Around the world, in every area of natural resource management, there is a growing demand for sustainable practices. But the concept of sustainability is as complex as the countless situations where natural resource management must occur. Sustainability is generally defined as “meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (from the 1987 Brundtland Report by the World Commission on Environment and Development). When applied to natural resource management, this concept can stir up a complicated mix of economic, social, and ecological issues.
This complexity is what inspired the creation of OSU’s new Graduate Certificate Program in Sustainable Natural Resources. The program was designed for mid-career company, industry or agency employees. It will help them develop the skills to reach beyond their own disciplines, and bring a broad range of technical and problem-solving approaches to natural resource concerns.
Dr. Steve Radosevich of the Forest Science Department is directing the 12-week program. He says it will fill an urgent need for credentialing natural resource professionals.
“There are a number of third-party organizations offering certification to natural resource managers, like forestry companies, that can show they’re using sustainable practices and planning. This is a cost-effective way for them to give their workers the understanding, experience, and networks they need.”
The Sustainable Natural Resources Certificate is the first of its kind in the nation. A number of consultants offer workshops on sustainable practices, but no other university graduate program offers this intensive curriculum, integrating the professional knowledge of a half-dozen academic disciplines.
Ten new courses have been developed especially for the certificate program. They are taught by faculty from the departments of Anthropology, Economics, Philosophy, and Sociology, as well as from the natural sciences (Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife). Several of the courses involve two or more instructors representing different disciplines.
Radosevich says the process of developing these courses was not as difficult as might be expected. A diverse group of faculty interested in sustainability issues has been working on various projects for more than 10 years, since the Rio Earth Summit. Several members of the group, including Radosevich and instructors from the departments of Philosophy and Sociology, taught a Sustainable Forestry course together for several years. “We learned a lot through that course about how to organize and present material that crosses the disciplines,” Radosevich said.
The new program is built around independent research projects chosen by the students. Each student comes into the program with a case study, a problem from his or her place of employment that could be resolved through sustainable natural resource management. This problem may have local, regional, national, or international importance. In every class, the student picks up more tools for approaching this problem. The last two weeks of the program are devoted to completing a written report, framing, analyzing, and presenting possible avenues for resolving the issue.
“It’s more of a work plan than a research project, really,” says Radosevich. “They integrate what they’re learning in each course, and when program is over, they have a document they can take back and apply to a real issue in their work environment.”
Each student chooses a mentor at the beginning of the program, and works closely with that person until the report is complete. Mentors may come from any department on campus, according to the focus of the project. One student may decide a sociology professor would help with the most demanding aspects of his or her project, while another may need the support of a biologist. More than 30 faculty members have already indicated they would be willing to help.
The certificate program is expected to be offered for the first time in the summer of 2005. It will enroll no more than 25 students every other year.