Celebrating 50 years: Before there was an EPA, there was Miami's Institute for the Environment and Sustainability

IES celebrates 50 years of environmental stewardship

By Susan Meikle, university news and communications

ies-50th-anniversry-logoMiami University’s Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IES) celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding this year. A series of events headlined by Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 2013-2017, will be held Sept. 13-15.  

Established in Aug. 1969 as the Institute of Environmental Science, it predates the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (Dec. 2, 1970) and the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970). 

Believed to be the oldest program of its type in the country, its professional master’s of environmental science (M.En.) degree program was created in 1971.

In 2010 the IES was renamed the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability to reflect its new role as an umbrella institute for undergraduate and graduate education and research on the environment and sustainability at Miami.

Jonathan Levy, IES director and associate professor of geology and environmental earth science, said “We celebrate 50 years of interdisciplinary problem solving and training students to make a difference in the world as environmental professionals. Our master's program continues these traditions, and we are now growing in our undergraduate programs.”  

The professional master’s degree program is designed to prepare students for immediate employment as a professional in environmental science and sustainability.

More than 750 alumni have graduated from the M.En. program. Nearly all have pursued environmental science and sustainability careers in government — from the local to international levels — consulting, industry, education and research and non-profit organizations.

Public service projects and professional experience


Peggy Shaffer (top left), coordinator of the Institute for Food, leads a tour of the farm with Miami's Convocation speaker Stephanie Anderson (top right), author of "One Size Fits None."

The Public Service Project (PSP) is a cornerstone of the M.En. program. Student teams work with clients that have requested assistance in solving environmental problems or to improve the sustainability of their organizations and practices. A client can be a community, organization or individual in the tri-state area (Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky).

Spreading the umbrella

IES administers a growing number of programs for undergraduate students interested in sustainability, including:

- A minor in Global Perspectives on Sustainability and four co-majors

  • Food systems and food studies (new this year).
  • Energy
  • Environmental science
  • Sustainability

- The Miami University Institute for Food, established in 2015.  

- The Institute for Food farm, which provides research and volunteer opportunities and internships for students. The farm's first crops were harvested in 2016. Its community supported agriculture (CSA) offers shares for community members and students and supports the Oxford Community Choice Pantry.   

Sustainability education: Fundamentally important  

“Every Miami student, no matter what they end up doing, should be thinking of sustainability – there’s too much at risk," Levy said. 

He says sustainability should be part of our curriculum at all levels, from the business school and humanities to the sciences and social sciences. 

"A liberal education at Miami is about improving society. Sustainability education is one component necessary to make sure that we continue to make society and the world better, " Levy said.

"It’s that fundamental."

50th Anniversary weekend events


Gina McCarthy (image courtesy Harvard University)

Gina McCarthy, former EPA administrator, will give a keynote talk at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, in Wilks Theatre, Armstrong Student Center. 

Her talk, addressing the mission for 21st-century environmental professionals, is free and open to all. 

McCarthy is director of the Center for Climate Health and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE) and professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

Her tenure as EPA Administrator heralded a paradigm shift in national environmental policy, expressly linking it with global public health. 

Other events include tours of the Institute for Food farm, the Western geothermal plant and Fernald preserve and panel discussions with current IES students. 

These events are free, but registration is required since space is limited. Those interested may register on the IES 50th anniversary website.