Diverse department finds solutions for diverse problems

Diverse department finds solutions for diverse problems

Nov 28
Jeff Brawn, Head, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

When asked to describe the Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Sciences (NRES), I often respond, "If NRES had a department color, it would be plaid." I say this because our programs include an unusually wide spectrum of disciplines and educational opportunities with a faculty of applied ecologists, soil and water scientists, and environmental social scientists. 

Why does the department have such a mix? The answer is easy. We mirror the complexity and multifaceted nature of today's environmental problems. These problems range in scope from the possible effects of global climate change on agricultural production to the restoration of local prairies in Champaign County to the effectiveness to conservation spending in preserving tropical forests.

Growing demands on land and water resources require an interdisciplinary approach in the field, at the lab bench, and in the classroom. Moreover, technological advances are allowing NRES scientists and students to gather information and data that were formerly just a dream. Examples include studies where invasive species are detected by looking for their DNA in the environment and crop productivity models that are data rich and highly accurate with the use of remotely sensed satellite data. 

NRES also recognizes that people matter in the practice of environmental science and the conservation of natural resources. A biologist can study an endangered species or threatened ecosystem and come up with a well-reasoned conservation plan; however, the prospects for this plan will be far brighter with input from stakeholders and local communities.

Accordingly, NRES has a strong program in environmental social science – a discipline that includes political science, psychology sociology, and economics. As stated to me once by a long-time Illinois environmental expert, "Effective conservation and environmental science is 10% biology and 90% people." A great example of this is a core principle of sustainable agriculture (also a major program in NRES) that regularly engages farmers, consumers, and business-community groups. 

The undergraduate curriculum and educational programs in NRES closely adhere to the complexity of today's environmental problems. Through coursework, undergraduate research, and study abroad opportunities, we seek to provide students with a skill set that prepares them for a wide range of employment and post-graduate educational opportunities.