This week we find ourselves in the middle of that annual rite of passage, graduation. Our class of 2014 should be proud of their accomplishments, and feel genuine excitement to use their education as a cornerstone for a successful and productive career.

Students applying their classroom skills in the field (photo: UW Archives)
Students applying their classroom skills in the field (photo: UW Archives)

At the College of the Environment, we recognize that the keys to a successful career look substantially different than they did a generation ago. Not only do you have to be deeply conversant in your chosen discipline, you must also command a suite of “soft skills” that are ever more important to potential employers. These skills include the ability to collaborate across areas of expertise, work effectively in teams, and communicate about your work with non-scientists. They include knowing when and how to lead, and when to listen and follow. You must also be ready to assess not only how your own field of expertise is evolving, but also how the world around you influences the success of your work. Our professors are committed to preparing our students to meet these challenges in the workplace, and to excel in their midst.

One of the units in the College where broad career skills are at the forefront of both teaching and research is the Program on the Environment. Students in their Environmental Studies program connect and integrate social science, natural science, the humanities, and more. The classroom is not the only place that students learn; fieldwork spanning our communities, region, and globe, and that engage government, nonprofit, tribal, and industry partners are all a part of the Program’s learning environment. Just take a glance at this spring’s capstone symposium and you can see the breadth of disciplines that our students span as they tackle the issues of e-waste in Seattle, pesticide checkpoints and honeybee declines, the future of climate adaptation in higher education, and more. These students are charged with taking a complicated issue that spans not only scientific disciplines but other fields as well—law, policy, economics, management, communication, art—and collaborating to develop solution pathways. Our students are already leading the way on issues we face now and in the future.

Such educational experiences are common throughout our College. In the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, students interact with policy makers and stakeholders, and learn about natural resource stewardship through the lens of multiple disciplines, uses and perspectives. At our field-based Alaska Salmon Program camps, students learn how critical it is for the salmon to be well-managed for the benefit of the economy and the ecosystem.  At Pack Forest, students learn to sustainably manage forests and ecosystems under the pressures of a changing climate and with varying demands from the marketplace. And in each case, our students consistently exceed expectations, creating innovative ideas and products that both point to solutions today, and lead to even better educational experiences for future classes.

These are but a few examples of how our students’ education in College of the Environment equips them to successfully navigate an increasingly complicated world. These graduates are leading us into the future—not an easy task, but one they are ready and willing to undertake. As we celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating classes I am proud of our commitment to supporting our students, and I am grateful for the lessons our students provide to us as well.


Lisa Graumlich
Dean, College of the Environment
Virginia and Prentice Bloedel Professor