School of Earth, Environment and Society created

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Creation of a new School of Earth, Environment and Society was approved Friday (March 23) by the Bowling Green State University Board of Trustees.

The school, which officially begins operations July 1, will house the University's departments of geology and geography as well as the Center for Environmental Programs.

“This new school will facilitate interdisciplinary teaching and research while, at the same time, maintaining the identity of the three units within the school,” according to its director, Dr. Charles Onasch, a professor of geology.

Onasch said faculty in the participating programs started talking two years ago about how their shared interests in research and teaching might benefit from a more formal structure.

There was considerable common interest in geospatial science and technology—which he defined as being “used for the acquisition, management, visualization and analysis of features or phenomena that occur on the Earth”—and in the interactions between the Earth, the environment and humans.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor cited geospatial as “one of the key areas of job growth” in the technology sector, along with nanotechnology and biotechnology.

The three components of the geospatial field are Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing—which Onasch described as gathering information about the Earth's surface without being in physical contact with it—and the Global Positioning System (GPS) technology with which many people are familiar and use for navigation in their automobiles.

GIS is a technology widely used in the natural, social and health sciences, as well as in business and government. It is used to examine relationships between spatial information, which includes anything that is tied to a location.

Onasch said, for example, that in determining a location for a nuclear power plant, a number of criteria would come into play, such as distance from metropolitan areas. A GIS map could be created to show possible locations relative to metro areas, and serve as one of many maps (“layers”) that would collectively reveal what areas would meet all the criteria. “You can look at as many different data sets as you want” and get answers from GIS, Onasch explained.

The three programs in the new BGSU school all have a similar GIS course now, but one common GIS course is under development for students in each of the three units. That ability to eliminate overlap and duplication through a streamlined curriculum is among the benefits of the reconfiguration, he said.

Another benefit of forming the school will be the introduction of new courses and programs. For instance, because geography and environmental programs don't currently have graduate programs, “this (school) will give them access to graduate students,” said Onasch, who envisions the school awarding bachelor's and master's degrees that stress relationships between the earth, environment and society.

Faculty also anticipate the creation of new physical geography and Earth science statistical courses, as well as a greater diversity of geospatial courses, that the geography department can't offer on its own, said Dr. Arthur Samel, an associate professor and chair of the department.

From a research standpoint, creation of the school will enable easier collaboration on interdisciplinary studies, Onasch said. “Discoveries today are being made at the boundaries between disciplines,” the director pointed out.

The Center for Environmental Programs has always been interdisciplinary in nature, and with the new school having a similar orientation, “I think we really belong here,” said Dr. Philip Terrie, interim director of environmental programs.

“I think the school will provide a lot of opportunities for the scholarship of engagement,” Onasch predicted, noting that geology and geography faculty are working now with the Wood County Auditor's Office on developing a countywide GIS system.

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Editor's note: For more information about the new School of Earth, Environment and Society at BGSU, contact Dr. Charles Onasch at 419-372-7197 or conasch@bgsu.edu

(Posted March 26, 2007 )