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From VT News

Virginia Tech’s new undergraduate degree in water, approved by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia in early December, is one of the most innovative, interdisciplinary offerings in the country and will position graduates for a wide spectrum of careers in private industry, federal and state agencies, and nongovernmental organizations.

“The timing of this new program could not be better, nor more urgent,” said Brian Richter, director of global freshwater strategies for The Nature Conservancy. “Job opportunities will await students upon graduation. Many corporations are now awakening to the water risks in their business operations and supply chains, and they are looking for help.”

The comprehensive bachelor of science degree program — called Water: Resources, Policy, and Management — is the first of its kind at the undergraduate level in the United States. It will blend courses in water science with those in water policy, law, economics, management, and related social sciences. The program addresses an expected 19 percent job growth in positions requiring a comprehensive understanding of water issues.

“Students in this major will be able to cultivate expertise in a field, such as international water management or hydrology, while developing a broad understanding in many areas that can impact water policy and use,” said Stephen Schoenholtz, professor of forest hydrology and soils in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, and director of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center at Virginia Tech. “In order to sustainably manage this resource, understanding the human side of water is as important as understanding the science.”

The degree’s academic home will be in the College of Natural Resources and Environment’s Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation. Four other Virginia Tech colleges — Agriculture and Life
Sciences, Architecture and Urban Studies, Engineering, and Science — are partners, reflecting the program’s interdisciplinary nature.

The new degree will be initiated in the 2015 fall semester, building its curriculum from existing classes in 13 departments across campus. In addition, seven new faculty members were hired specifically for their expertise related to water. They will teach existing courses as well as create new ones.

Students in the water major will select one area of focused study from a choice of water science specializations (aquatic ecosystems, hydrology, water quality, or water treatment and public health) and one area of focused study from a choice of water policy specializations (water, climate, energy, and global issues; watershed management; international water management; or water policy, planning, and economics).

Schoenholtz, who will coordinate the program with an advisory committee representing faculty from 10 departments, found strong, widespread support for the new degree program and interest in its future graduates.

“People from government agencies, private industry, international aid groups, and more are all saying they want to hire people who understand both the science and the human dimensions related to water — including policy, communication, and stakeholder issues,” Schoenholtz said.

“It’s exciting to look at the jobs opening up in corporate sustainability, in an array of companies such as MillerCoors, Coca-Cola, North Face, and Estee Lauder. There is a strong outlook for jobs to meet the growing needs for sustainably managing water,” he added.

Richter of The Nature Conservancy explained, “Water programs are expanding within development banks such as the World Bank and within aid organizations such as USAID. The nongovernmental community is building its water ranks as well, to address both the social impacts of water shortages or lack of access to clean water, as well as the environmental damage caused by unsustainable water management practices.”

Students interested in enrolling in the new water degree program are encouraged to seek advising now. Email Kevin McGuire (, associate director of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, or call 540-231-6017. 

Story by Lindsay Key