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Dr. Melissa Hinten presents on sustainability during UT's Science Forum

Academic Sustainability at UT

At a recent UT Science Forum, Dr. Melissa Hinten, the academic director of the sustainability program at the University of Tennessee, gave a presentation titled “Solving the World’s Wicked Problems Through Local Sustainability Initiatives.” In Hinten’s words, “…sustainability is the intersection of society, environment, and the economy.”

Sustainability takes into account capacity of our planet, and the point where it can provide for us without harming the natural world. In her viewpoint, a lot of the world’s huge environmental issues can be solved through local sustainability initiatives. Some of these initiatives in Knoxville include the UT Recycling compost facility, which composted 1,300 tons of food waste last year. She also touched on the Pace Bike share program that eliminated an estimated 6 tons of carbon from the atmosphere last year.

Students in GEOG 200 collecting data at the Great Smoky Mountain NP as part of a long-term study at the parkDr. Hinten explained that these programs are a great way to start promoting environmentalism, and educating future leaders is equally as important. The academic sustainability program at UT provides student’s with problem solving skills to tackle these environmental issues from an interdisciplinary perspective.

As the Academic Director of the Sustainability Program, Dr. Hinten was a key player in how the major has grown since its’ start in 2012 as an interdisciplinary major in the College of Arts and Sciences. As enrollment increased year over year, it provided justification for it to become a standalone major in 2017.

The sustainability major is now housed under the Geography Department, as Dr. Hinten told us “there is a lot of overlap in geography and sustainability. We considered putting it under political science, but it made the most sense for geography”.

Sustainability is an extremely broad topic, and the major has seen a wide range of destinations post-grad. “A lot of students tack on a business minor, or we also have a lot of business majors with sustainability minors,” Dr. Hinten said. In today’s day an age nearly every major company has an environmental department where this major prepares you to succeed.

After graduation, most students are employed by non-profits or governmental entities. Other graduates have gone on to graduate school, law school to do policy work post graduation, and one even has a job at a solar energy company in Hawaii.

For more information on the Sustainability Major and minors visit the department website.