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Oregon State’s online sociology degree adds environmental focus

A person's gloved hand reaches toward a discarded plastic water bottle on the ocean sand, with other people in the background also involved in the cleanup effort. Environmental and natural resource option in Oregon State's sociology bachelor's degree program.

Bachelor’s students can pursue an environmental and natural resource option

By Tyler Hansen
May 7, 2020

The sociology program at Oregon State University aims to create problem-solving professionals who understand how society shapes individuals and individuals shape society.

When most people think of society at large, they often focus on social relations between humans. But at Oregon State, we view the world through a broader sociological lens – and one such way is by examining the relationship between humans and the environment.

With that in mind, the OSU Ecampus sociology online bachelor’s degree program gives students the ability to enroll in an environmental and natural resource option. The multidisciplinary coursework in this option examines environmental issues from a social science perspective, and it provides an in-depth analysis of how societies interact with their biophysical environments.

To shed more light on this environmentally focused specialization option, we connected with Helen R. Fleming, a sociology academic advisor in OSU’s School of Public Policy, and asked her a series of questions.

Which types of students would be interested in the sociology program’s environmental and natural resource option?

“When I talk to students about this option, I typically explain it from the perspective of a person who works for a nonprofit and is passionate about environmental and sustainability issues, but from the human side of the house rather than the scientific.”

“Many students who fit this description aren’t necessarily the best in math and science, but they are passionate about the subject. I typically recommend focusing on the human talk tracks of the environmental issues from a political perspective. These students can pursue work as a lobbyist or work with city, state and other agencies to solve problems.”

What is a good example of how societies and the biophysical environment interact, and how do social science concepts impact that?

“Humans impact their environment in negative ways by not having long-term plans about land and water use and air quality. If planning isn’t in place for Oregon’s replanting after timber harvest requirements, then we wouldn’t have lumber for building. If humans don’t plan how to keep their waste out of streams, rivers and other waterways, the impact to the environment will be substantial.”

“This is how the social sciences interact with the biophysical spaces. Social scientists conduct research that bridges the gap between science and humans. They learn what drives human beings to be reactive rather than proactive and then attempt to take steps to change that. Having all the science in the world won’t necessarily convince a person to change their approach, so learning how to talk to them can.”

What will an Oregon State sociology student learn in the environmental and natural resource option?

“The option gives students the opportunity to take not only sociology coursework but also anthropology and political science coursework toward their major. It introduces them to topics about the environment and how humans are impacted.  For example, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have a greater risk of being exposed to severe environmental issues. This was the case during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Exploring these types of issues encourages individuals to see a broader landscape. Another example is how third-world countries who are just now attempting to industrialize are facing a far steeper climb than Western countries because of the added concern for the environment.”

What career opportunities could the option’s environmentally-focused coursework create?

“Many students with this option are focused on nonprofit work, as well as governmental agencies. They’ll typically work at the city, state or federal level in positions found in the in-between of science and humans.

“Students who enroll in this option are looking for positions that allow them to incorporate their interests in environmental issues without having to work through the science aspects, which they may not have an aptitude for.”

What are your tips on how to take the knowledge gained in this option and turn it into a rewarding career? 

1. “Use your passion for the environment to your own advantage. You can communicate and solve problems, so having people skills will help you navigate the space between scientists and everyone else.”

2. “If you’re not good at the science aspect, then use your research and writing skills to improve organizations at the city, state and federal level.”

3. “Don’t give up. You’ll find your place through trial and error. Most people need to work in an industry and gain that inside knowledge before they find the perfect job that makes them happy. So be patient, and don’t give up.”


Take the next step and learn more about the environmental and natural resources option in Oregon State’s online sociology bachelor’s program.

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