A Peek at the Desert Discovery Center and Education

March 27, 2017

Photo Courtesy of Arizona State University.

By Les Conklin


Dear Google, Thank you for kick-starting my introduction to this humble article about education and Scottsdale’s proposed Desert Discovery Center.

I was suffering from writer’s block, so I searched for “quotes importance of education.” Google, I can always count on you! You listed several websites. I chose BrainyQuotes.com  where I found …


Three great quotes –

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Nelson Mandela

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Benjamin Franklin

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
– Malcom X


And, one surprising advertisement.




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  None-the-less, I am woefully out-of-date when it comes to knowledge of current environmental and sustainability studies.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 Amazon.com.

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.

Examples of College Offerings

Arizona State University, School of Sustainability –  At the undergraduate level, ASU offers a B.A. in Sustainability, B.S. in in Sustainability, Sustainability Minor, Energy Certification, Food Systems Certificate. At the graduate level, students can work towards  Master of Arts, Master of Sciences, Master of Sustainability Solutions, Master of Sustainable Landscaping.


ASU School of Sustainability


Northern Arizona University, School of Earth Science and Environmental Sustainability – NAU offers these undergraduate degrees: B.S. in Environmental Sciences, B.S. in Environmental and Sustainability Studies,  B.S. in Geology, B.S. in Education in Earth Sciences, and minors in Environmental Sustainability and Geology. At the graduate level the following degrees are offered: M.A. in Environmental and Sustainability Studies, M.S. in Climate Change and Solutions, M.S. in Geology, M.S. in Environmental Science and Policy, and a PhD in Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability.


NAU School of Earth Sciences



University of Arizona, College of Social Behavioral Sciences – The School of Geography and Development (SGD) offers a B.A. in Environmental Studies. SGD offers M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, and a M.S. in Geographic Information Systems Technology, and a Masters in Development Practice.


U of A School of Geography & Development


University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences – The department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science (SWES) offers the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree with majors in Environmental Science and in Sustainable Plant Systems.  SWES offers graduate work leading to M.S and Ph.D. degrees in Soil, Water and Environmental Science. A variety of degree options are available.




A Few More

By now I had the picture. Universities often point the way towards the future and they are heavily invested in environmental and sustainability studies. I was curious and checked the offerings of a few more universities. The University of Phoenix offers a B.S. in Environmental Sciences.  My alma mater, the University of Rhode Island, offers 14 majors in its College of the Environment and Life Sciences, plus advanced degrees. Stanford offers degree programs in computational geoscience, earth systems science, energy resources engineering, geological sciences, and geophysics. Harvard offers programs in environmental science and engineering, and environmental science and public policy.

What about occupational opportunities?

According to EnvironmentalScience.org “The job outlook for environmental scientists is excellent. Employment is projected to grow 15% from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Issues like climate change and fracking have spurred more public interest in the environment. The country’s aging infrastructure will also have to be replaced. These issues will likely fuel job growth.”

Occupations include environmental consulting and impact analysis, “green” business, toxicology, public-interest lobbying, water conservation, outdoor recreation, environmental education, mineral and resource management, and recycling, hazardous waste management, and local and federal government agencies such as the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Peace Corps, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Mailman Delivers Conclusion

"North Scottsdale Sonoran Desert" by Howard Myers

“North Scottsdale Sonoran Desert” by Howard Myers

Information delivered by Google helped me with this article’s introduction and the mailman helped me with the conclusion. But first, let’s raise a few questions.


Is the Desert Discovery Center and its partnership with ASU a good investment? Will the need for people who are educated in these studies continue to increase? Will the public’s interest and student need-to-know continue to escalate? Are 416 colleges and universities wrong?


Read the article “ASU Article Emphasizes Environmental Importance of DDC,” you’ll find a link below.  According to the article, the U.N. believes that by 2030 water stress could be a reality for almost 50 percent of the world’s population. Without some kind of intervention as many as 700 million could be displaced. Desert Discovery Center “research collaborations could include water quality, use and supply, as well as climate change adaptation and urbanization.’ The article discusses other areas of potential research where  Scottsdale, the center, and the preserve could make a real difference.


Mr. Mailman, Thank you for the timely delivery to my home of the April 2017 issue of National Geographic Magazine.

The issue features a beautifully illustrated article, “7 Things You Need to Know About Climate Change.” The topic titles are 1) “The World Is Warming.” 2) “It’s Because Of Us.” 3) “We’re Sure.” 4) “Ice Is Melting Fast.” 5). “Weather Is Getting More Intense.” 6) “Wildlife Is Already Hurting.” And 7) “We Can Do Something About It.”

National Geographic is right, “We can do something about it.” Personally, I’m going to begin by learning more and studying the Desert Discovery Center proposal when it has been completed will be part of that learning.

The world needs to learn more  The partnership between Scottsdale and ASU can result in a Desert Discovery Center that, in addition to other benefits, can help us all  learn, teach, and move towards a safe and prosperous future.

Author note. The opinions expressed in the above article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors of the Greater Pinnacle Peak Association – Friends of the Scenic Drive.

Related Articles

Top Environmental Blogs – Scottsdale & Sonoran Communities

ASU Article Emphasizes Environmental Importance of DDC

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Author: Les Conklin

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.

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