By Les Conklin (originally published by A Peek at the Peak on March 31, 2017)

Recently, The Peak published an article about Scottsdale’s Desert Discovery Center and Arizona State University (ASU).  ASU’s article begins with a statement from Dr. Lattie F. Coor, President Emeritus of ASU.

“I am pleased to see ASU’s partnership with Scottsdale’s proposed Desert Discover Center; it is a significant step toward creating an active research and teaching program that can inform and inspire generations of visitors about the magnificence and vulnerability of the Sonoran Desert.” Dr. Lattie F. Coor President-Emeritus Arizona State University

The partnership will produce exhibits and research about our local environment. The article goes on to state that the long-term aim of the partnership is to create a research center “to teach a global audience to value, thrive in, and conserve desert environments.”

Of course, that global audience could include visitors of all ages, including elementary, high school, and college students.  By sharing the center and part of our preserve with them, we will be exposing them to the Sonoran Desert, and environmental studies, some for the first time.  What an important contribution to their future and the future of the world.

Time to “Hit the Books.”

Environmental studies did not exist when I graduated from college in 1960. Since moving to what is now north Scottsdale in 1983, I’ve done my share of community service helping to preserve our natural environment and quality of life.  In the 1980s and 90s, because of my interest in our unique Sonoran environment I took evening undergraduate courses in Sonoran flora and fauna, geology, geography, genetics, Arizona history, etc.  None-the-less, I am woefully out-of-date when it comes to knowledge of current environmental and sustainability studies.

How prevalent are these studies today?

As a first step in my self-education, I decided to spend a few hours on the Web and then write this article before reading “Environmental Studies for Dummies,” which is available at

Who knows? There is a chance that this new knowledge will help me better understand the Desert Discovery Center proposal, which is due this summer.

What I learned.

More than 416 colleges and universities offer majors in environmental and sustainability studies. Environmental and sustainability studies are a BIG deal.

Environmental studies is the science which studies the interaction between man and the environment. It emphasizes the linkage between subjects such as ecology, economics, geography, geology, meteorology, politics, and sociology. Students learn how to move towards a more sustainable future for human and ecological systems. Courses in environmental studies can also include training in writing, critical thinking, quantitative analysis, project and team management, and more.

Many colleges offer these studies as minors and for graduate and PhD students.  The top-ranked schools include Yale, Stanford, and Harvard. Many high schools have ecology classes and clubs and these subjects are now widely discussed in elementary school.  Many of our young people ARE interested in these subjects, WHEN they are fortunate enough to be exposed to them.

As you might expect, course content and emphasis varies according to the part of the country in which the school is located and also the school’s unique academic strengths. Also, college programs that result in a B.S. degree tend to emphasize math and advanced science classes more than programs that result in a B.A. degree.

To read the full article including examples of college offerings, visit

Les Conklin is the editor of A Peek at the Peak publications and the author of Images of America: Pinnacle Peak. He is the president of the Greater Pinnacle Peak Association and the Monte de Paz HOA. He founded Friends of the Scenic Drive and has served on the Scottsdale Pride Commission, McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission, and on the boards of several local nonprofits. Les is a resident of north Scottsdale and a member of Scottsdale’s History Maker Hall of Fame. Les is a volunteer school tour guide at the Musical Instrument Museum.