWCD this year will give him valuable field expertise in sampling, testing and formatting reports that help to fund natural areas. 

Working alongside Seth are other Ohians: among the group are graduates of Ohio State, Wright State, Wittenberg and Kent State, but Ohio is not the only place represented. Feras Althuniyan of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, arrived at Miami with an intention to study the effects of air pollution and learn about how to solve air quality issues in Saudi Arabia, or wherever his degree takes him after graduation. Feras, like most students when asked the famous “Where to after college?”,  simply throws up his hands and shrugs. 

There are students from Germany, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Zambia in the program. With them, they bring expertise in disciplines ranging from economics, plant and animal biology, environmental policy and decision making and zoology. All of their interests after graduation are numerous and exciting. 

Courtney Lopez is a first year IES graduate student with a concentration in Wildlife Management. She plans on working with the Minnesota Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency she has worked with multiple times before as a wildlife biologist. Others in Miami’s program will pursue policy positions, most likely in the private sector. Olivia Herron, a second year masters student in IES, came out of undergrad with Strategic Coommunications and Sustainable Food Systems expertise. Olivia is currently the Student Sustainability Coordinator for Miami University, and she says she would be thrilled to get a PhD in Food Systems and teach at the university level. 

This wide range of interests is an integral part of the IES masters experience, and at this point in the article I should probably reveal my bias: I am an IES graduate student, too, and the first thing that struck me when I showed up on campus for this semester was how lucky I am to be a member of this year’s IES graduate cohort. 

For one, I have learned far more from my peers than I have from my books and my teachers. Have you ever worked and interacted with a fellow student who happened to be from a different country? It is so extraordinarily educational, and for the first time during my college career, I am working alongside international students from Africa. I have learned less about biology or environmental sciences this semester, and far more about how to work with those that think fundamentally different than me. It is amazing to experience, and to learn the nuances of another’s culture while trying to learn and work with them at the same time is challenging, too. 

I spend time on this for one important reason: we are here in college to learn far more than just what our diploma will spell out. You, whoever is reading this, has an opportunity that many do not have, and I am sure that you are thankful for that. The more one is exposed to different, sometimes contradictory views, the more holistic their perception of the world becomes. IES is dedicated to an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, but it is not merely IES students that can benefit from this attitude. Take time to be mindful about ideas and people that differ from your own beliefs, and use that opportunity to better yourself. An interdisciplinary person can solve any problem.  

Cover photo courtesy of Pixabay


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