What Is Environmental Science?

Environmental science is an applied science, incorporating knowledge from basic sciences such as chemistry, biology, geology, mathematics and physics, as well as applied sciences such as agronomy, soil science, forestry and toxicology. Environmental scientists study some property of the environment or apply scientific knowledge to an environmental issue or problem.

Prior to 1970, fewer than 230,000 people were employed in the United States in environmental and conservation work. By 1998, that number had grown tenfold to 2.5 million people. The growth of environmental science as a discipline has been very much a reaction to increased awareness of environmental issues and ensuing laws and regulations, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Air Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

Comparison With Traditional Science Programs

Environmental science degree programs provide a foundation in major science disciplines, but also develop an expertise in how the diverse areas of science can work together to promote effective and beneficial uses of the planet's physical and biological resources while maintaining an ecological balance within and among the biosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere.

Unlike traditional science programs, environmental science degree programs include specialized courses that demonstrate how technology, business and management practices can be applied to the aquatic, atmospheric and geologic systems of the planet for the betterment of mankind.

RMU Program Overview

The environmental science degree program at Robert Morris University uniquely trains environmental scientists for professional and technical positions in business, industry, government and education by providing students with the analytical, technical and enterprise skills required of such positions.

The B.S. degree program is suited to students planning to enter careers in environmental science or pursue graduate and professional studies.

This program requires significant coursework in biology, chemistry, earth sciences and physics, as well as a rigorous mathematics and applied statistics component, and a comprehensive basic science exposure. Students receive hands-on experience through laboratory experiences, field trips and internships. Capstone field methods courses require students to do field monitoring and analysis using the same state-of-the-art equipment found in industry.

Students also benefit from the University's renowned Communication Skills Program. Because environmental science professionals are required to write reports and present information in a variety of venues and mediums, such training provides RMU graduates with a competitive edge. In addition, business courses are incorporated into the curriculum, giving graduates an enhanced ability to interact with non-science professionals in business, industry and government.

Curriculum Requirements

The B.S. in Environmental Science requires 123 credit hours to complete. The curriculum has five components:

  1. Robert Morris University Core - 40 credits
    These are the traditional liberal arts requirements of the University. Studies in humanities, communications skills, and social, behavioral, natural and quantitative sciences are included.
  2. Business - 12 credits
    This component allows the student to select four business-related electives to develop the enterprise skills needed to work as an environmental professional.
  3. Science and Statistics - 23 credits
    This component consists of a specified sequence of introductory physical and biological science courses to prepare students for more advanced course work.
  4. Environmental Science - 39 credits
    This component includes advanced course work and research in biology, chemistry, ecology, meteorology, geology and environmental science. The capstone experience includes five one-credit field methods courses.
  5. Other Requirements and Open Electives - 9 credits
    This component permits students to select courses from other University programs to personalize the program of study. Students also complete a senior thesis and/or a practical internship experience as part of this component.

Industry Demand

Large numbers of people are engaged in environmental careers in the United States. The federal government employs over 230,000 people in environmental and conservation agencies. Nearly twice as many people are employed at the state level. Primary and secondary schools are also significant employers; many states, including Pennsylvania, require environmental science as part of the curricula. Environmental scientists are found throughout the private sector as well. More than 113,000 organizations in the environmental industry employ nearly 1.3 million people engaging in activities ranging from analytical services to consulting and engineering to water treatment and waste management. Other employers include hospitals, colleges and universities, law firms, insurance companies and banks.

The demand for environmental scientists in Western Pennsylvania is robust. Virtually every major environmental consulting and engineering organization has a Pittsburgh area office. Both the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have a significant presence in the region. The Air and Waste Management Association, a 10,000-member professional organization, is headquartered in Pittsburgh. In addition, the region boasts 50 state parks and recreation areas.

Career Options

A number of career paths are open to students who study environmental science. Bachelor-level positions in the government sector include naturalist, park ranger, wildlife officer, game warden, and local, state or federal regulatory agent. Positions in the private sector include environmental laboratory and field technician, ecologist, quality assurance professional, industrial hygienist, hazardous materials technician, environmental consultant, land use planner, soil scientist and hydrologist. In the education sector, positions include elementary or secondary teacher, researcher and environmental education specialist. Graduates may also pursue graduate or professional studies in a variety of disciplines such as biology, chemistry, geology, meteorology, medicine and the health professions.

Bachelor-Level Hiring Organizations

Astorino Branch Environmental Inc.; Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc.; Conservation Consultants; Department of Agriculture; Energy & Environmental Management Inc.; EnviroLink Network; PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; PA Department of Environmental Protection; PennDOT; Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium; Volz Environmental Services Inc.; Waste Management.

Salary Information

Position TitlePosition Salary
Agricultural/Natural Resources
Environmental/Sanitation Engineering
Field Engineering
Research (Technical/Scientific)
The information in this chart is based off of 2006 nation mean salaries