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Environmental Science Program Brings Home National Rank

Friday, March 27, 2015

Robert Morris University’s Environmental Science program was named among the top 50 in the nation by EnvironmentalScience.org, an educational information site for prospective students to learn about credible colleges and universities. This is an especially prestigious accomplishment given how new the program is, having only launched 10 years ago.  

“Environmental Science was the first degree that newly formed Science Department offered at the time,” said Maria Kalevitch, founding chair of the Department of Science and now dean of the School of Engineering, Mathematics and Science. 

The rankings are based on published surveys, student data and career data collected from the integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and National Center for Education Statistics. The website notes that the most efficient environmental science programs tend to be located in areas that have enough green space to give students the ability to work outside the classroom. RMU students enjoy the luxury of a 230-acre campus surrounded by nature trails and wooded areas.

Robert Morris’s program is very interdisciplinary, offering students a vast array of courses. They begin by taking biology, chemistry, earth science, meteorology, and physics before taking more intensive classes, like environmental science law, toxicology, natural resource management, air pollution, and sustainability.

Paul Badger, associate professor of chemistry, says the program's astounding success is partly due to the favorable socio-economic factors that have played a role in western Pennsylvania's revival.

“Some of the jobs that are in demand today in this region fit well into our model for the environmental science degree,” he said. “The department works to make sure that our program remains relevant to the issues in the workplace by providing training on analytical equipment, introducing field methods, and giving opportunities for research.”

The curriculum includes issues seen both regionally and globally. Students work on projects involving resource management, renewable energy, hydraulic fracturing processes, acid mine runoff, and sample collection and analysis.

Dan Volk '13, worked with Dan Short, associate professor of environmental science, on a project during his senior year titled, “3D Printing Photopolymers: An Emerging Source of Antimony in the Environment.” The work was the first to show evidence for environmental contamination from photopolymers used for 3D printing and was published in the academic journal 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing. Other graduates have begun careers at Bayer, Mylan, PPG, Valspar, and a variety of environmental science consulting firms, like Groundwater Environmental Solutions.

Another factor that puts RMU among the best is how involved their faculty members are outside the university. “Our faculty do a lot of research projects and get students involved with their studies,” said Bill Dress, head of the Department of Science and associate professor of biology.

For example, Ken Lasota, associate professor of geology and earth sciences, is active in the Pittsburgh Geological Society and Allegheny Land Trust and works with students to oversee projects done there. 

Students are not limited to the resources in Pittsburgh. Anyone enrolled in the energy and sustainability minor is required to study abroad in Germany for the renewable resources class. Dress is currently developing a semester abroad to Europe and Scotland. “They have a different type of infrastructure. They don’t have the same type of fossil fuel reservoirs we do so to see how they tackle those issues is going to be interesting,” said Dress.

"The science department is now 10 years old, and recognition of our initial program is the true testament of the academic excellence of our programs. Congratulations to all the faculty on such success," said Kalevitch. 

For more on the top ranked program, click here.