For Michel Boudrias, Ph.D., studying the environment is only the first step towards making an impact on the world. Already busy with a full teaching load as an associate professor and Chair of the Marine Science and Environmental Studies department, Boudrias also serves as the Academic Director of Sustainability. This is the third strategic initiative for USD in which he has participated in, previously working on the Passport to Success or First Year Experience and most recently, the Internationalization Advisory Council.
Boudrias’ interest with sustainability began with his academic studies of the water quality and marine ecology of Baja California Sur, Mexico. Working with USD graduate and undergraduate students, he co-leads a multidisciplinary team that studies heavy metal impacts, nutrient loading, long-term ecological change and the effects of stingray feeding on the environment. Following his lead of working with applied science to solve real life environmental issues that engage the local community, five USD graduate students have completed Master’s theses based on their work in Baja, Mexico. More than thirty undergraduates have worked with Boudrias and Jim Bolender, including several honors students. Currently, Boudrias is also studying the impacts of increased tourism on coral reefs, economics and social issues in Jamaica.
One of the goals for the Sustainability task force is to engage more of the USD community in sustainability- related research such as the project in Jamaica. This research project is a venture between the Marine Science and Environmental Studies, Chemistry, Sociology and English departments, under the guidance of A. Rafik Mohamed, Carlton Floyd, and Jim Bolender. Through this program students and faculty conduct research that spans a variety of disciplines to determine the effects of tourism development on the local area, looking not just at scientific impact, but also the economics and sociology of the region. Integral to their work is the engagement of the local community, which assists in creating a more sustainable society. "This is what liberal arts is all about, bringing together different disciplines to make a real impact on the world," said Boudrias.
After being the Chair of the Sustainability task force, Boudrias has now turned his attention to the academic side of sustainability for USD which includes plans for more interdisciplinary classes and programs for undergraduate and graduate students. The new College major in environmental studies is an example of the type of multidisciplinary studies that connect to USD’s sustainability initiatives. A total of nine different disciplines are required to major in environmental studies: biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, mathematics, political science, sociology, economics and ethics as well the option for electives in history. While this major is housed in the Marine Science and Environmental Studies department, its interdisciplinary nature encourages students to think about how science interacts with the everyday world. Boudrias has found that this is the truly rewarding side of science, "Not just doing science for science sake, but studying science as it connects to people’s lives and the world." It is this ideology that excites students about the environmental studies major and infuses the Baja California Sure and Jamaica research projects with so much energy. The students get to make a real difference with their research, which is captured with the un-official motto of the Baja research team – "Saving the world one tropical location at a time."
- Lyndsey Scully