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UH's global environmental science major headed for permanent status

University of Hawaiʻi
Posted: Feb 22, 2001

Barely three years into a four-year provisional period, the Universityof Hawai'i at Manoa's new undergraduate degree in environmental scienceis proving to be popular with students, faculty and donors. The School ofOcean Science and Technology (SOEST) program, which admitted its first studentsin fall 1998, leads to a bachelor of science in global environmental scienceand prepares students for graduate studies or careers in environmental sciences.

Enrollment has doubled in two years, notes program coordinator Fred Mackenzie,a professor of oceanography at UH Manoa. "This program has really strucka chord for students who are looking for an undergraduate program in scientificand public policy issues related to the oceans and earth," he says."It responds to student demand for training that allows them to applyscientific methodology to practical problems and issues dealing with theenvironment."

Global environmental science majors have three optional tracks. The marinescience track draws heavily on the chemical, physical, geological and biologicalexpertise of UHM oceanography faculty and focuses on environmental problemsrelated to the ocean. The policy/economics track enables students to concentrateon environmental economics, policy and law as background for the workplace.The climate track examines the interaction between climate and environment,human impacts on climate and causes of climatic change. Students can alsotailor their curriculum to meet their particular needs or goals. All studentswork with a faculty mentor to complete a field-, laboratory- or theoreticallybased research project in their senior year. The goal is to produce a papereligible for publication in a research journal, says Mackenzie. One student'swork has already been published. Thesis work by another student resultedin a $265,000 City and County Department of Public Works grant for adviserand associate geochemist Eric DeCarlo to study the feasibility of usingstorm drain filters to reduce non-point pollution in Hawai'i waters. Otherstudent projects include a study of PCBs and nutrient flows in the He'eiaAhupua'a and seasonal changes in water chemistry in O'ahu's Ordy Pond.

"Graduates of this program are marketable and flexible," commentsEdward Laws, chair of the Department of Oceanography. Opportunities forGES graduates versed in scientific methodology and social contexts includegovernment labs, environmental groups and industry. "Moreover, thisprogram complies with National Science Foundation goals to get researchersmore involved in undergraduate teaching, and it addresses the recently publicizedneed to encourage more students to

In addition, the program follows the trend in ocean and earth sciencesof increasingly applying an interdisciplinary approach to solving researchquestions and environmental problems, observes SOEST Dean Barry Raleigh.The premise and the program's success are convincing-federal NOAA Sea Grantfunds have been provided for student scholarships and fellowships, and atleast one peer institution is planning to add a similar program.

Manoa officials hope to take the program to the Board of Regents thisspring to request permanent status for the degree. They don't have to convincethe students who are participating in the program as to its value. Someof the comments:

Kamalana Kobayashi, who switched to GES after discovering engineeringwasn't for him, calls the program "a well rounded, quantitative, scientificdegree with many options" that prepares students for many scientificfields. Preserving Hawai'i's environment requires understanding of ecosystemprocesses, he says.

Michael Dichner hopes to work at a firm that conducts environmentallyrelated remote sensing, mathematical modeling or laboratory and field research.He commends the rigorous math and chemistry training that "outlinesthe 'language' of all earth sciences." He adds: "The faculty andadvisers are all very knowledgeable and helpful."

Renee L Thompson finds that "my classes are challenging,relevant and current. I am thinking of going on to obtain my secondary educationteaching certificate and teaching more young people about earth system science.I am also very interested in ocean/coastal policy." She works for theUH Environmental Center reviewing draft environmental assessments and impactstatements.

Joji Uchikawa was a zoology major who changed his major when hebecame interested in the ocean as a whole. "What I really like aboutthis program is the close relationship between students and professors."The personal attention "is especially valuable for international studentslike me. Also, the program allows student to have wide variety of electives-biology,geology, geography, meteorology, soil chemistry, oceanography, and lotsmore. This wide variety of classes simply allows us to go into specifictracks, or to look at different field of study and widen our perspective.I believe that GES is the only undergraduate major where you can learn aboutthis planet earth as one whole system without boundaries of subjects."Uchikawa's work to determine the limiting nutrient in Ewa's Ordy Pond onO'ahu relates to faculty research on how the sediment record relates toclimate and human activity. An avid surfer, he hopes to put his knowledgeof environmental science to work in coastal water quality or coastal managementwork.

Ali Warren ( to school last semester after a seven-year break and chanced uponan oceanography course taught by Fred Mackenzie and Associate GeophysicistJane Tribble. "Not only was this the perfect course to begin studyingenvironmental sciences, but the enthusiasm and caring from both instructorswere enough to lure me to the GES information session" and into theprogram. "I have never before, in my studies, felt that I was committingmyself to a discipline where I would be working and living from the heart.The students make up a small, close knit and caring group, and the facultybring a vast background of the most current knowledge to their classes andstudents. The requirements of the program are extremely rigorous in orderto prepare us for any career we choose. I have yet to narrow the focus ofmy major, but I know that when I do, I'll be well-prepared and well-supportedfor anything I choose."


Bachelor of Science Program, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology,UH Manoa

Coordinator: Fred Mackenzie, 808 956-6344,


Enrollment stands at nearly 50 students; growth has been markedand steady. A little more than a third of students come from out of state;the rest already attended Manoa or transferred from another UH campus.

Faculty includes more than 45 SOEST faculty members and about10 from other fields, including economics, law, geography, philosophy, environmentalhealth and urban planning. Most faculty members welcome GES students intoclasses they already offer, but some also teach foundational courses andvolunteer to serve as mentors and curriculum advisers. A few have even drawnon their GES relationships to develop new courses. For example, Professorof Philosophy Mary Tiles (956-8250, Professor of Oceanography Peter Muller (956-8081, teach a course "Modeling Natural Systems."

Facilities for GES students include a Marine Science Buildingworkroom with a library and GIS-equipped computer work stations where studentscan meet and study. For their thesis projects, students use a variety ofUHM research facilities including the Edwin W. Pauley Marine Laboratoryon Coconut Island.

Cost of the program is supported entirely by grants and privatefunds. Major financial support comes from the Edwin W. Pauley Foundation;additional scholarship support is provided by the NOAA Sea Grant program,Chevron and the Bernice C. Loui Foundation.

Success stories include the first two graduates of the program,who earned their BS in global environmental science in May 2000. Leon Geschwind,whose thesis work involved the non-point source pollution from street runoff,is pursuing a UH graduate degree. Rebecca Lane, whose paper on a marinediatom was published in the prestigious journal Science, is workingfor an environmental firm on the mainland. Five more students are expectto graduate in 2001. They are:

o Michael Dichner (,Los Angeles, one of the first student to enter the program, worked on aproject dealing with nutrient discharges to costal waters of O'ahu and ispursuing an internship. He works with Associate Geochemist Jane Tribble,of oceanography (956-6827,

o Kamalana Kobayashi (,Honolulu, plans to pursue graduate studies in the UH Ma noa Department ofGeology and Geophysics. His thesis, which deals with nutrient biogeochemistryand PCBs in the He'eia Ahupua'a, is supervised by Professor Fred Mackenzie,Department of Oceanography.

o Jamie Tanimoto (,Hilo, a 4.0 student, is studying stable isotope techniques with ProfessorBrian Popp, Department of Geology and Geophysics (956-6206,

o Renee Thompson (,956-3976), Honolulu, is writing a report that will recommend changes toHawai'i's Coastal Zone Management plan with Professor Chip Fletcher, Departmentof Geology and Geophysics (956-2582,

o Joji Uchikawa (,Shizuoka, Japan, is studying the chemistry, biology and sediments of O'ahu'sOrdy Pond. He is also supervised by Jane Tribble.

Developments in the works include an immersion semester in whichstudents are shuttled to Coconut Island for all course work, activitiesto involve high school students in GES programs and a lower-division 16-weekSCUBA diving course to prepare students for the university's rigorous upperdivision course leading to a certificate in scientific diving.