Ecology is a branch of biology which involves the study of organisms and their interaction with the environment.  That “organism” could be a tiny plant or a large mammal; that “environment” could be arctic tundra, a farmer’s pasture, or an urban center. In other words, a degree in ecology can  take you almost anywhere, from the most exotic locale to your own back yard.

While studying ecology at Sterling College, you’ll find yourself in many types of “classrooms,” from lecture halls to science labs and the great outdoors. Requirements for a degree  include curiosity about the world we live in, an open mind, and a respect for living things and their habitats. 

Studying for an ecology degree pushes students to hone their powers of observation, as well as their abilities to understand systems and make connections, and their appreciation for the complexities of the natural world. Working ecologists investigate ecological issues, interact with affected people and communities, synthesize and summarize their findings, and help design effective, sustainable solutions. Ecologists contribute to the wellbeing of their fellow citizens and of the earth.

But there is no set path for an “ecologist.”  An ecology degree can lead in many directions. It’s not uncommon to find professionals with ecology degrees in agriculture, government, industry, medicine, engineering, lab sciences and education. For some careers, an undergraduate degree in ecology is sufficient; others may require advanced degrees in other sciences or medicine, engineering, education or public policy

An ecology degree may take you down myriad paths.  Below you will find a brief description of a handful of them.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT

An environmental consultant looks not only at the impact of development on plants and animals, but also the impact of conservation, all with the goal of understanding how actions impact the natural and man-made environment.  As an environmental consultant, you might find yourself studying the consequences of an oil spill,  the preservation of an endangered species, the effect of a housing development on a natural area, or the habitat of a common plant or invasive species.

This ecology career can involve spending a preponderance of your time out of doors, but is likely to also take you into the office (organizing studies, preparing reports), the podium (teaching and presenting findings), and centers of government (working with or testifying before policy makers).

RESEARCH SCIENTIST:

Calling all inquiring minds!  Research scientists (and their assistants), collaborate with field researchers and others to confront environmental problems, discover the right questions to ask, and work to propose viable solutions.

Your laboratory might be the great outdoors or a small room; your employer might be an academic institution, an industrial corporation, a medical facility, or a government entity

Not all research scientists will spend a lot of time in the field but many do; a that balance will depend on the field of study you pursue. It’s a path that can reap great rewards for a student with an inquisitive mind.

PARK NATURALIST:

Make the outdoors your workplace by taking your ecology degree to work as a park naturalist.

Park naturalists generally work for county, state and national parks, helping to turn such spaces into living classrooms for visitors by preparing educational materials on the park’s environment, mapping trails, creating and documenting exhibits, giving tours, and presenting information not only to park visitors but to the public at large. Strong communication skills are a must for such ecologists.

As a park naturalist, you might find yourself leading a nighttime hike at a tent-camping area in Brooklyn, NY’s Gateway National Recreation Area, or teaching visitors about grizzly bear habitat and behavior in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Or you may work introducing elementary students to the flora and fauna in their schoolyard or neighborhood, explaining the interdependencies involved and helping to create an ecologically aware citizenry.

RESTORATION ECOLOGIST:

Restoration ecologists study ecosystems that have been damaged, often by human activity such as farming, mining or other  industrial activity.  Your employer might be a state or national environmental agency or other government agency, a private company, museum or construction firm.

Those with additional training in civil engineering may expand this work and find themselves involved in extensive restoration projects; for example, bringing back the natural habit for wild life and plants in a damaged river ecosystem by removing or relocating a dam, redirecting water flow, ameliorating water pollution, or other engineering projects .

NATURAL RESOURCES MANAGER:

This career is for ecologists ith a strong collaborative streak, excellent leadership skills, and broad interests.

Natural resource managers work in collaboration with other ecologists, as well as biologists, geologists, chemists and the like, to help discover ways in which humans can use natural resources such as water, soil and minerals while also preserving the environment.

An ecology degree from Sterling College can help launch you into these careers, preparing you through a rigorous, hands-on course of study.

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“In order to be stewards of the land, we need to understand our historical and current relationships to the natural world and each other,” says Sterling ecology professor Farley Brown. “Sterling College courses and our community provide us with opportunities to explore these relationships, uncover the complexities of our natural world and society, and discuss the many environmental issues that we face today.”


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