Curriculum changes aimed at broader ecosystem education
COLLEGE STATION – A refocusing of the forestry program within Texas A&M University’s ecosystem science and management department is making it a model among other schools, according to Dr. Jianbang Gan, a professor in forest management and economics in College Station.
The forestry program began operating under a new certification Jan. 1, but Gan said the program began reorganizing itself several years before the accreditation review began by the Society of American Foresters.
Texas A&M’s forestry program was first given accreditation in 1975, renewed in 2003 and now it is re-accredited for the next 10 years, said Gan, who served as the department’s accreditation committee chair and is also a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist.
In the accreditation statement, the external reviewer committee appointed by the Society of American Foresters said, “The faculty members of the ESSM and the forestry program therein are commended for developing a strong sense of community and esprit de corps among faculty, staff and students. The faculty is commended for recognizing the need to enhance the social science component of the curriculum and for their steps to do so actively.”
“This accreditation sets us up well to be a leader in training foresters for the next 10 years,” said Dr. David Baltensperger, ecosystem science and management department head in College Station. “This is critical as this is one of the few majors with nearly 100 percent job placement of graduates for the past three years.”
“We started making changes before the accreditation process,” Gan said. “The curriculum now is focused on three integrated main areas: university, department and forestry core courses.”
“We determined the students needed to know more than just what is within the scope of traditional forestry, and that is what we offer,” he said. “They need to know about the broader aspects of ecosystem management such as ecological and human dimensions and their interactions.
“This is driven by multiple forces, including change in the job market for our graduates and increasing demand for forest ecosystem services such as recreation, water, biodiversity and carbon storage.”
Gan said going through this process puts the Texas A&M program on track with other major forestry schools in the nation. In fact, he said he expects some of the other schools offering undergraduate forestry degrees to start looking at Texas A&M’s program as a model.
“We are starting to see our forestry enrollment going up as more students choose to double major within the department,” he said.
Gan said the dramatic change to the curriculum caused the accreditation review team to have a lot of questions about impacts on student involvement and job perspectives. The evaluation process also “helped us trace back where our graduates were for the past seven to eight years to see if they were going into the profession upon graduation,” he said.
“What we found is that many of our graduates are hired within the industry, while some go on to graduate school,” Gan said. “Several recent graduates are working for large companies, such as Weyerhaeuser and Georgia Pacific, as well as with some companies that are not traditionally associated with forestry.”
“We received enormous support during this accreditation review process from the University’s administrators, faculty, staff, current and former students, and friends, to whom we are very grateful,” Gan said.
He also emphasized the generosity of alumni, friends and the industry that has enabled the Texas A&M forestry program to offer a significant amount of scholarships to its students each year and to open the doors of opportunity for those within the program.