Green in Gear

Transition is afoot for UCLA’s Environmental Science and Engineering (ESE) Doctorate. Engineering is all about preparing, adjusting, and adapting—maneuvering moving parts is what makes operation possible.  This innovative academic offering is appropriately evolving and will now be administrated by the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES).

The Environmental Science and Engineering degree is one of the oldest, most successful applied doctorate degrees in the nation. The program was founded in 1973 by Nobel Laureate Willard Libby with the mission to produce environmental professionals.  An ESE education mixes interdisciplinary coursework with cooperative research, environmental problem solving, and applied research in the workplace. 

ESE is structured differently than traditional Ph.D. programs. This doctorate takes a strong interdisciplinary approach.  Students complete a series of courses across a spectrum of physical, biological, social, and engineering disciplines. D.Env. candidates work on an applied, multidisciplinary research project under the advisement of a faculty member. The program also requires a doctoral internship experience in a governmental agency, national laboratory, or private sector. ESE students additionally complete a scholarly research project during an internship that results in a dissertation.

Second-year student Amy Zimmer-Faust was particularly drawn to the program based on this multi-disciplinary methodology.  She stated, “ESE students are taught to understand the thought-process of engineers, biologists, and policy-makers because our training focuses heavily on gaining experience in different areas.”

Currently enrolled in the Problems Course, Amy is working in Associate Professor Jenny Jay’s civil and environmental engineering laboratory on an applied coastal water quality project. Amy believes ESE’s unique structure effectively introduces students to different ways of dealing with environmental problems.

Individuals who have earned the Doctorate in Environmental Science and Engineering have gone on to occupy critical positions in the public and private sector.  ESE alumni work at environmental agencies, major laboratories and research institutes, consulting firms, non-profit organizations, and government agencies all over the world.

Alumnus Steve Sim, currently senior manager of Integrated Resource Planning at Florida Power & Light Company, said the training he received has been beneficial in integrating the many aspects of his job. Alumna Nancy Steele, executive director of the Council for Watershed Health, said the breadth of understanding in the program prepared her for technical and leadership roles. Brand new alumnus Chad Nelsen regularly applies the skills he learned in his senior position with the Surfrider Foundation.  Graduate Jon Eldon (who has a total of three diplomas from UCLA) described the degree as a “door-opener and career-enhancer.”

Alumni from across the class spectrum echo the assertion that the program’s emphasis on being proficient in multiple environmental fields—physical and life sciences, engineering, public health, public policy, economics, and law—has been invaluable.

Sim believes ESE’s move to IoES is a very positive step.  He said, “This transition will allow the program to take an even broader perspective and to address a wider variety of issues that might not have been possible without the move.”

“The Institute of the Environment and Sustainability is in a great position to ensure the degree continues to be a signature program at UCLA,” commented Steele.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers environment scientist and former student Daniel Swenson agreed, “The program will thrive in the IoES as their objectives are well-aligned.”

Finally, Environmental Advisors, Inc. President, alum, and former ESE instructor Bart Sokolow stated, “The move to IoES is a logical choice. The program adds to the Institute’s curriculum and brings a world-class reputation of excellence and a track record of producing graduates who are able to meld the scientific with the practical to implement strategies that not only have scientific credence but can be implemented in the real world.”

The next generation of environmental problem solvers will receive their D.Env. under the tutelage of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.  Keith Stolzenbach, professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been appointed chair of the program. Myrna Gordon, who has served as the program’s administrator for over twenty years will continue to provide support. She said, “I’m proud of what this program has already achieved and the success of our close to 300 graduates. I look forward to seeing ESE grow and flourish at the Institute.”

Saturday, October 27th will mark the official launch of ESE at the IoES, with a reception at UCLA’s Faculty Center. The evening celebration will highlight past accomplishments, honor Rich Ambrose, professor of environmental health sciences and ESE’s former chair, and outline the program’s future.  Alumni from ESE’s 40-year history and current students will convene to commemorate an exciting new chapter for this prestigious program.

To learn more about the Environmental Science and Engineering Doctorate please visit the website and click here to download the information sheet. Interested candidates can contact the ESE Administrator at