Collaboration expected to benefit Western’s programs, mission of federal EPA

CULLOWHEE – Representatives of Western Carolina University and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement recently that strengthens ties between the university and the agency to enhance WCU educational programs and the EPA’s mission of protecting environmental resources.

The agreement calls for collaboration on environmental research projects involving WCU students and faculty, and EPA staff members; adjunct faculty appointments at the university for EPA staff and visiting scientist status for some Western faculty members at EPA; and assistantships, internships, cooperative education opportunities and possible employment with the EPA for WCU students.

The federal agency also will provide technical assistance for some university courses and programs, and EPA staff members will be invited to teach mini-courses, workshops and seminars at WCU.

The agreement is expected to enhance the environmental content of many courses and programs at WCU, said Richard Collings, the university’s vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Western plans to seek permission from The University of North Carolina General Administration to begin bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in environmental science, Collings said. The agreement with the EPA, however, will involve many academic disciplines already on campus because “the environmental issues facing Western North Carolina demand a multidisciplinary approach,” he said.

Michael J. Hartnett, an environmental engineer at the EPA’s regional office in Atlanta, said the agency has experienced budget cuts over the past decade that resulted in some deterioration of the relationships between the agency and universities. “We view this as an opportunity to get some of that back working again and to establish relationships that will be mutually beneficial,” Hartnett said.

Through the agreement, Western and the EPA hope to produce graduates with an understanding of environmental issues who can conduct research into those issues. Another goal is to increase the number of minority students, particularly those of Cherokee heritage, who are pursuing environmentally related careers.

The collaboration will be administered by a committee composed of three EPA representatives and three WCU representatives.

Representatives of both parties gathered recently to discuss and sign the agreements. In addition to Collings and Hartnett, the group included William R. Bokey, chief of the EPA’s Ecological Assessment Branch in Athens, Ga.; Stephanie Lankford, special emphasis program manager for the EPA in Atlanta; Robert Vartabedian, dean of WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences; Royce C. Woosley, head of WCU’s department of chemistry and physics; and Cynthia Atterholt, WCU assistant professor of chemistry and physics.