University of Iowa undergraduate Holly Moriarty helped develop a pilot program on campus that recycled 17 tons of residence hall cafeteria leftovers by turning them into rich compost. As a result, the University cut down on waste, area residents got better organic materials to grow their gardens, and Moriarty earned a great grade in her Sustainable Systems course.
She also took another step closer to her overall goal: saving the world.
It might sound like the unrealistic dream of a young idealist, but Moriarty is hardly alone. She is one of a growing number of college students at Iowa and around the world looking to turn their college degrees into jobs that benefit the environment.
“Think about it. Global warming, climate change, lack of vital resources like water…we have to find ways to preserve nature. These are the things that keep us all alive. Without them, we’re all in serious trouble,” says Moriarty, a senior environmental engineering major from Peosta, Iowa.
According to recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the environment is one of the top four job categories expected to see the fastest career growth between now and 2014. (The others are health care, education, and technology.)
Dubbed eco-careers, environmentally related careers are booming because of companies’ increasing need to comply with environmental regulations, as well as growing public concern about working and living in a safe, clean world.
A number of majors and programs across campus offer students opportunities to delve into environmentally related issues. Among the most visible are the civil and environmental engineering department in the College of Engineering and the Environmental Sciences Program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The geography department also features an environmental studies track.
Whatever their major or area of focus, students may find themselves becoming part of a broader movement called sustainability. This movement, incorporated into fields from engineering to chemistry to urban planning, is making its way into many classrooms, says Craig Just, associate research engineer and instructor in the College of Engineering.
Just has taught sustainability courses like the one Moriarty took. His students in recent years have developed a solar bike, created greater awareness of energy conservation on campus, and explored the use of recycled food oil as fuel.
Outside the classroom, undergraduates have organized popular campus groups such as UI Environmental Coalition and i-Renew@UI, which is the UI chapter of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association.
At the University’s Pomerantz Career Center, students who express interest in eco-careers are directed to a variety of co-op education or internship possibilities through organizations such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources often recruit Iowa grads, notes David Fitzgerald, career center advisor.
Many of these groups are not necessarily looking for highly technically trained engineers or chemists, says Fitzgerald. In fact, he has been told that Iowa students rise to the top of the intern candidate list at the EPA.
“One person involved in the hiring process said she always looks for University of Iowa students first when applications come in,” Fitzgerald says, “because they need people with strong writing skills and analytical skills and a solid liberal arts education. Our students fit really well with that.”
So can students turn an eco-career into a “green” one? That is, one that puts money in their pockets? Absolutely, says Just. The types of projects and activities his students are involved with will shine brightly as résumé highlights.
“All big companies are trying to reduce costs these days, trying to save money as well as impact the environment in a positive way. Being green these days is good business, period,” Just says. “Business and industry, up and down the board, are looking for people who can get this job done. Students will find that the jobs are out there and that they can make a difference in a lot of areas.”
One such student is Ori Sivan. After he earned a degree in environmental engineering at Iowa in 2004, he cofounded a Chicago-area company called Greenmaker Building Supply. The wholesale and retail supplier sells “energy intelligent, environmentally sensitive, and healthy building materials” to homeowners and commercial builders.
He wants to change the world by creating a building supply company that changes the way people shop.
“Growing up in the ’80s, kids like me had lots of concern about the environment—the rainforests, endangered species, the hole in the ozone layer, nuclear war,” Sivan explains. “Life seemed a little bit dismal. But I say if we change the way we do business, it will be possible to sustain ourselves.
“The economy and the environment don’t necessarilyneed to be adversaries. Realizing that helps me feel empowered rather than defeated.”
by Amy Schoon