Thompson Rivers University is filling an important gap in business education with an exciting new master's program that puts a spotlight on environmental sustainability.
The Master in Environmental Economics and Management (MEEM) program welcomed its very first cohort at the Kamloops university this September. The program promises to build on the strengths of the school's long-standing MBA program, but offers a narrower focus, giving students a look at environmentally friendly business models in a climate that can certainly use it.
Building on what works
Thompson Rivers has offered an MBA program for almost 15 years now, and prides itself on its ability to adapt to its students' needs in Western Canada. That sometimes means meeting students where they are to attract a broader, more diverse pool of candidates.
"It's a very competitive industry," says Laura Lamb, associate professor in the School of Business and Economics at Thompson Rivers University. "I would say that one of the outstanding features of our program is that it offers a lot of flexibility and accessibility. It's taught face to face and online."
That online component means people already in the workforce or living outside of Kamloops can more easily pursue a business education without uprooting their lives.
"We have a lot of students down in the Lower Mainland, people who work, who just want to take a course per term," says Lamb. "It offers flexibility in order to do the program on a part-time or full-time basis."
Mature students and those looking for a competitive edge can benefit from this kind of accessibility in obvious ways. Roughly half of the program's students currently attend through this distance-learning stream.
Now is a good time for this type of flexibility, when online offerings don't mean a watered-down experience as they once did.
"There's opportunity to be so much more creative than we could be 20 years ago with technology, so students do work in groups," says Lamb. "You're not necessarily isolated out there."
A niche with room to grow
What the MEEM degree adds to this adaptable program is room to zero in on specific interests, particularly letting students focus on environmental sustainability.
"You can almost think of this as being a specialized MBA," says Lamb.
Recognizing the unique and varying needs of students, the school sought a forward-looking addition to its offerings, and to give their students something they couldn't get anywhere else. It's a new way to look at environmental sustainability, moving away from traditional models of business management to address environmental concerns early on and outside of a top-down regulatory model.
"It's a unique program," says Lamb. "Traditionally a degree like environmental economics is focusing more towards policy, government, non-profit sector jobs, but with ours, where we've incorporated the management and business courses, it's giving a tool-set that's very appropriate for the private sector."
It's an exciting way to rethink sustainability as a part of corporate responsibility, acknowledging that businesses aren't just waiting to be told what to do. Yes, governments are implementing stricter environmental regulations than before, but many organizations are proactively addressing climate change and their role protecting the environment. And they need skilled employees to pull it off.
"We understand you want to maximize profit, but you want to maximize profit while managing the resources and environment," says Lamb. The MBA and MEEM are now better equipped to give students those skills that will place them in important positions.
Flexibility in a competitive market
Thompson Rivers University's MEEM program is sure to attract new students, while complementing the existing MBA program.
The job market is tough, so giving students this much room to define their studies and build their professional profiles is certainly appealing, and increasingly necessary.
MEEM students can take advantage of the established MBA, taking courses therein, and they have room to design a program that fits their needs. Those with an undergraduate degree in business or relevant work experience can stream through the program in one year, and more academically minded students can opt for a research-stream to prepare them for a PhD.
And at a time when the environment is on everyone's minds, this may be the future of business. Thompson Rivers isn't waiting around. It's paving the way for it now.