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Top Engineering Schools Embrace New Environmental Consciousness

June 13, 1992

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) _ Engineering and environmentalism don’t necessarily cancel each other out, say officials at engineering schools that have added ″green″ studies to their programs.

The growing environmental consciousness that helped bring about the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro has led engineering schools to offer courses in ways to preserve the Earth while tapping its resources.

Some schools have more students to show for it, and students with environmental expertise have a better chance at jobs because of stricter federal environmental controls, a consultant said.

″We, being the universities, cannot crank out enough qualified people to meet that demand right now,″ said Allen Medine, principal environmental engineer for the Boulder consulting firm James P. Walsh and Associates.

The Colorado School of Mines now requires undergraduates to take a course in environmental studies, which exposes them to environmental statutes, monitoring theory, reclamation and pollution control strategies, and hazardous waste disposal.

Its master’s program in environmental engineering is the fastest-growing discipline on campus, exploding from just a few students 10 years ago to 160 today, said Frank Schowengerdt, vice president for academic affairs at the school, known as Mines.

″We are educating students to be good stewards of the Earth,″ Schowengerdt said.

″I’m pro-mining. I have hard-core training in mining,″ said Judy Bolis, who recently received her master’s degree in environmental engineering from Mines. ″But I believe you can do mining and drill for oil in a safe way.″

Applications are up at Mines, one of the world’s premier engineering schools, thanks in part to the emphasis on environmental studies, said school spokeswoman Gail Fallen.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., which has added environmental and social issues to its engineering curriculum, has had similar results. Enrollment in its environmental engineering program is growing, said E. Bruce Watson, chairman of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

″These aren’t good times for the institute. We’re in a period of financial difficulty, and we’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching about the institute’s priorities ... and how it is going to convince parents and students it’s worth coming here.″ Watson said.

Despite its greener focus, Mines has no intention of abandoning what the school has built its name on, Schowengerdt said.

″You cannot ignore the problems of the environment. At the same time, we can’t stop producing those things,″ Schowengerdt said. ″Look at what drives the standard of living all over the world. It is energy, minerals and materials. You’ve got to be able to supply the basic raw minerals.″

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