EDINBURG, RGV – The next generation of water experts is likely to come from the School of Earth, Environmental and Marine Sciences, at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Academic majors such as these will help young graduates address the global water crisis. Yet, it is surprising that with the close proximity of two major bodies of water in our area with international significance that Hispanics are underrepresented in earth science, also known as geoscience.
To boost interest in this academic field, The National Science Foundation funds the Stimulation Hispanic Participation in the Geosciences program (SHIP-GEO).
The program offers field trips to give students hand-on learning opportunities about local geology and the environment in the Rio Grande Valley.
“SHIP-GEO has many components,” said Chu-Lin Cheng, assistant professor in the School of Earth, Environmental & Marine Sciences. “Field trips are open to anyone, while scholarships, research opportunities, career path are available to mainly Environmental Science students.”
Among the geological wonders students have visited are a 27-million-year-old volcanic ash deposit in Rio Grande City and rare wind tidal flats and lomas (clay dunes) near Boca Chica. To learn about reverse osmosis used in the industry, students toured the water treatment plants at North Alamo Water Supply Corp., whose business office is located in Edinburg.
The participants of the SHIP-GEO program are mainly Environmental Science majors, said Dr. Chen. “But we try to ‘convert’ anyone who might be interested, even policy and business majors.”
A question generally asked by students and their parents: what careers or jobs will they be prepared for? Depending on the courses they take, they will have the background to be a hydrologist, geologists, environmental specialist, geo-engineer, geological specialist, petroleum specialist, agriculture specialist, environmental protections specialist, or wildlife conservation specialist.
“There are many opportunities with federal-state agencies, which deal with water, land and environmental issues. The list includes Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Water Development Board, U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Also, cities and environmental consultant firms hire graduates in these fields.
Students get into the environmental sciences for reasons as varied at the students themselves.
Eli Gonzalez earned his bachelor of science in Environmental Science and now is working on his master’s in Ocean Coastal and Earth Science. He hopes to work as a geologist/hydrogeologist.
“I enjoy the outdoors very much, and these fields will allow me to conduct field research in order to provide new information on untapped resources,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, who is a graduate assistant for Dr. Chen, also encourages others to enter the Environmental Science Program. “It’s a great time for students to study geosciences,” he said. “There are plenty of opportunities for students at UTRGV to get exposed to future opportunities and many job opportunities throughout the nation.”
Biology major Robert Otken said his minor in environmental science will help with his understanding of the composite Earth systems and the intrinsic interdependence between the disciplines.
Otken recommends environmental science as a major or minor for “anyone interested in understanding how our little planet works.”
“I feel the general public needs a greater appreciation of the Earth system sciences,” said Otken. Following graduation, he would like to work for a federal or state agency helping manage wildlife resources.
Maria Benitez, an environmental science major, wants to be part of the solution of the local water shortage.
“South Texas is always in need of water and the fact that the RGV is growing so fast, it becomes concerning as well as exciting to see how water consumption and development will be further implemented.
“I am excited in applying my knowledge and skills obtained during my education to adequately produce and contribute in bridging the gaps in efficiency and exceed the growing supply and demand with an environmental friendly process.”
One thing is for sure, there will always be the need for water. Talk about job security.