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JCU | Environmental Science
in partnership with
TEXT FRANCIS KAN
PHOTOGRAPHY JOSEPH NAIR

As the climate crisis continues,
James Cook University is training
professionals who can help businesses
mitigate their impact on the environment.

E xperts have called 2019 a tipping point in the climate crisis, marked by melting ice sheets in the Arctic and rising sea levels. Extreme weather events like the devasting bush fires in Australia also point to the urgency of the situation. In his National Day Rally speech that year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described climate change as one of the gravest challenges the human race faces.




Heightened awareness of the climate emergency has led to a rising need for professionals in Singapore and the region who can help businesses mitigate their impact on the environment. Yet, there is a general lack of appreciation of the role of Environmental Science in business practices.

“JCU’s multi-disciplinary programme allowed me to have a scientific and business perspective in my career, as well as understand the importance of both approaches when it comes to operating a business.”

KELLY CHEW, JUNIOR ANIMAL CARE OFFICER, SINGAPORE ZOO

To address this issue, the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU) launched a degree programme that integrates both Business and Environmental Science. “The aim of the programme is to produce graduates who are able to bridge this gap, enabling businesses to develop robust environmental strategies that would enable them to succeed,” says Dr Neil Hutchinson, Senior Lecturer, Environmental Science at JCU. The university is recognised as a world leader in Environmental Science, particularly in the areas of marine biology and biodiversity conservation research and teaching in the tropics.

WORKING WITH WILDLIFE

One graduate from the programme is Ms Kelly Chew, 25, who works as a Junior Animal Care Officer at the Fragile Forest in the Singapore Zoo, part of Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS). Her work involves carrying out animal husbandry, which includes day-to-day care, selective breeding and caring for wildlife. Besides being out in the field, there are also administrative tasks and projects that require Ms Chew to be in the office.

“One of the initiatives I’m working on at the moment is implementing a behavioural husbandry framework, as part of our effort to continually improve our level of animal care,” she says. Behavioural husbandry is an aspect of animal care that focuses on how animals interact with their physical and social environment. Improving animal care has become more important, as climate change can have a negative effect on animal health and welfare through rising temperatures and reduced availability of suitable habitat, as well as decreasing quality and quantity of food and water.

2016-2020 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record.

SOURCE: UNITED IN
SCIENCE 2020

“Knowing the natural ecology of the animals in the aviary has allowed me to identify areas within the enclosure that the different species would be at.”

Ms Chew credits the rigorous curriculum at JCU for providing her with a stepping stone into the field of research, which has allowed her to apply evidence-based and science-led methods in discovering best practices for the Fragile Forest. “For example, knowing the natural ecology of the animals in the aviary has allowed me to identify areas within the enclosure that the different species would be at. This is especially helpful during the morning and evening headcounts where we try to check on every creature and make sure that there isn’t anything abnormal,” she explains.

Ms Chew also acknowledges her parents’ role in exposing her to wildlife at an early age, and sparking a lifelong interest in the subject. “Aquatic species, especially, completely fascinate me!,” exclaims the animal lover, who had previously worked with aquatic life at WRS before moving to her current job role.

Despite the early exposure, however, Ms Chew did not consider a career in Environmental Science until she was pursuing her diploma in Banking and Financial Services at a local polytechnic, where she gained a better understanding of how business can affect the natural environment.

A MULTI-DISCIPLINARY PROGRAMME

Ms Chew chose JCU’s Bachelor of Business and Environmental Science programme as it ticked all the right boxes for her; the multi-disciplinary modules allowed her to build on her existing business background, while providing a strong learning base in Environmental Science.

“We have had graduates who have moved on to become environmental advisers to businesses, as well as working in environmental consultancies and non-profit organisations.”

DR NEIL HUTCHINSON, SENIOR LECTURER, ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE, JCU

A particularly treasured experience from her time at JCU was having to wake up at 4 am to collect data on sea snails during low tide on the beach on Bintan Island. “It was my first time going out into the field, I was so excited that I remained unfazed by the fact that I only had four hours of sleep before the expedition,” Ms Chew recalls. “Also, standing knee deep in the middle of a pond at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park during mid-day, taking water samples and checking the water depth was not something I envisioned myself enjoying, but I thoroughly did,’ she adds.

Such hands-on learning opportunities have paid off, and Ms Chew — who graduated in 2017 — is confident that JCU has prepared her well for her role at WRS, where she has to balance the need to provide memorable experiences for guests and carry out her responsibilities towards biodiversity conservation and sustainability.

“This is where JCU’s multi-disciplinary programme allowed me to have a scientific and business perspective in my career, as well as understand the importance of both approaches when it comes to operating a business. Simply put, JCU’s bachelor programme laid down the foundation for me to build upon with my experiences at WRS,” she says.

Growing demand for graduates

As the public becomes increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of businesses, such as the haze that regularly covers huge areas in Southeast Asia, demand for Environmental Science graduates have been growing. “Businesses are rapidly having to adapt to mitigate and reduce their environmental impacts and there is a real need for a skilled workforce who understand how they can develop practices that enable businesses to do this, while supporting their bottom line,” explains Dr Hutchinson.

The holistic nature of JCU’s course means that graduates can work in a broad range of career in public, private and non-profit industries. For instance, they can opt for a career in an area that bridges business and science, such as sustainability, or choose to focus more on the science or business career path.

“We have had graduates who have moved on to become environmental advisers to businesses, as well as working in environmental consultancies, non-profit organisations and aquariums to name but a few. Other graduates have continued their educational journey at the postgraduate level throughout the world,” says Dr Hutchinson.

He notes that JCU continues to ensure that its programme remains relevant through its engagement with businesses. The university’s main collaborations in Singapore are driven by its Work Integrated Learning programme, which is designed to develop and integrate employability skills into its curriculum, such as through internship programmes where students are placed with industry partners in campus-based learning activities.

FUMING
FACT

Global CO2 emissions rose

%

between 1990 and 2019

SOURCE: UNITED IN
SCIENCE 2020


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