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Urban Environmental Studies

The Urban Environmental Studies Program at BSC

Climate change class at Miller Steam Plant

Our world needs a new generation of leaders and problem-solvers who understand the complex interrelationships between human welfare and environmental sustainability. Today's students are those who must implement the most sweeping strides towards environmental sustainability. With its liberal arts focus and commitment to academic excellence, BSC provides the ideal setting to train socially and environmentally literate leaders. To this end, BSC launched its Urban Environmental Studies major in fall 2008.

Here and throughout the world, social and environmental concerns intersect dramatically in the urban landscape. Given that over half of the earth's people live in cities, and most population growth in the coming decades will be urban, finding sustainable solutions for urban environmental problems will define our progress towards sustainability this century. Thus, urban sustainability is the theme for BSC's environmental studies program.

BSC is well-positioned to offer a distinctive Urban Environmental Studies program. Birmingham is located within the most biologically rich region of the most species diverse state in the eastern United States. Our urban campus is surrounded by a city with a rich culture whose history and future are closely tied to its natural resources. Birmingham has its share of environmental problems, including air quality and sewer regulation, but there are many initiatives underway in Birmingham to improve the "livability" of our city. These include the construction of LEED certified buildings, urban redevelopment projects, an urban farm initiative, and the establishment of one of the largest networks of urban parks in the U.S.

The interdisciplinary UES major involves faculty and courses from the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Several of the courses for the major use the city and its diverse natural landscape as a living laboratory to study environmental problems through research, class projects, and internships. Many UES students participate in our summer-long internship program where students work with local NGOs, agencies, or businesses whose interests are tied to the environment. UES majors finish their degree with a senior capstone research experience during the UES senior seminar. Spring 2012 marked our first full graduating class of UES majors, and we estimate that 20 students will graduate with the degree.

The campus, itself, has become a living and evolving laboratory to study the path to urban sustainability:

The campus is home for the Southern Environmental Center, whose mission is to educate children and tomorrow's leaders about sustainable living. In addition to hosting thousands of students each year, the SEC runs the acclaimed Ecoscape program where forgotten, blighted lands in the urban center are converted to verdant gardens that become a source of pride in local neighborhoods.

On the campus we have the first LEED certified residence halls in Alabama. The dorms have been designed to minimize heating, cooling, and water needs, plus use of VOC and formaldehyde-laden materials. There is even a 50,000 gallon cistern that collects rainwater for landscape irrigation.

We have the beautiful Urban Environmental Park designed with green landscape architectural principles. It includes a water catchment system that filters and cleans stormwater runoff in a 1.5 acre lake, attending rain gardens, and vernal pool.

In partnership with the Southern Environmental Center and others, the College runs the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. The Center runs educational programming in one of the most beautiful natural settings in the region – just 25 minutes from campus.

Other sustainability features on campus include: highly-reflective white roof on the campus library; use of porous pavement in a new parking lot; an 8-acre preserve of mature pine-oak-hickory forest which is used by biology and UES students; the first of Birmingham's Ecoscape Gardens; a newly expanded recycling program; upgrading of various physical plant features that reduce energy and water usage (e.g., variable frequency drives on HVACs); campus police use of hybrid vehicles and mountain bikes; a natural gas-powered maintenance truck; increased use of drought-hardy perennials and native plants in landscaping; and significant reductions in the use of office paper.

BSC was named one of the 286 "Greenest Colleges" by The Princeton Review. According to the review, BSC is one of the nation's 286 "Greenest Colleges." The New York-based education services company, in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council, features the college in its 2010 "Guide to 286 Green Colleges."

In April 2011 the UES program launched the TrekBirmingham website, an educational and recreational resource for greater Birmingham. Trek Birmingham pinpoints and describes destinations in the city where visitors can experience and learn about the city's natural environment. The website offers authoritative information about each destination's ecology, geology, biodiversity and watersheds and links them together to provide new ways to explore.