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U of T's School of the Environment launches first stand-alone graduate degree

Nicolas Côté, Rashad Brugmann and Nathan Postma in Trinity College's rooftop garden on the St. George campus (photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

Already home to a range of robust undergraduate programs and two interdisciplinary graduate-level collaborative specializations, the University of Toronto’s School of the Environment is launching its first stand-alone graduate degree program: a Master of Environment & Sustainability (MES).

A full-time, 12-month intensive study program, the MES in the Faculty of Arts & Science will give students from a variety of academic backgrounds a broad overview of interactions between humans and their environment at a time when questions about the sustainability of human activity in the world are becoming more urgent by the day.

Finding answers to these questions is a rapidly growing priority for both the scholarly community and the general public.

“Students want a program that is interdisciplinary from the ground up,” says Steve Easterbrook, the director of the School of the Environment and a professor in the department of computer science.

“This program will allow them to start with big societal challenges around climate change, sustainability, biodiversity, and build the skills needed to tackle them, drawing on multiple disciplines as they do.”

Crucially, the MES program will be problem-focused rather than discipline-focused, and will involve active engagement with non-academic community partners.

“The program will emphasize strong teamwork and communication skills to bring together the right set of people to address real-world problems,” says Easterbrook. “We won’t just draw on sources of expertise within the university, but rather we’ll work with communities throughout society, where local knowledge and skills are just as important as academic scholarship.”

Students will be given the opportunity to work closely with partners in the private, public and NGO sectors, preparing them for a variety of careers in the research and practice of environmental protection – or for further studies at the doctoral level.

The MES will offer students a choice of four concentrations:

  • Adaptation and resilience
  • Global change science
  • Social sustainability
  • The sustainability transition

All concentrations will be supported by a broad and diverse network of graduate faculty from all three U of T campuses and a wide range of academic disciplines, as well as a group of core faculty at the school who are cross-appointed to other departments.

“The program will build on our hugely successful ‘Campus as a Living Lab’ concept,” says Easterbrook. “We’ve used the infrastructure of the university itself – its buildings, facilities and services – to test new ideas such as green buildings, sustainable food services, urban gardening, waste-handling and so on. With the MES, we plan to extend this approach to work with groups across the city and beyond.”

The MES will have a set of mandatory core courses, a choice of electives and a research thesis on a topic relevant to a student’s further work in graduate school or professional practice. All admitted students will be offered financial support from Arts & Science funds, endowed scholarships, teaching assistantships within the school and a stipend from the thesis supervisor’s research grants.

Finally, the school is in the process of renovating a suite of offices to create a research hub, “so that each cohort of MES students can come together and develop a sense of community and interact with our faculty, postdocs and students,” says Easterbrook.

“A welcoming and supportive space for students is important, as they will learn from each other as much as they will from our faculty. We look forward to welcoming a diverse group of students who will bring many different skills and interests to the program, and who are passionate about working to address urgent environmental issues.”

Pending final approval by the Quality Council and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, applications for entry to the MES in the 2021-22 academic year will be accepted from late fall 2020.

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