Jeremy Alford

Coastal degree program among first in southern U.S.

by Jeremy Alford

The state’s flagship university, although largely situated in the Capital City, is expanding its reach in coastal processes, wetland ecology and hurricane research by offering one of the very few available undergraduate degrees nationwide in coastal environmental science. The new curriculum at LSU relies on the collective research and teaching expertise of more than 45 faculty members in marine and environmental sciences. It will be a bachelor of science degree beginning next year.

It’s also a sign that LSU wants to be at the forefront of an expected wave of engineers, researchers, biologists and others who will soon be flocking to Louisiana for wetlands-related work. Some argue that influx of talent has already begun. Just consider that state government is prepared to spend as much as $100 billion in coming decades to implement its master plan for coastal restoration, hurricane protection and flood control. The projects outlined in the master plan are expected to break molds when it comes to science and construction.

Scott Angelle, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, calls the developing trend a “brain-train” into Louisiana, a play off of the so-called "brain-drain" the Bayou State has experienced with the outmigration of well-educated professionals. The state is also increasing its participation in climate and environmental research; fisheries depletions; Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone; and hurricane recovery. Expertise is likewise increasingly needed to study and understand the impact of human activities on coastal community resilience, says Jaye Cable, director of the new program at LSU.

“The goal of the program is to build capacity within Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region for addressing environmental issues, particularly those issues related to the large industrial corridor of the Mississippi River and its deltas, and to global climatic change-related sea level rise effects on coastal areas,” he says.

Cable says there will be a focus on intense exposure to chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics with the hopes of producing well-rounded students capable of high-level quantitative and analytical thought. The new degree in coastal environmental science will be an interdisciplinary, collaborative effort between LSU’s School of Coast and Environment and its two academic departments: the department of oceanography and coastal sciences and the department of environmental sciences.

Rick Shaw, interim dean of LSU’s School of the Coast and Environment, says there’s a dynamic tension between coastal opportunities and looming environmental threats that promises to serve as a stimulating incubator for challenging undergraduate students. “This new curriculum will expose students to the tools necessary for multidisciplinary solutions which consider not only the natural goods and services our coastal ecosystems can provide, but also the environmental sciences, including policy and management, coupling human and natural systems,” Shaw says.

Specific program course offerings will include aquatic pollution, mathematical methods in science, global environmental cycles, and hurricanes and typhoons.

For more information about the coastal environmental science degree program, call Cable at 225-578-9402 or [email protected] information can also be found here.