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Earth Day 2011: Green Jobs Steadily Growing

Publication Date: 4/21/2011

Last summer, Justin Deere ’12 spent many days visiting local Memphis restaurants to make sure that they were keeping up with the sustainable practices they had agreed to adhere to, including maintaining recycling and composting, and using eco-friendly paper and cleaning products. Deere completed around 30 of these friendly audits as part of his summer service fellowship with Project Green Fork, a non-profit that certifies locally owned restaurants as being environmentally sustainable. Deere says that the internship gave him a good look into how a small organization can have a big impact on a city.

“After my experience with Project Green Fork, I became enthusiastic about the opportunity to go into the (environmental) field,” says Deere. “Being environmentally-friendly is a mindset that is increasing at an exponential rate. That job has been really great because people are so happy and willing to get on board with these practices.”

Working for a non-profit like Green Fork is just one of many options in the growing field of environmental careers. Dr. Jeffrey Jackson, director of Rhodes′ Environmental Studies and Sciences Program, says because of the increasing desire to “go green,” companies and businesses are continually looking to hire more and more people with environmental backgrounds.

“It seems to me that the demand for these sorts of jobs is only going to grow because I think (environmentalism) is just part of our changing consciousness, and more people are starting to care about these issues.”

Jackson says that green jobs are not just limited to certain geographic areas. “In a city, for example, there are specific urban questions to be answered about brownfields and soil contamination,” explains Jackson. “In rural areas, they face a different set of environmental questions about water usage and land management. There is a wide range of possible job opportunities for people who want to focus on the environment.”

This semester, two new majors in environmental studies and environmental sciences were added to the curriculum at Rhodes. Jackson says that both majors were designed with environmental careers in mind. In particular, students in both majors are required to take a course in geographic information systems, GIS, which teaches a specific skill set involving mapping of data which Jackson says is necessary for most environmental jobs.

To graduate with either major, a student must fulfill an experiential learning requirement that involves participating in an environmentally-oriented experience. Some options for the requirement include internships, Summer Service Fellowships, study abroad experiences or research opportunities. “Hands-on experiences are especially important for environmental jobs because they are, in many ways, hands-on jobs,” says Jackson. “Many of them involve being out in the environment doing things like measuring and testing, or guiding people through the natural world.”  

To research internship possibilities, students can consult the Career Services list of academic internships, which includes specially marked environmentally-oriented internships around Memphis. This summer, five of the 17 Rhodes Summer Service Fellows will be completing environmentally-focused fellowships, including one with Grow Memphis and two with Shelby Farms Park Conservancy.

Career Services Director Sandi George Tracy, who helps organize the fellowship program, says that this number is a testament to the growing popularity of working in the environmental field. “In the past, we may have had one or two students in these positions,” says Tracy. “The growth has been really big in this area.”

Although many of the fellows will be focusing on urban and sustainable farming, possibilities in the field will continue to reach far beyond just a few areas of expertise. Dr. Tait Keller, who teaches a variety of courses that focus on environmental history, predicts that in the future, sustainable energy consumption will be at the forefront of many environmental careers. “I think as technology starts catching up to the imaginations (society) has had about developing alternative energy and making things more efficient, dealing with these energy issues is where the need is going to be.”

(information compiled by Rhodes Student Associate Lucy Kellison ’13)

Tags: Campus Life, Faculty, Students

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