By Rita Cook     

(Photo: SMU’s 250-square-foot "pallet house", a temporary installation intended to draw attention to SMU's new degree in Sustianability and Development.) 

In December the Southern Methodist University (SMU) campus in Dallas had a “pallet house” installed. The installation was meant to draw attention to a different approach to sustainable design, the school's new MA in Sustainability and Development. The degree will focus on, as well as draw attention to, the upcoming Engineering and Humanity Week scheduled at the school in mid-April

“The pallet house is an example of the kind of shelter appropriate for rapidly expanding, impoverished populations in cities around the world,” says Kim Cobb, Director of Media Marketing at Southern Methodist University. Dean Geoffrey C. Orsak of SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering adds to that, stating that “the pallet house is an example of the merger between good engineering, creative design, and use of available materials. These are three vital elements of our new Master of Arts in Sustainability and Development.”

It’s going to take more than engineering to build a world of sustainable cities however, and SMU is aware of that. That’s the challenge behind the new master’s degree on offer at the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering, which began this month and is already drawing multi-industry leaders to the intersection of engineering design, urban planning, and environmental policy.

“The world’s population just hit seven billion,” says Orsak. “The need to build livable, sustainable cities has moved beyond the critical stage. This new degree program creates a framework for partnerships between engineers and the architects, city planners, and environmental policy experts needed to ensure that cities can thrive in the face of so many challenges.”

Also a part of the Hunt Institute’s advocacy for the global poor, the MA in Sustainability and Development will include research projects by global experts, seminars, site-based internships and service learning opportunities – both locally and internationally. Sustainability will be examined through the lens of environmental, technical, social, legal, and economic issues.

The first group of Dallas/Fort Worth area professionals are expected to graduate with the M.A. in Sustainability and Development as early as May 2012 as a core group of students have already completed a series of courses for Lyle School that apply toward the new master’s degree. Those first graduates will range from a senior scientist at the regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to a licensed landscape architect with more than 2 decades of experience.

Students pursuing the Master of Arts in Sustainability and Development will complete a 30-hour interdisciplinary program that will cover sustainability-related topics from policy to design issues in both the developed and developing world. The program will advance the wise use of environmental resources in urban development with a goal of creating and re-building economically and environmentally healthy cities here and abroad.

“This program came about from a workshop we organized with community and academic leaders,” Orsak concludes. “We saw clearly that there is a need in our society for talented individuals who hail from the fields of engineering, design, architecture, public works and policy among others to assume new roles in improving our communities and those around the world. Our graduate program will provide these engaged individuals the tools they need to find and implement really creative solutions to building cities with a strong ethic in sustainability, good design, and economic growth.”