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Earth Science And Policy: Meet One Of Penn State’s Smallest Majors

Penn State was founded in 1855, and many of its majors have been in the curriculum for almost as long. In an ever-changing world, sometimes these older majors become outdated and cannot prepare students to deal with these new problems. To better address these new issues, the university often creates a new major for Penn State’s curriculum.

In this week’s edition of “Meet One Of Penn State’s Smallest Majors,” we talked to the Earth Science and Policy major from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. With only about 25 students enrolled, it is one of Penn State’s smallest majors.

Dr. Peter Heaney, Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs in Geosciences, explained the goal of the Earth Science and Policy major is “hoping that [their students] change the world.” The major was formed only two years ago, but the department is hopeful it will continue to grow in the future.

Over the past few decades, multiple environmental and global problems have made themselves clear to the world. Dr. Heaney said some of the most pressing of these problems are “global climate change, coastal erosion, water and food shortages, and overpopulation.” He went on to explain how majoring in Earth Science and Policy prepares students to face these problems. “Our students take science and math courses as well as public policy, economics, and even philosophy. We want to train a cohort of people to interpret and translate these problems to governmental policies to help fix them,” Dr. Heaney said.

With a curriculum emphasizing everything from the sciences to philosophy, graduates from this major are more prepared to tackle these problems than students from science-specific or policy-specific majors. Speaking of graduation, a degree in Earth Science and Policy allows its students to secure jobs in a number of fields. “We want our students to go into an agency of government which focuses on the science and the policy aspects of these issues,” Dr. Heaney said. “They can be representatives to Congress who understand these issues on more than just a policy level.”

But a career in the government isn’t the only path available to Earth Science and Policy majors. Dr. Heaney also explained that there are non-governmental organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in which students could also pursue a career. Conservation societies present even another possible path for future graduates.

Dr. Heaney makes a strong case arguing for a major in Earth Science and Policy, and it’s easy to see why given the problems the world is facing today. Understanding both the scientific and policy issues provides students with a huge advantage over other graduates. This is where Earth Science and Policy separates itself from the rest. Not only do students learn the science behind the problems, they learn how to institute public policy to fix the issues.

As it usually goes with smaller majors, the students gain a personal relationship with fellow classmates and professors, providing an immense advantage to them if they ever need help with studying or career development. With only about 25 current students and an optimistic outlook for the future, Earth Science and Policy is one of Penn State’s smallest and most rewarding majors.

About the Author

Matt Coleman

Matt Coleman is a writer for Onward State. His hometown is North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, a little under an hour from Pittsburgh. He is a sophomore majoring in Natural Resource Engineering in Biological Engineering. Please e-mail questions and comments to [email protected] Also, follow him on Twitter @cole_man2.



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