Sustainability majors look to impact the world and beyond
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Sustainability majors look to impact the world and beyond

Morgan Appley wants to change the world, and she said she is going to do it one backyard at a time.

The University of South Dakota senior is studying a major which only 12 other universities in the country offer — sustainability. The 36 credit major, which focuses on environmental conservation, first became available to students in the fall of 2012 and has 30 declared majors and nine declared minors.

Appley, who is a 26 year-old non-traditional student, first heard about the major while working at Heikes Family Farm in Vermillion.

“It’s always been my passion, and when I heard they (USD) were having (that) major I decided to reconsider my options and go back to school,” Appley said.

Appley first became interested in sustainability after she went on a high school trip to Costa Rica in 2005.

“We started learning about the principles of sustainability and how all encompassing they are — I realized that I needed to make a difference and try to help people come to that realization for themselves,” Appley said.

The California native wasn’t always interested in local sustainability. Appley said she made the decision to localize after going on a trip to India in the summer of 2014 to teach English to “slum children” through the department.

“Some of the kids in the slums seemed so much happier than most of the children here, and it made me wonder if the upward mobility, as you might call it, wasn’t detrimental, in a sense, to that happiness,” Appley said. “It definitely made me question our view of development and how important that is.”

Appley said she never would have came to USD if it wasn’t for Meghann Jarchow.

Jarchow, an assistant professor of sustainability, was hired at USD as a result of the creation of the sustainability major.

Jarchow said USD is the only school in the state to have an undergraduate degree in sustainability and the United States as a whole is lagging behind some western European countries in the field.

“We’re not at the very back of the pack, but we’re not necessarily leading efforts,” Jarchow said.

Jarchow said the idea of sustainability is fairly new not only to USD, but to academia as well.

“I’d say early 2000s, probably, a lot of campuses became aware of sustainability — really in the last 10 years is when there has been this steady increase in sustainability majors,” Jarchow said.

One of the benefits of the major is the wide range of topics that it covers.

“At least in terms of polls, it’s an up and coming field that people say will become a focus in the future and is already gaining traction,” Jarchow said. “Sustainability asks the question, ‘What kind of world do we want?'”

Sustainability is not just limited to this world, though.

Senior Nathan Bedoya is looking to the stars to implement what he has learned in the sustainability program.

“In the long term I would like to do astronautics with either NASA or Space X or another space company. A lot of experiments they do are linked to sustaining humans and life on Earth,” Bedoya said. “In the long term, it’s kind of looking down the road at maybe humans might have to live elsewhere and how we’ll sustain ourselves.”

Bedoya said he doesn’t think he’s trying to save the world — he’s  just trying to make a difference.

“Saving, that’s implying that we’re doomed. I’d like to have a positive impact,” Bedoya said. “I don’t know if the world needs saving yet, but I want to do what I can.”

Now, more than 10 years after her high school trip to Costa Rica, Appley will soon be getting her degree. After graduating, she plans to stay in Vermillion this summer and use her degree to make the community more sustainable.

“My interests reach really far,” Appley said. “I’m really passionate about this community so I really want to see it sustain itself.”

(Photo: Senior Morgan Appley, a sustainability major at the University of South Dakota, hopes to put her skills to use in Vermillion after graduation to make the community more sustainable. There are currently 30 declared sustainability majors at USD and nine declared minors. Malachi Petersen / The Volante)