College marks century of study

The College of Natural Resources ranks in the nation’s top programs.

Branden Peterson

The College of Natural Resources is celebrating its 100th year this week of studying natural resource use and allocation in the Land of 10,000 Lakes as well as the world beyond.

The college is consistently ranked among the top natural resource programs in the nation. Officials said if they are to keep in good standing, they will have to adapt to industry changes during the next 100 years.

One of the challenges is attracting students.

“I think our approach is changing,” Dean Susan Stafford said. “Not only are we involving the physical and the natural sciences, but we’re also bringing together the social sciences.”

Natural resource programs in higher education originated under the accelerating use of fisheries, forests and wildlife during the beginning of the 20th century.

Starting from a lone degree program in forestry in 1903, the college has grown to include six undergraduate degrees and four graduate programs.

Industry officials learned to manage consumption while improving environmental quality and guaranteeing preservation of natural resources. Many of the same environmental concerns exist today.

On top of educating students and developing faculty, the college aims to help lawmakers, citizens and students make balanced decisions on environmental issues.

Concerns include wood products use, water quality monitoring and recreation’s environmental impact.

New technologies, including remote sensing and geographic information systems, are improving curriculum.

Developments in biotechnology and issues regarding genetically modified organisms are expected to increase, including at the University.

Stafford said administrators look to adapt curriculum around many issues, in hopes of better educating students about a range of environmental problems.

The college is grappling with the continued expansion of cities and rural communities. While land use swallows some natural resources, environmentalists debate whether the best move is to ban further consumption or guarantee efficient use.

“We need to make every acre count,” said Martin Moen, College of Natural Resources communications director.

“We’re shifting to sustainable use in our natural resources,” Stafford said. “I think our college is going to play an increasing role in the debate between the value positioning on this program.”

While the college is planning to position itself in policy development, administrators hope to strengthen the school by encouraging more students to pass through its classrooms.

Enrollment in the college is currently lower than desired, and officials said enrollment is the key to bringing more tuition to the school.

“We’re stymied about why enrollment has gone down,” Assistant Dean Mel Baughman said. “We’re trying to get up to 700 students, where we were 10 years ago.”

“Once students are in our program they move right along,” Stafford said. “The students love this college. Our faculty care. We want to get that word out.”

Administrators also hope to diversify faculty and the student body.

“We’re going to have a different look in terms of a very multicultural student body. Right now, this isn’t the case,” Stafford said.

The college faces the challenge of finding new ways of sustaining quality with less funding.

“Going forward, we cannot continue to increase tuition,” Moen said. “Clearly, the state appropriating is going to be less, and that means turning to the development of private partnerships.”

Branden Peterson covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]