(Interdisciplinary Graduate Degree Program in Ecological, Earth and Environmental Sciences)
Mentoring and matriculating doctoral students is one of Baylor University's most tangible means of influencing leadership in academia, government, and society. The challenge within the vision of the 2012 framework is to produce the highest quality doctoral students who become our scholar-peers at top-tier universities and other superior institutions of research and study. However, if other top universities like Baylor have the same goals and aspirations, what then will distinguish our graduates from these secular institutions?
For this proposal, we propose to establish a new doctoral program in the Institute of Ecological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences (TIEEES) who are both implicitly and explicitly involved in the "care of Creation." The Department's of Biology, Geology, and Environmental Science have all responded to the need for specialized graduate studies in the natural and applied sciences. These studies often address major environmental issues for which risks to humans and other species health are of concern.
The distinctiveness of this program relative to other national programs in integrative earth and environmental resource sciences is the intentional curricular program directed at creating students with multiple competencies in the core fields of this degree. No other national program adequately accomplishes this goal, which has been identified as a national priority in earth system education.
Vision 2012 recognizes the fundamental role of humans in the natural world and our obligation for responsible stewardship of Earth and its resources. The 4th of the 6 unifying themes states:
"Because we believe that human beings are part of nature yet have been given responsibility as stewards of it, Baylor supports academic programs that investigate the natural world, increase understanding of the symbiotic relationship between human beings and the natural world, and protect the environment by encouraging good stewardship of natural resources."
The Vision specifies a new multidisciplinary academic unit for environmental sciences as a mechanism for achieving this goal. Baylor faculty and graduate students in several graduate programs already collaborate extensively in research and teaching that spans the disciplines of biology, environmental studies, chemistry, and geology. These collaborations, executed through diverse departmental administrative and curricular structures, have already borne good results. The Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research (CRASR) exemplifies the value of such collaborations in the aquatic sciences where over $3.0 million in external funds has already been generated for interdisciplinary research. Researchers in the Department of Biology working in the general area of biodiversity science have been awarded over $2.8 million since 1987, while another $2.2 million in grant applications is likely to be funded by the National Science Foundation. Likewise, over $900,000 has recently been awarded for interdisciplinary work in the area of biofuels.
The vision articulated for the new Baylor Sciences Building was an environment to culture multidisciplinary thinking and research. Scientists from Biology, Geology, and Environmental Science working with CRASR and the Center for Applied Geographic and Spatial Research (CAGSR) were recently awarded over $2.5M to characterize the state of water quality, source, and possible consumption potential of waters of local municipal water sources.
Within the Geology Department at Baylor, other interdisciplinary research clusters have formed including the Geology, Paleoclimate, and Paleoclimate Research Group and the Environmental Geology, Hydrology, and Hydrogeology Research Groups. These faculty members are actively seeking funding from sources such as the National Science Foundation in support of hydrologic and paleoclimate research. Coupled with existent capabilities and science research programs at Baylor, these researchers are poised to assess environmental variation and change at long, medium, and short time scales.
These emerging research associations benefit from broader interaction with colleagues and associations interdepartmentally, strengthening the efforts to refine the scholarly, research focus within the sciences. There is need to expand and promote these nascent multidisciplinary collaborations at Baylor. The establishment of TIEEES has been a significant step towards formalizing and rewarding this vision of collaborative science. The next step is to formalize a doctoral program that trains the next generation of scientists who must be adept in cross discipline topics for addressing future complex environmental issues.
Within the conceptual design of the Baylor Science Building was the intent to create an environment that fosters interdisciplinary relationships and collaboration. Baylor science faculty members have ambitiously responded to this opportunity through interdisciplinary research partnerships and cross-departmental teaching. Within the collective environmentally-allied disciplines, the formation of the Institute of Ecological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences (TIEEES) was driven based on the need for a formal structure to facilitate and enhance interdisciplinary ventures. Part of the Institute's articulated mission is to initiate a graduate program to train students specifically in the intersection areas between traditional disciplines. We have worked through both interdepartmental and intradepartmental committees to arrive at this proposal.