Environmental Practice


ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: In Search of Common Ground: Exploring Identity and Core Competencies for Interdisciplinary Environmental Programs

Shirley Vincenta1 c1 and Will Fochta2

a1 Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington, DC; and the Environmental Science Graduate Program, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma

a2 Environmental Science Graduate Program, and Certificate Program in Environmental Studies, Institute for Sustainable Environments; Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute; and Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma


The National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) and other constituencies have advocated the development of core competency guidelines for environmental educational programs for many years. Despite the high level of interest, no consensus has emerged on program identity that could lead to their development. The lack of a clearly defined identity has threatened program legitimacy and raised concerns about how well these programs are preparing students for entry into the environmental profession. To address these concerns, the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors, a group of academic environmental program leaders operating under the auspices of the National Council for Science and the Environment, launched a study to learn more about extant program curricula and investigate the potential for reaching consensus on core competence areas. In this article, we review selected findings from the study to date and discuss their implications for the development of core competency criteria. Despite differing perspectives on curriculum design, our research indicates that programs share a common vision of program identity congruent with sustainability. A review of employer and employee surveys and reports from environmental professionals also point toward participation in and understanding of sustainability processes as increasingly important components of practice. Taken together, these findings indicate that sustainability could serve as an overarching paradigm to inform the development of core knowledge and skill competency recommendations for curriculum design.

Environmental Practice 12:76–86 (2010)

(Received 2009)

(Revised 2009)

(Accepted 2009)


c1 Address correspondence to: Shirley Vincent, Oklahoma State University Environmental Science Graduate Program, 002 Life Sciences East, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74078-3011; (phone) 918-629-5143; (fax) 405-744-7074; (e-mail) shirley.vincent@okstate.edu

Shirley Vincent is Research Associate with the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (CEDD), a group of academic environmental program leaders affiliated with the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE). She is conducting a three-phase curriculum study for CEDD/NCSE to inform and facilitate a national discussion on core competency criteria for interdisciplinary environmental degree programs. She is a doctoral student in the Environmental Science Program at Oklahoma State University, specializing in environmental policy, and holds BS and MS degrees in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Tulsa. She currently serves on the Society for Human Ecology Executive Board and recently served as the Task Group Chair for the ASTM International Worldwide Standards Subcommittee on Risk Assessment, Communication and Management (E47.05). Her research interests include environmental and sustainability policy and collaborative environmental decision-making and governance processes.

Will Focht is Associate Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater. He directs the Environmental Science Graduate Program and Certificate Program in Environmental Studies at OSU, and chairs the Curriculum Committee for the Council for Environmental Deans and Directors. He also directs OSU's Institute for Sustainable Environments and the Oklahoma Water Resources Research Institute. He is the current president of the National Institutes for Water Resources. He holds a PhD in Environmental Science, MA in Political Science, BE in Civil Engineering, BS in Zoology, and has completed two years of postgraduate work toward an MS in Microbiology. Before joining the faculty in 1994, Dr. Focht was a senior environmental engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta, Dallas, and Washington, working in waste and wastewater enforcement, hazardous waste permitting, and site remediation. His 30-year environmental career includes stints with consulting firms in Ohio, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida.