Green career opportunities available in surprising fields

November 10, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- Clean technology is a growing industry. As the world grapples with the energy crisis, jobs in sectors such as wind power, solar, biofuels and biomaterials, conservation and efficiency are in higher demand. But college students don't have to study science or engineering to work in green industries. At Penn State, a wide variety of students are preparing to work in green professions in some surprising areas.

Vivienne Wildes, an assistant professor of hotel, restaurant and institutional management, teaches a course at Penn State called "Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility," which highlights sustainability. She said green jobs are universal.

"If you choose to work in a green environment, you can," she said. "People working in sustainable jobs are working in teams across every discipline."

Wildes used the automotive industry as an example. In addition to finding an alternative energy source for vehicles, the industry needs experts in business, marketing, design, safety and more. She said students in every college at Penn State could have a green job.

Shaver's Creek Environmental Center gives Penn State students the opportunity to earn green credits in recreation, parks and tourism management, education, kinesiology, forestry and leisure studies. Students studying other majors take advantage of the center's green lessons as well, to enhance their specific field. George Vahoviak, program director at Shaver's Creek, said graduate students often find new ways to incorporate environmental issues in fields of study he never thought possible. Students in art education, information sciences and technology and landscape architecture have integrated environmentalism into their research.

In the College of Health and Human Development, Dan Mount teaches a class called "Special Topics in Lodging." The class, Mount said, covers current events in the lodging industry. Green issues and healthy hotel initiatives are significant in the hospitality field today. Students learn about the high demand to provide nutritious menus, incorporate composting in restaurants and integrate green ingenuity throughout hotels: reusing towels, furnishing recycling bins and installing heating/ventilation systems that are more energy efficient and cost less money.

"Students today are enthusiastic about this topic because I think it's a generational issue," Mount said. "They've grown up being environmentally responsible more than I ever was."

In the Smeal College of Business, MBA students like Kyle Goldschmidt are intertwining their studies with environmental initiatives. Goldschmidt and seven of his peers worked with Penn State's Office of Physical Plant (OPP) to track down more environmentally friendly janitorial paper supplies and bathroom tissue on campus. The group began the "Sustainable Procurement Practicum," a one-credit course where the students researched and created a six-part sustainability scorecard comparing the needs of the University with the impact the paper company had on the environment.

"A lot can be done to make businesses more sustainable, and we're looking for those that made the effort," he said. "Buyers can still save money while helping save the environment."

Goldschmidt said the process was complicated; there was a lot to assess. Procurement Services wanted to find the least costly product, there were six environmental factors to be considered, and OPP needed to make sure the new product would not affect jobs.

The MBA students spent a year working on their report, learning about sustainable procurement and raising awareness of environmental issues on campus.

"The MBA program includes a lot of coursework, but it's important to have practical applications to learn from also. When projects like this come up, it's really important to take the opportunity to apply what you're learning in the classroom to current, real-world concerns," Goldschmidt said.

Of course, there are plenty of green fields to study in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Mike Speer, an agriculture and biological engineering graduate student from California, is researching the conversion of biomass as a renewable energy source. He uses grass, ethanol and manure to harvest energy and dreams of the day when people will mine landfills for energy. In the same building, James Garthe, an instructor in agricultural engineering, is working on a way to create fuel nuggets out of non-recyclable waste plastics and burn them without creating toxic emissions.

Outside the classroom, Penn State has a substantial array of clubs and organizations for students to choose from where they can acquire and apply green skills. The Outing Club, the Environmental Society, Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions, Eco Action and the Earth House are just a few environmental organizations students of any major can join. One in particular, STATERs: Students Taking Action to Encourage Recycling, began a container recycling program at Beaver Stadium tailgates that has become a model program at sports stadiums across the nation

  • Rolling over a log in the forest at Shaver's Creek, Jeff Miller, Becky Conner, John Shaw, Nick Spinelli, Matt Shire and instructor Doug Wentzel search for wildlife living on the forest floor.

    IMAGE: Tisha Stefanik
Last Updated November 18, 2010