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TODAY news for Thursday, April 28, 2008

School of Science & Technology news

Earth and biological sciences offer many career options

Loma Linda University geology students examine fossils in a Wyoming rock formation.
Loma Linda University geology students examine fossils in a Wyoming rock formation.
Everyone knows Loma Linda University is a place to study medicine or dentistry, and of course it is an excellent choice in those fields.

What is not so commonly known is that students whose career preferences are not directly in health fields can also find fulfilling opportunities for study at LLU in biology, geology, and environmental science. These programs are centered in the department of earth and biological sciences. The degrees offer flexibility in career options and opportunity for rewarding service to mankind.

There is more widespread concern about our environment now than at any time in the past. The reality of global warming has our attention, and it raises concerns for the future. Global warming is, of course, only one dimension of a complex problem created by overpopulation and related human activities. We can see evidence for global warming, but is the human race willing to make changes in lifestyle to reduce the problem? The earth’s available fresh water supply is dwindling, but what can we do about it? Thousands starve to death regularly, but what can we, individually, do? An alarming number of plant and animal species face likely extinction.

A new undergraduate program in environmental sciences (ENVS) at Loma Linda prepares students to realistically address concerns like these. After students complete the required prerequisite science courses, the major course sequence begins with two quarters of earth system science. This interdisciplinary course sequ
Environmental sciences students from Loma Linda University participate in marine biology research.
Environmental sciences students from Loma Linda University participate in marine biology research.
ence introduces the biological systems, climatology, the water system, geological systems, and others, and how they interact to make Earth a functional habitat for life. Students learn how to utilize information on these systems in order to determine how we can change our use of resources in a particular region.

The goal is sustainable use of resources. Too often local cultures use their biological and agricultural resources in ways that will deplete those resources and leave the human population without means of survival, and threaten populations of other species as well.

Informed conservationists seek to protect natural resources and redirect their use in ways that can be sustained over the long term. There are many factors that affect the attaining of this goal. Students in the ENVS program learn about the scientific issues, legal policies, and human interaction.

Developing great new conservation ideas is of little value unless we can make those ideas appealing to government leaders, so it is important for students to learn sociology and political science as well as the hard science behind conservation.

Christian education has not often emphasized the need for careful stewardship of the environment that God gave us. LLU is working to change this and make such education a desirable option. At LLU, the School of Public Health also has an undergraduate program in environmental health, and its program and the above described ENVS program support and strengthen each other.

A strong feature of the ENVS bachelor’s program is the flexibility it offers students for career paths after graduation. If their plans include graduate or professional education, students are prepared for any of several options. They can pursue graduate education in biology, geology, conservation, meteorology, geographic information systems (GIS), or related fields.

There is also great value in environmentally savvy medical professionals who understand the influence of environmental conditions on human health, and can use this knowledge to enhance their service to humanity wherever they practice. This is a very practical option, since the science and math cognate requirements for the ENVS program are the same as the requirements for entering medicine or dentistry, as long as students take the recommended year of organic chemistry.

There are teaching positions available in colleges and universities, and a degree in environmental sciences is good preparation for high school science teaching. Other students may not plan to continue their education past the bachelor’s degree. There are jobs available for them also.

Employment for environmental scientists is expected to grow 25 percent during the next 10 years, faster than the average for all occupations, says the United States Department of Labor. This growth will result from a continued need from the government, private, and public sectors to monitor environmental quality, to interpret the impact of human actions on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and to develop restoration strategies for ecosystems. In addition, environmental scientists will also be employed by planners to help develop and construct environmentally friendly buildings, transportation corridors, and utilities that protect water resources and reflect efficient and beneficial land use.

Salaries vary depending on years of experience, specialization, and industry type. In 2006, the beginning average salary for environmental scientists with a bachelor’s degree was about $40,000 per year. Salaries for all environmental scientists ranged from $34,000 to $95,000.

Loma Linda University also offers both graduate and undergraduate degrees in geology, and it is the only college or university within the Seventh-day Adventist system of higher education to do so. Geology is the study of rocks and fossils and the processes that produced them. Most young people are not as familiar with geology as with biology, chemistry, and physics, since they usually don’t have to take geology in secondary school.

But geology is a fascinating field, and it especially appeals to outdoor-oriented persons. At LLU, geology students learn both the science of geology and how the data can be understood in a Biblically based view of earth history.

For a Christian, the choice of where to study geology is more important than in many fields, because of the strong hold of naturalistic science in geology (no creation or other supernatural concepts are allowed to influence scientific interpretations).

Because of this, study of geology is especially hard on Christian students if they study in a secular school, or even in some Christian colleges. Loma Linda is almost the only university that encourages geology students to maintain their faith in Scripture and its account of origins.

Geology BS graduates have several options open to them. There are entry-level jobs available to them, including high-paying work in the petroleum industry. There are also jobs in paleontological monitoring or environmental geology. Continuing with graduate school prepares them for more academically oriented work. A degree in geology is good preparation for secondary school science teaching. There is also a need for geology faculty in Christian colleges and universities.

The required science and math cognates, as in the ENVS program, are the same as for the environmental sciences program. This means that a student who wishes to be a health professional, but also enjoys geology, doesn’t have to choose between them! Geology is a very adequate pre-health professional program. In fact, it is being increasingly recognized that the geology of a geographic area, and how humans use geological resources, affects the health of it occupants. The Geological Society of America recently organized a Division of Geology and Health, and Kevin Nick, PhD, LLU geology faculty member, is one of the founding officers of this division.

Geology salaries are excellent.  A survey by a national geology society indicates that current salaries for geologists with less than two years experience average close to $90,000 per year. There are many job openings with environmental geology and petroleum geology firms. When we go to geology meetings, they actively seek to recruit our students.

The earth and biological sciences faculty are all actively involved in research and publishing in professional research journals, and are well known in their fields of expertise. In this productive research environment, graduate students also are successful in their research, and many students publish research papers by the time they finish their graduate degrees.  There are research opportunities for undergraduate students as well, including summer research programs involving students from many different colleges and universities. The department website gives more details at <www.llu.edu/ llu/grad/natsci/>.

Both the geology and the environmental sciences BS programs at Loma Linda offer a schedule of scholarships to ease the financial pain of education. These scholarships are higher than usual for the next few years, to assist the establishment of these programs. That means now is a great opportunity for students who enter either of the two BS programs.

For both programs, the students spend the first two years at any college or university or community college, taking general studies courses and science and math cognates, including biology, chemistry, and physics. Then the last two years are spent at Loma Linda University, where the major classes are taken. 

Loma Linda University’s mission is to “further the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus Christ ‘to make man whole.’” There are many ways to contribute to this global mission, including the study of geology or environmental sciences.         

By Leondard Brand, PhD

TODAY news for Thursday, April 28, 2008