Dalhousie sustainability program growing in popularity

Enrolment numbers high in program's second year as an optional major

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Steven Mannell, director of the College of Sustainabiltiy, specializes in architecture. The sustainability program is taught by a wide spectrum of experts who can relate sustainability to their fields. (Photo: Michelle Hampson)

The Environment, Sustainability and Society program was the sixth most popular of 26 majors offered by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Dalhousie University for full-time students in 2009.

The official number of full-time students majoring in the program that year was 131 - only 42 students fewer than history, and 43 fewer than political science.

The program continues to draw in high numbers, with 332 students enrolled in the first-year course this fall.

The official number of students majoring in sustainability will be available Dec. 1.

One reason the sustainability program is so popular is because it's a double major - students don't have to choose between sustainability and another major.

Students were a huge factor in initiating the program. Discussion about a sustainability program has been happening since 2005, but it wasn't until October 2007 that Dalhousie put together an investigative committee to examine the possibilities more fully.

Enlarge Timeline
Dalhousie Univeristy launched the Environent, Sustainability and Society program in 2009. The program is the first of its kind in Canada. This timeline describes its growth. (Credit: Michelle Hampson)

"We were either smart or lucky enough to get some students involved early on in our committee," said Steven Mannell, director of the College of Sustainability.

"The students were very keen on doing it as something right from the first year of university, that anybody could do, that you could do because you're interested in it. So that led to the double major idea.

"The students really were the ones who put our feet to the fire and made us push to get things in for approval early."

While most programs take about five years to get started, the sustainability program took two. This fall is the program's second year running. There are 332 students in the first-year course and 120 second-year students.

First-year student Emily Gray says she decided to major in sustainability because it's an up-and-coming field and there's a lot of interest in it. Gray said the course is sometimes disorganized because it's so new, but she expects it to continue getting better. She recommends the class to other students.

"I'm really getting a lot out of it."

Mannell said, "We've had students who are willing to be open minded, who come into it saying (they) don't know what it is but (they're) ready to go along on the journey to figure out what this is about."

He said another issue is that enrolment numbers are almost double what Dalhousie expected. "We've done a lot of scrambling to catch up with the numbers."

Both arts and science students can major in sustainability. Mannell estimates that two thirds of first-years are arts students and about a third are science students.

While putting the program together, Dalhousie found that people from a range of faculties at the university had something to contribute.

All professors teaching in the program were already teaching in another faculty at Dalhousie.

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