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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published November 27 2010

MSUM developing degree in sustainability

Minnesota State University Moorhead is working to make green one of its school colors.

The university is developing a new bachelor’s degree in sustainability.

Faculty also are seeking grant funding to create a carbon neutral house on campus that would be home to the new program and serve as a community demonstration project.

Dennis Jacobs, an MSUM professor and the university’s sustainability coordinator, said an academic committee will review the proposal for the new major next month.

Students would take a common core of classes and select an emphasis in energy sustainability, business, construction management, environmental science, operations management or environmental policy.

“The whole United States economy is going to go more and more green,” Jacobs said. “So we’re preparing students for that whole green economy.”

If the program is approved by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, MSUM could promote it next spring and begin enrolling students in the fall.

It would be the first program of its kind in the system, Jacobs said.

Ken Bertolini, a construction management assistant professor who’s working with the proposal, said the degree will be very marketable for students.

The proposal uses classes taught by faculty across the campus and will not require hiring new faculty.

“We’re taking existing classes that are already being taught; we’re just grouping them so the students get the complete education,” Bertolini said.

MSUM has designated a vacant house on campus at 1010 9th St. S. to be used for the program if grant funding can be secured.

Faculty are seeking at least $400,000 to retrofit the 1930s house to conserve energy.

The house would then be opened up to area contractors and homeowners who want to learn how to incorporate the improvements in their own houses.

The demonstration house would use improvements ranging in cost from $40 to tens of thousands of dollars. It also would have equipment to measure how much energy and water are being saved.

“We can give them (the public) information about how they would benefit from doing some of these changes,” Bertolini said.

Jacobs, who lives in a sustainable house near Detroit Lakes, Minn., that is heated with a swimming pool, said there is a lot of information available about building new homes that are sustainable.

But there’s less information for people about how to improve older homes, Jacobs said.

“Most people live in older houses,” Jacobs said. “Much more energy can be saved, and we can go to a lot more greener economy, if we learn how to inexpensively retrofit older houses.”

Jacobs said if grant funding is available, work could begin on the house this summer. The academic program can move forward without the house being approved.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590