The perpetual classroom

The most important thing that we can gain from environmental education is to learn how to learn. The lessons don't stop after we've crammed our way through college courses and aced our sheepskins. After we finally emerge from our academic cocoons, that's when the real learning begins.

This issue we focus on the importance of environmental education at all levels. As environmental professionals, we're shaped early in our careers by our college classes. In the article "Education 2K," (p.18), college professors Robin Autenrieth, Domenico Grasso and Michael Switzenbaum point out several new developments in environmental education in U.S. universities. One trend emphasized by our authors is that the new generation of environmental engineers and scientists will receive more cross training since multi-disciplinary teams are becoming an essential requirement in understanding and solving complex environmental problems.

Once we acquire our basic skills in college, we then move into the ranks of the working world. But even here, we environmental professionals still have to study to stay on top of technological innovations and the latest regulatory developments. Professional engineers, attorneys and other certified professionals (certified hazardous materials managers, registered environmental managers, etc.) are required to take a specified number of coursework hours each year in order to keep their licenses. Juggling our regular work duties with the demands of racking up enough continuing education units (CEUs) to keep our licenses can be problematical. Authors R.W.McManus and Kyle S. Swinney in their article "Streaming CEUs," (p.22) discuss how on-line computer based training can help harried professionals squeeze CEUs into their overloaded schedules. They point out that in the future on-line courses will become more interactive and w ill soon include windows where students can see their instructors and carry on question and answer sessions in real time.

In today's world of rapidly developing technology and exploding population, we're in a race between education and increasingly serious environmental problems. To deal with challenges such as looming worldwide water shortages and over-depletion of our natural resources, we need to involve not just environmental engineers, scientists, lawyers and policy makers, but our citizens as well. As Donald Carr, the chair of the American Bar Association's International Environmental Law Committee, stated in his commentary in our January 2000 issue, "The critical (environmental) issues demand that individuals make different behavior and lifestyle choices...The real challenge is getting individuals to change their consumptive proclivities."

To promote the goal of educating the general population about environmental issues, more primary and secondary schools in the United States are offering classes to students on environmental topics. In his article "Growing greener young people," (p.26) Thomas Martin, JD, discusses how by integrating academic disciplines, environmental education elevates learning for students beyond rote knowledge and into tangible lessons that foster critical thinking, analyzing and problem-solving skills around issues that exist in the real world.

Environmental education is also an important priority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has set up its own Office of Environmental Education. This office's mission is to advance and support education efforts that develop an environmentally conscious and responsible public and inspire personal responsibility in caring for the environment. For more information about EPA's priorities related to environmental education, check out www.epa.gov/enviroed.

Two organizations that are dedicated to promoting environmental education in people of all ages are the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) and the National Environmental Education and Training Foundation (NEETF). NAAEE is a network of professionals, students and volunteers who take a cooperative and scientifically-balanced approach to promoting education about environmental issues through conferences and programs. One of the organization's projects is the Urban Leadership Collaboratives program that uses community leaders such as park department personnel, community center personnel and police recreation league leaders as facilitators for nonformal environmental education activities for city dwellers. More information about NAAEE can be found at www.naaee.org.

As part of its priorities, NEETF works to forge partnerships among governmental agencies, corporations and nonprofit organizations on voluntary initiatives to supplement government regulation. One example is its Institute for Corporate Environmental Mentoring, which fosters business-to-business guidance to help companies achieve environmental excellence and thereby become more competitive and profitable. To learn more about this organization, visit www.neetf.org.

We environmental professionals need to serve as leaders in our communities. Through both our professional and volunteer activities, we can share our specialized knowledge with others to work toward improving the environment.

Our readers' top Web site picks

In our July issue, we presented you with our favorite government and organization Web sites. Now you go to www.eponline.com this month to read the results from our new survey of our readers' favorite Web sites. Our Web exclusive article will tell you which bookmarks other environmental professionals are using to make their lives easier.

This article appeared in Environmental Protection, Volume 11, Number 9, September 2000, Page 6.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2000 issue of Environmental Protection.

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