SOEST environmental science bachelor’s degree is world’s first accredited program

After an exhaustive two-year application and evaluation process, the University of Hawai‘i (UH) at Mānoa’s Bachelor of Science program in Global Environmental Science (GES) recently became the world’s first environmental science program to be awarded accreditation by the Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). 

“Our GES Program combines a rigorous academic curriculum with meaningful, hands-on research experiences to prepare our graduates to address our state’s environmental issues”, said Margaret McManus, chairwoman of the Department of Oceanography, which administers the GES program, in the UH Mānoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST). 

Michael Guidry, the GES program director, stated, “Hawai‘i faces future uncertainty and challenges related to the impacts of climate and environmental change along with pollution and degradation.  Our GES faculty have developed a curriculum that prepares students with the knowledge, training and skills to successfully address Hawaiʻi’s and the world’s environment-related challenges. The strength of the program has been acknowledged by becoming the first accredited environmental science program in the world.”

“As an indicator of the program’s rigor, within a year of their graduation over 90% of GES graduates are either employed or in graduate studies,” noted McManus. Furthermore, McManus stated, “Our graduates are prepared to help the state deal with a myriad of environment-related issues such as invasive species, coastline usage and change, coral reef health, marine and freshwater pollution, environmental planning, public health, and many other areas of need.” 

GES graduates are well-prepared to successfully go on to professional careers in public and private-sectors related to the environmental sciences; professional schools in engineering, law, and medicine; graduate school programs in biology, chemistry, geography, and environmental, oceanographic, geological and atmospheric sciences; and graduate school programs in the social sciences such as urban and regional planning and public health, or in business such as finance. 

Alumni experiences

GES alumni Leon Geschwind, currently employed with NOAA in Hawaiʻi, noted how GES prepared him for the workforce, “The GES program not only provided me with a holistic understanding of the Earth system but also gave me the skills necessary to communicate complex scientific topics to a wide range of audiences. From developing climate change teacher workshops to mentoring the next generation of students, the GES program laid a strong foundation for my future careers impacting the State of Hawaiʻi, first at Bishop Museum and now at NOAA. Twenty years after I graduated from the program, I had the privilege of paying it forward by mentoring a GES student through a NOAA summer internship program.”

Hawaiʻi born and raised GES alumnae Amanda Wong and Kealohi Sabate are now in graduate school at the University of California at Davis. Both applied for, and were awarded, support for their graduate studies from the competitive and prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Wong is exploring the negative effects of soil micro- and nano-plastics on plants and soil microorganisms for her doctoral degree in Ecology while Sabate is completing her Master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

“GES prepared me with a solid, yet diverse, foundation in environmental science research and coursework to investigate growing environmental issues,” said Wong. “I plan on using my training to return to Hawaiʻi to address environmental problems through plants and mentor the next generation of environmental leaders and scientists.” 

“Transfering into GES after community college was definitely a challenge,” said Sabate. “I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but the diversity within the program curriculum really let me explore my interests and pushed me in a way that allowed me to achieve many rigorous opportunities. Though my research in GES does not directly relate to what I do now, the preparation and background I gained has allowed me to pursue a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering at UC Davis researching new impact indicators for plastic life cycle analysis.” 

Guidry, in conclusion, stated, “Achieving ABET accreditation is a significant accomplishment for the program with broader implications for UH Mānoa and the State of Hawaiʻi. It recognizes the program’s quality, places it among the best in the world, and provides students with the training to successfully address our state’s current and future environmental issues.”