WMU, NMC offering freshwater science and sustainability degree

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Photo of aerial view of the Great Lakes.

Two required program courses are offered in the summer I 2014 session.

KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University and Northwestern Michigan College have joined forces to expand the study of fresh water—a critical natural resource that is in limited supply and under threat.

The institutions have developed an interdisciplinary curriculum that allows students to earn a Bachelor of Science in Freshwater Science and Sustainability. The new degree program will be formally rolled out next month in Traverse City, Mich., and officially begins in September.

Two courses toward the program are being offered through WMU's Extended University Programs division at its northern Michigan regional location, WMU-Traverse City, starting Monday, May 5, and are being taught on NMC's Great Lakes Campus.

Students wishing to conduct all of their freshwater science and sustainability studies in Traverse City may enroll at NMC and earn an associate degree, then seamlessly transfer to WMU-Traverse City and complete the final two years of coursework required for the bachelor's degree. Students also may enroll in the bachelor's-only version of the program offered on WMU's main campus in Kalamazoo.

Benefits of collaboration

The B.S. in Freshwater Science and Sustainability builds on NMC's Freshwater Studies Program, which developed the first associate degree of its kind in the country and now offers an Associate in Science and Arts in Freshwater Studies or an Associate in Applied Science in Freshwater Studies.

Dr. Steven Kohler, professor of biological sciences and director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program at WMU, says the new bachelor's program has a unique curriculum that focuses on freshwater ecosystems and the environmental, social and economic issues of their sustainable use and management.

"Students will have a diverse learning experience and be well prepared to enter a wide variety of careers or graduate school," Kohler says.

He adds that NMC is a perfect institution for WMU to partner with to offer the new degree.

"They have a strong track record in providing freshwater studies courses, are strategically located close to Lake Michigan and operate the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, which has an on-site water analysis laboratory and uses a 56-foot research vessel as a floating classroom," Kohler says. "We bring to the table all of the resources of a Carnegie-classified national research institution, including nationally and internationally recognized faculty researchers and a diverse array of research and creative activities on freshwater systems. We also have one of the best-established environmental studies and sustainability programs in the country, and WMU is recognized as a national leader in sustainability."

Filling an educational niche

Hans Van Sumeren, director of NMC's Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, says the new bachelor's degree program not only reflects an ideal use of both institutions' assets, but fills an important educational niche as well.

"Education in water-related areas is critical to developing sustainable practices and innovative strategies to meet global demands on this critical resource," Van Sumeren says. "This collaboration between NMC and WMU and our freshwater-focused degrees demonstrates how our institutions are providing students the training needed to meet these demands head on."

He also notes that the two institutions have been working together in various ways for some time, identifying collaborative research projects and co-teaching courses. In addition, both institutions share an academic interest in the Great Lakes.

"The Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world's surface fresh water and Michigan has a tremendous diversity of lakes, streams and wetlands, so this is the place to study freshwater science and sustainability," Van Sumeren says. "Water, energy and food are recognized as the most important factors facing future generations. We have an obligation to learn how to sustain those resources for those who come after us."

About the bachelor's program

The B.S. in Freshwater Science and Sustainability provides the broad interdisciplinary training that employers at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and elsewhere say they want in prospective employees.

It consists of 92 credit hours of required coursework, the final two years of which is offered in an online and hybrid (mixed online and face-to-face) format. Courses are designed to be completely transferable as well as flexible and include field experience. No minor is required because much of the general education requirements are embedded in the required coursework.

Graduates of the program will be prepared for careers such as freshwater quality analysts, watershed managers, sustainability coordinators, environmental and resource managers, corporate social responsibility coordinators, and environmental consultants or advocates. The degree also prepares students to pursue graduate studies in the sciences and sustainability leadership.

Summer courses, additional information

The two courses toward the new bachelor's degree that WMU-Traverse City is offering this summer are Human Impact on Great Lakes Ecosystem and Freshwater Ecology. Both of these hybrid courses include field exercises in Traverse City and are quickly filling. To enroll, contact Kim Stevens with WMU-Traverse City at (231) 995-1846 or obtain additional details at wmich.edu/traversecity/freshwater.

For more information about the B.S. in Freshwater Science and Sustainability, contact WMU's Steven Kohler at steve.kohler@wmich.edu or (269) 387-2987. Information about the Associate in Science and Arts in Freshwater Studies or Associate in Applied Science in Freshwater Studies is available by contacting NMC's Great Lakes Water Studies Institute at (231) 995-3333 or visiting nmc.edu/water.