The Environmental Studies and Climate Change graduate program at the University of Liberia on Monday, March 21, 2022, graduated its first batch of students deemed qualified after exhausting their academic requirements almost three years after the program kick-off at the state-run institution of higher learning.
The department of Environmental Studies and Climate Change (ESCC) considers the graduates, totaling seven in number out of over forty students that started the program, as the most prepared locally trained environmental scientists and technicians.
“This graduation today is a milestone. It is a clear manifestation of the level of work we have done since we launched the program in 2019,” Dr. Charles Asumana, Director of the ESCC Graduate School program, told journalists in an interview. “We were given a task and I think we have executed that properly. This graduation exercise is the success story of our achievements.”
History, he said, is being made and now that the best of the members of the maiden class are now out into the larger, the least one should expert out of his department is excellence.
UL operates the ESCC at two levels, undergraduate and graduate academic programs. These support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on Climate Action.
The programs emphasize the need for research and capacity development that will contribute significantly to solving environmental issues in Liberia and elsewhere.
“We are very proud of the graduates we are putting out today. They are the best that we have trained,” the ESCC Director noted. “The program captures climate change adaptation and vulnerability, waste and disaster management and others.”
It was also initiated to fill the gap or respond to increasing labor-market demand for professionals knowledgeable about environmental issues in the country and internationally.
“We are not preparing our students only for the local markets but internationally as well,” Dr. Asumana said, “this is why we have a faculty that is world-class. Almost all of the school’s instructors are terminal degree holders.
The president of the graduating class, F. Oliver Williyan, noted that as the maiden class, the burden is now upon him and his colleagues to put into practice all that they have learned over the years. “The burden is now upon us to prove to the outside world that ESCC is a place of excellence.”
He added that the journey was not an easy one as its toughness led to very few candidates getting the nod to graduate.
“Our studies were tough but rewarding,” he said.
Williyan lamented how rigorous the program is but that it has prepared him and his colleagues for the tougher tasks ahead.
“I don’t want to dwell too much on how tough it was for us financially but the research and field trips aspects of our studies were too demanding. Most times we the students had to fund these activities as the school doesn’t have a budget for them. It was very strenuous for some of us,” he said.
The environment, he noted, was not too conducive for learning purposes as well. “Thank God we are the maiden class and we had to pave the way for others. I want to work with the administration and some of our partners, especially UNDP and EPA, to get rid of some of the challenges we have. We don’t want people coming after some to face those same problems.”
President of the graduating class, F. Oliver Williyan, enumerates some of the challenges he and his colleagues endured as members of the maiden class.
“We have to make the classrooms better by digitizing them and also installing computer labs and air-conditioning systems. Our students also need to be compensated for research purposes and other initiatives. It can really be tough financially,” Williyan noted.
Launched in September of 2019, the ESCC is being supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United Nations Development Program (UNDP)’s National Adaptation Plans Project (NAPs) with funding from the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
The two-degree granting Environmental Studies and Climate Change program is to help promote and contribute to the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) of Liberia.
The University of Liberia, with support from the UNDP, EPA, FDA, Land, Mines, and Energy, and Ministry of Agriculture launched the ESCC with plans to introduce a Ph.D. program in five years. The School offers a Masters in Environmental Science and Climate Change, a Masters of Arts in Environmental Management, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies.
“We do have a huge plan of launching our Ph.D very soon. we are working out the modalities with our partners to ensure that this happens in the soonest possible time,” Assistant Professor of Physical Chemistry/Climate Change, Dr. James McClain, disclosed in an interview.
The launch was seen as a milestone in the history of the country given that venturing into environmental studies for Liberians was not only difficult but very expensive as students had to travel abroad for such an opportunity. This probably resulted in having far fewer environmental scientists and technicians.
The vision for the establishment of the ESCC was conceived in 2018 by the EPA who shared it with other stakeholders. This culminated in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the President of the University of Liberia and UNDP Resident Representative the same year.
Through these programs, the school is to produce professionals whose qualifications, skills, and competencies will meet the community, county, national, and international needs.
Additionally, it offers research, community capacity building (training & technical assistance), innovation (model demonstration), and information dissemination.
The new interdisciplinary Master of Science in Environmental Resource Science at UL also focuses on water and soil, two of the world’s most critical resources as well as waste management and other areas.
“Our students are prepared for a career in which they investigate, characterize and manage the environment and the resources responsibly and effectively,” Dr. McClaim said.
Reported by: William Q. Harmon