Innovative Environmental Science PSM Acknowledges Real World Complexities, Seeks Sustainable Solutions

Wednesday, February 2 2011

By Donna Emert

MOSCOW, Idaho – In his recent State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama noted that one government agency deals with salmon when it inhabits fresh water, while another agency oversees them in salt water. He quipped that “things really get complicated” once the salmon is smoked.

Institutions of higher education also are beginning to recognize and address the complexities of interaction between government agencies, industry, nonprofits and citizenry, all of whom are stakeholders in environmental health and natural resource issues.

To empower its graduates to succeed in that world, last summer the University of Idaho introduced an innovative, interdisciplinary Professional Science Master’s (PSM) in natural resources and environmental science. It is one of only a few of its kind in the nation.

The PSM challenges students to synthesize diverse perspectives and integrate knowledge from several academic colleges. The goal is to foster greater understanding of the scientific, political and economic impacts of environmental issues, and how those forces interact to shape sustainable solutions.

Students in the program recognize the value of an integrated approach.

“I will be able to set myself apart from others in the job market as not being traditionally trained in a narrow discipline, but as being a graduate of a holistic science education, including the study of financial, organizational, communicative and ethical aspects of scientific projects,” said PSM student Alycia Lamar. “I feel the University of Idaho’s PSM program is truly equipping me for the scientific challenges of the 21st Century.”
“We’re training our students to be industry ready,” said Stephen Mulkey, associate professor and director of the University of Idaho Environmental Science program. “One of the distinctive attributes of our program is required participation in an internship experience. The internship serves as an extended job interview, which builds skills and resumes, helps keep academia in touch with the needs of industry, and helps our students and our program build a professional network in the intermountain West.”
The collaborative nature of interdisciplinary programs like the PSM makes them especially relevant when budgets are tight, Mulkey added. The PSM incorporates existing curriculum in science and mathematics, communications and writing, political science and business management.

The PSM approach has been successfully adopted in many colleges and universities for graduate education, particularly in biotechnology. Idaho is one of the first universities in the nation to apply the model to environmental science education. Its architects are already fielding inquiries from other institutions about the program.

The University of Idaho PSM focuses on natural resources, environmental science and water resources. The only similar offering is at Oregon State University, though in many ways, Idaho’s program is unique.

Seven program tracks have been developed to meet the needs of industry, now and in the foreseeable future, with focus on restoration ecology, environmental contamination, sustainability science, water resources management, management of regulated river systems, ecohydrology science and management, and climate change.

Central to each PSM track are 12 credits of Transferable Skills Courses, which include training in financial and organizational management of projects, scientific writing and speaking to the public about scientific issues, as recommended by the National Professional Science Masters Association (PSMA).

All seven tracks of study have been approved by the Council for Graduate Studies and the PSMA. By fall 2011, all transferable skills courses will be available online, and six of the seven tracks also will be available at Idaho’s branch campuses in Coeur d’Alene, Boise and Idaho falls. Four of the tracks will be available nationally or worldwide.

The program currently is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, aimed at creating more effective young professionals.

With environmental issues becoming increasingly complex, the program’s architects foresee increased demand for graduates who can assimilate multiple disciplinary information into a coherent vision.

“Sustainability science is a concept whose time has come,” said Mulkey. “The PSM’s interdisciplinary approach enables our graduates to work collaboratively, to formulate, communicate and apply sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.”

For more information about the PSM, visit or contact Marci Miller in the Environmental Science Program at (208) 885-6113 or
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is classified by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation as high research activity. The student population of 12,000 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For more information, visit