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Students in the Professional Science Master’s of Environmental Management and Sustainability  at St. Edward’s take the Community Ecology Class course that covers interactions between species, as well as species’ interaction with climate, water and soil. In the class, taught by Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy Michael Wasserman, students also learn how to apply these big-picture ideas to concrete, real-world challenges. Here’s a look inside the classroom.

Michael Wasserman teaches students about the vast planet-scale phenomena that affect the plants and animals in a given region. But he never forgets that most of his students will go work to solve specific problems on a much smaller scale. “Because our students are interested in environmental issues and sustainability, I’m always tying lessons back to human pressure on the environment,” Wasserman explains.

That’s why he has all of his students work on personalized research papers that allow them to dig deep on topics they care about — and even use them as a springboard to an internship or career they love.

Here are some recent research projects from student groups — and how students made the most of them even after the course was done:

Getting published in a journal.

A pair of students recently wrote a paper that compared the carbon footprints of universities across the state of Texas. The paper was published earlier this year in the journal Sustainability, and one of the students is now working on a PhD in Belgium.

Landing an internship.

Two students examined the effects of highway noise pollution on amphibians at the St. Edward’s University Wild Basin Creative Research Center, a 227-acre site on the west side of Austin. Their efforts helped one get an internship at the center.

Launching a career.

A recent student project examined the feasibility of installing rainwater collection systems on St. Edward’s University campus to reduce the university’s water footprint. This deeply researched project impressed officials at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, who hired the student for an internship working on airport sustainability issues.

Building a bridge to business success.

Three students launched a project that examined sustainability practices of businesses in the Austin area. One student from the group started a business based on the work; the other now works on sustainability issues at HP.

Creating the springboard for a PhD.

One student examined aquatic invertebrates around Austin, which led to a PhD on the effects of nanoparticles on aquatic ecosystems in France.

The point, says Wasserman, is that these structured research projects are both flexible enough and powerful enough to help students move forward in their careers in whatever direction suits them. “The right research projects give students the skills to really think through a problem, no matter what they do next,” Wasserman says.

The Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainability focuses on ecological issues through environmental science and project management. Students gain an in-depth knowledge of ecosystems and learn to assess the effects of human impact on ecosystems.

Erin Peterson is a freelance writer.