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The Environmental & Sustainability Studies program turns 25

The Environmental & Sustainability Studies (ENVST) program turns 25 this year. Founded in 1998, the program has become a model of interdisciplinary undergraduate education focusing on the intersection of environmental science, justice and sustainability. Under the guidance of Dean Donna Gelfand, Daniel McCool, was tasked with researching the creation of an Environmental Studies Program. There were very few fully independent environmental studies programs in the U.S. at the time that the University of Utah’s Environmental and Sustainability Studies program was developed.

McCool went on to become the director of the ENVST program. He reflected on his time in the program, “The aspect of the ENVST Program that I love the most is the students. It would be easy to become a cynic about the state of the environment, but the idealism, commitment and capabilities of the students always convinced me that the world will be in very good hands as these young students graduate and acquire positions of influence and authority. The students made it easy for me to remain an optimist, and I am confident that, working together, we can solve our environmental challenges and create a sustainable, livable environment for all peoples.”

Christian Reisinger, Class of 2022, is now an incentives manager working with the Utah Office of Energy Development.

Students majoring in ENVST continue to work on a wide variety of interdisciplinary topics related to the environment and sustainability with a focus on community. ENVST students are highlighting the importance of conservation, sustainability and resiliency in the face of today’s growing environmental concerns.

Some students are focused on air quality in Salt Lake City, more specifically western Salt Lake City. Students working as part of the DIY Air Purifiers project constructed Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes (a DIY air purifier) and held community events at the Glendale Library and Glendale Middle School to teach community members and students how to construct their own Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes while also providing them the supplies to do so.

Within the ENVST degree, a capstone course is required before graduation to bring students, community partners and environmental solutions together. Some examples of these solution-focused projects include the following:

  • As part of the “Air, Water, and Health” capstone, students created fifth-grade lesson plans around Botany Bins in order to teach about how green infrastructure can lessen the effects of flood risks in various landscapes.
  • Students engaging in the “Land Management, Conservation, and Sense of Place” capstone are continuing the work of previous students with their work with Tree Utah who work to improve Utahn’s quality of life through tree planting, stewardship, and education. Students in the 2022 capstone planted and tagged a variety of trees while recording the conditions of previous trees planted through this program to track the success of the planting.
  • To learn about many, many other student projects please visit ENVST’s Student Projects page.

Madeline Sueltz, Class of 2022, is now a conservation coordinator at Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District.

Students who graduate with an Environmental and Sustainability Studies degree are going on to work in impactful ways.

Christian Reisinger, Class of 2022, for example, is now an incentives manager working with the Utah Office of Energy Development where he receives, reviews and administers tax credits through various tax credit programs related to energy.

Madeline Sueltz, Class of 2022, is another recent alumni of the ENVST program. She is a conservation coordinator at Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District where she educates home and business owners on sustainable water management by designing landscape plans, identifying plant species, completing landscape audits and much more.

Alex Veilleux, Class of 2017, has gone on to be a policy associate at HEAL Utah where he acts as an environmental lobbyist and policy analyst. He is working every day to encourage sound environmental legislation to be passed in Utah.

Elise Elroy, Class of 2004, is now a board member of the Leakey Foundation in California.

Elise Elroy, Class of 2004, is now a board member of the Leakey Foundation in California and is working on renewable energy integration within her state.

Click here to see what other ENVST alumni are doing.

Over the past 25 years, the program has grown from two core faculty and around 75 majors to 12 core faculty and nearly 500 majors. And this growth continues. As we look back to celebrate our first 25 years, we also look forward to the next quarter century with excitement and optimism for what our future students and alumni will do to make the world a better place.

Please visit the Environmental and Sustainability Studies 25th Anniversary site for updates on celebratory events, read through alumni and current students’ experiences with the ENVST program and share your own.