Skip navigation

USM’s New Sustainability Sciences and Studies Programs Ends First Semester

Wed, 06/28/2023 - 04:17pm | By: Gabriela Shinskie

The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) School of Coastal Resilience at its Gulf Park Campus concluded its first year since the addition of two new majors, Sustainability Sciences (Coastal System Dynamics) and Sustainability Studies.

The first semester started in Spring 2023 with hands-on classrooms that introduced students to sustainability efforts along the coast as well as ecosystems of fresh and saltwater environments.

Dr. Westley Follett, Interim Director of the School of Coastal Resilience said he’s excited for both programs because of their uniqueness to Mississippi.

“We feel these programs speak to the needs and concerns of people living on the coast and will lead to real jobs on the coast,” said Follett. “Sustainability is part of what makes our Long Beach campus distinctive”.

Dr. Christopher Foley, undergraduate coordinator for Sustainability Studies and a founding member of the School of Coastal Resilience, said the Bachelor of Arts degree program in Sustainability Studies is grounded in humanistic and communication-orientated approaches to sustainability.

He said students in the inaugural program had the opportunity to meet and hear sustainability practitioners in the region who were able to tell them about the challenges, the opportunities, and the joys of working on local sustainability issues.

“We are offering students a community-engaged curriculum,” said Dr. Foley. “Many of our students come from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and care about the vitality and longevity of the place they call home. They are very invested in thinking about sustainability and environmental consequences in regional contexts.”

With a curriculum focused on the Gulf Coast’s historical challenges related to sustainable development as well as potential future impacts on the region, Dr. Foley said the degree program can lead to careers in the green jobs sector, which he hopes to see grow along the Gulf Coast.

“Our students spend their undergraduate years analyzing the real-world sustainability concerns confronting our region and developing creative solutions to these challenges,” Dr. Foley continued. “Our community-engaged curriculum will help students develop their preprofessional skills and make them more attractive to employers upon graduation.”

Dr. David Holt, undergraduate coordinator for Sustainability Sciences (Coastal System Dynamics) was thrilled about the first set of students to pursue this major, particularly using the Gulf of Mexico as a classroom. Sustainability Sciences (Coastal System Dynamics) is an undergraduate program bringing together ecology, geography, math, and statistics foundation along with an applied field approach. The program focuses on resilience and sustainability of coastal areas.  

“One of the benefits of using the proximity of the Gulf Coast in our classroom setting is we teach courses for field methods and test the beach and the Bear Creek Bayou,” said Dr. Holt “We are using the coast as our laboratory. We have excellent research areas out there.”

During the first semester, Dr. Holt could be seen wearing his Outback bush hat while researching the freshwater environments in Bear Point Bayou along with his students, where they tested water quality and examined the turtle population, among other physical aspects of the area. The saltwater component focused on oyster growth through aquaculture.

“We designed these programs with job opportunities in mind,” said Follett. “Employers are looking for students who have hands-on experiences. We believe outside-the-classroom learning will improve the job prospects for our graduates.”

Dr. Holt said many jobs can be acquired with a B.S. in Sustainability Sciences, including areas where one understands field and lab sciences and can gather data and control the data. Many of his students sought internships through the City of Gulfport, Stennis Space Center, and research facilities in Ocean Springs.

USM’s School of Coastal Resilience formed in July 2021, and offers a variety of other programs that include International Development and Media and Entertainment Arts.

To learn more about the Sustainability Studies and Sustainability Sciences (Coastal System Dynamics) degree programs in the School of Coastal Resilience, visit the programs website.