Environmental studies offers bachelor of science degrees

Sean Keister

After years of development, Sacramento State’s environmental studies department has been given the go-ahead to issue bachelor of science degrees.

Virginia Matzek, a professor in the program, said she is thrilled about the decision, and said now along with the bachelor of arts degree for environmental studies, they have two great programs.

“Students now have more flexibility to design a major that prepares them for the careers they want to pursue,” Matzek said.

The process began four years ago, when Matzek and professor Michelle Stevens were hired. The department wanted to award bachelor of science degrees at that time, but was short on staff. Having a full staff gave it a better justification to create the new degree.

While it was originally announced a year ago at a campus level, the environmental studies department finally gave the green light to issue bachelor of science degrees at the university level by the chancellor’s office in Long Beach.

Further research and information had to be provided for the need of this degree at Sac State in order for the California State University system to give the OK, but it was finally approved as of this semester.

Environmental studies chair Dudley Burton was the spokesman presenting the plan to committees in 2009. 

All committees approved the proposal and Burton said it is a necessary progression of the department.

“I think it’s important that we provide this opportunity for our students,” Burton said. “There are lots of these jobs available for students in this area and it’s certainly appropriate that the pathway to getting those jobs be as straightforward as possible.”

In both the bachelor’s of arts and science, Burton said both groups of students would take the same basic environmental courses and complete their senior thesis. Those in the bachelor of science program would have a wide variety of scientific courses as part of their curriculum, such as oceanography and field botany. 

The main difference is now each environmental studies degree would be able to stand on its own with enough units, so students won’t have to take a minor.

Professor Greg Popejoy is in his fourth year as a part-time instructor and worked for the Department of Conservation for 20 years. He said this decision is long overdue and can provide more for students.

“Obviously it’s more science oriented,” Popejoy said. “With the B.A. side, obviously, you can go more into policy and planning issues. But with a science degree, you can go in the lab, you can do field ecology, field biology – there are all sorts of jobs, especially with global climate change happening. There is a need for scientists.”

Jill Goff is a senior environmental studies major who will graduate in December with a bachelor of science degree. She thinks getting a bachelor of science as opposed to a bachelor of arts will allow her to better compete in the job market.

“I think it makes the environmental studies program a more well-rounded department,” Goff said. 

Moving forward, Burton said the department’s main concern is budget cuts. As a result, certain classes students need may only be offered every other year. 

“Right now nobody knows what’s going to happen,” Popejoy said. “Courses are being cut, staff is being cut; right now our department is very thin. We are down to two full-time people running the whole department and adding new classes, and a new major while we’re doing it. So they need somebody who’s going to teach these classes this semester and we’re going to relying more on the part-time folks.”

Many students were counting on the bachelor of science degree when it first was announced a year ago, but Burton said the department is doing what it can to assist those students who graduated before it was officially offered.

“Many, in fact, were disappointed that it didn’t happen quicker, but the administration is allowing us to work with students who graduated in December to redo their degree to see if they can meet the requirements for the B.S.,” Burton said. “Students who graduated longer ago than that will be disappointed that they cannot get the B.S., but I have agreed to write a letter for them if that would help them.”

Burton said the state hiring boards have become more strenuous, which is what prompted the department to seek the bachelor of science program.

“If they say you need a B.S., then you need a B.S.,” he said.

Sunny Kandola is a senior who is working on his bachelor of arts in environmental studies. He said it does make a difference which degree someone gets.

“It matters in what job you’re going for,” he said. “If you want a B.S., you are doing a lot more daily research.”

Popejoy said this is an important step because of how expansive the new degree is, giving students a boost in the green-jobs market.

“This will be good because it’s beyond just regular science, like biology and chemistry,” Popejoy said. “The folks coming out of this program will have this background in environmental issues, as well as a better understanding of the bigger environmental picture.”