Environmentalists explore economics, legal studies, environmental engineering and pest control to serve as environmental reform advocates, pollution cleanup engineers and managers of occupational health and safety programs. Degree programs in environmental protection are found at the bachelor's and master's levels. These programs typically consist of lab work as well as coursework in botany, risk assessment, chemistry and epidemiology. Engineering licenses are available to those who can pass an examination. Continuing education is required to retain licensing.
Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Protection
Environmental engineering and environmental protection degree programs offer courses in sustainability, environmental policy, pest management and soil science. To enroll in this program, students must have a high school diploma or GED. Students in 4-year programs prepare to manage industrial hygiene, public health and access to natural resources. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of environmental protection, students interested in safeguarding environmental health study business, microbiology and resource economics. A significant amount of lab work is required of environmental protection program students. Topics of study include:
- Conservation biology
- Public policy
- Social justice
- Soil science
Master of Science in Environmental Protection
Master's degree environmental protection programs are 2-year programs that focus on public policy, risk assessment and chemistry. Because master's degree programs are designed for both working professionals and full-time students, evening courses and online formats are available for some programs. Students must have a bachelor's degree to be admitted into the program. Furthermore, these programs usually don't state a specific preference with regard to an applicant's undergraduate major, though an educational background in the sciences may be beneficial.
These graduate programs require practical training in the form of lab work and a theoretical background in disaster management and toxicology. Students prepare to work in management positions in the treatment of environmental waste and other industries involved in public health and the containment of hazardous materials. Courses may include:
- Environmental epidemiology
- Industrial hygiene
- Risk assessment
- Statistical modeling
Popular Career Options
Occupational health and safety specialists held approximately 70,220 positions as of May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The majority of bachelor's degree holders in environmental protection work in all levels of government, as well as in large industry and for private environmental consulting firms. Positions open to graduates of bachelor's degree programs include:
- Community sustainability coordinator
- Environmental tourism guide
- Environmental compliance officer
- Hazard protection officer
- Waste management analyst
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the BLS, job opportunities for occupational health and safety specialists were projected to increase 4% from 2014 to 2024, which is slower than the national average. In May 2015, the median yearly income for these specialists was $70,210.
Continuing Education Information
Environmental engineering program graduates interested in becoming licensed, professional engineers are eligible to take the exams administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. To obtain a professional engineering license, the prospective engineer should pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. After passing the FE exam, four years of supervised work experience must be completed; finally, applicants must pass the Professional Engineer (PE) exam.
As of 2015, licensed engineers must meet continuing education requirements in order to maintain licensure. Exact requirements vary by state, so licensed engineers should contact their state licensing boards before moving forward. However, master's degree programs offer continuing education credits for environmental engineers in the form of individual courses.
Graduate-level environmental protection program graduates are able to continue their studies with advanced degrees in law, engineering or science. Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree programs are the first professional graduate level of legal studies; some programs allow for a specialization in environmental law. Doctoral programs in environmental engineering or environmental science are also available for interested students.
Students pursuing careers as environmentalists can complete bachelor's or master's degree programs in environmental protection or environmental engineering. These programs combine in-class coursework relating to environmental policy, risk assessment and pest management with lab work.