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Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability

Eight colleges now offer coursework in the program, allowing broad collaboration opportunities.

Higher education institutions are increasingly hiring for interdisciplinary research and teaching. In 2011, 30 to 40 percent of all requests for proposals from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health explicitly required an interdisciplinary approach. By 2015, more than 4,000 active projects at the National Institutes of Health included interdisciplinary components. What’s driving this phenomenon? Many of today’s pressing issues, such as climate change, live at the interstices of discipline, necessitating a new academic professional with both depth and breadth of knowledge.

img_0199-copyIt can be daunting for graduate students to do this kind of “crack climbing” between disciplines. Graduate students don’t take part in the committees, mixers and councils that enable faculty to build interdisciplinary research relationships. They spend much of their time in their home departments, honing the expertise essential for career advancement. So what’s a graduate student to do and how is an academic advisor to steer graduate students into interdisciplinary collaborations that will prepare them for an increasingly competitive job market?

The University of Utah’s Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability, a 16-credit program that pairs disciplinary expertise with opportunities to collaborate on innovative projects with students from across campus, is a powerful way to build this element of your university experience. Applications for the spring semester are due by Oct. 30.

This is the second year for the growing certificate program, which now boasts students and coursework from eight colleges: architecture and planning; health, mines and earth sciences; fine arts; science; law; humanities; social and behavioral science; engineering and is actively recruiting for even more diversity.

“Having interaction with the scholars of other departments has been a precious benefit for me,” said Roohallah Khatami, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering and certificate student. “Since I am working on electricity markets, my research topic is by nature an interdisciplinary subject. The certificate creates an opportunity for me to learn more about the environmental and legislation challenges related to my research topic.”

For Khatami, the certificate connects him to a broader community while supporting his disciplinary research.

Carlos Alarco, instructional designer at Teaching and Learning Technologies in the Marriott Library and a non-matriculating student, joined the certificate program to gain credentials and experience in “the critical issue of the day—sustainability.”

The coursework that helps an instructional designer like Alarco approach sustainability is different than that needed by an engineer like Khatami. The certificate is built for that; each program of study is individualized within the three focus areas of earth and ecological systems, economics/policy and social justice. All certificate students still meet together for two core courses (four credits total) offered by the Global Change and Sustainability Center.

Alarco finds the flexibility of the self-designed program particularly appealing. “You can choose courses that cover material that is relevant to your area of study or choose to learn something new,” he said.

“The certificate bridges an important gap in graduate education, providing an opportunity for students to bring their disciplinary understandings to bear on complex interdisciplinary challenges,” said Adrienne Cachelin, director of sustainability education. “Students have the opportunity to work collaboratively on real issues on our campus and in our communities.”

Become part of this unique program; apply by Oct. 30, 2016.

Liz Ivkovich is finishing up her interdisciplinary graduate certificate in sustainability and has been involved in projects ranging from choreography to community-organizing to qualitative research collection with colleagues from across campus. She works full time in the Sustainability Office.