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Environmental Class Explores Energy Stewardship

The United States has enough natural gas reserves to be energy independent for 70-100 years, according to the Energy Information Administration, but energy companies can make a profit by selling the energy to Japan and China while buying cheaper energy from the Middle East.

As the nation struggles with energy dilemmas like energy independence, students in the University of St. Thomas environmental science course, Energy for the Future, explore the foundations of both conventional and renewable energy technologies in light of environmental stewardship.

With an awareness that there is no perfect energy source, Sister Damien Marie Savino, FSE, associate professor and chair of the Environmental Science and Studies Department teaches her students the pros and cons of each technology.

“We’re trying to bring a reasonable voice to the energy debate,” Sister Damien Marie said. “We’ll have to use oil and gas technologies for a while, and we want to use them responsibly.”

She brings in experts from energy companies to speak to her class.

“I want the students to have exposure to professionals in the field,” she said. “This helps them to view energy questions realistically.”

Environmental Science classThe class explores the future of energy – from renewables like solar, wind, biomass and geothermal, to conventional sources such as nuclear, oil, gas and coal. Sister Damien Marie also encourages her students to think critically about questions of energy independence, the viability of renewable sources, the pros and cons of such technologies as fracking and oil sands development, and how to meet national energy needs while also preserving the environment.

The Energy for the Future class is required for Environmental Science and Studies majors and is open to all UST students.  

“Because we are a Catholic liberal arts university, we are able to consider energy issues from a holistic point of view that includes both technical and moral-ethical concerns. Indeed, the UST ESS program is unique in being able to consider not only energy but also food, water,  toxic waste and other environmental issues in light of these interdisciplinary concerns,” Sister Damien Marie said. The program also focuses on the unique dignity of the human person in creation as articulated in the Catholic intellectual tradition.

“While we’re aware of the problems that humans have caused in relation to the environment, and of course encourage conversion away from patterns of excessive consumption or selfishness, for example, our emphasis is on the giftedness of the human person and the possibilities for humans to solve environmental problems,” she said. “We encourage our students to grow in the creativity and entrepreneurship needed to develop real solutions.”

Sister Damien Marie earned her doctorate in civil engineering and has two master’s degrees, one in soil science and one in theology. Before coming to UST, she worked for 12 years as an environmental consultant on soil and groundwater remediation of contaminated sites.

The professor said Houston is booming with environmental opportunities.

“We have the oil and gas energy sector, and solar is growing, as is wind,” she said. “With our proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, there are many environmental opportunities there. There is a wide range of environmental consulting firms and also a growing urban food movement, especially in Houston and Austin. The entrepreneurial spirit is so prevalent here.”

Environmental science and studies students can use their degrees to pursue careers in the energy field, environmental consulting, soil, air and water remediation, environmental impact assessment, environmental health and safety, environmental law, conservation or environmental education. Alumni have pursued master’s degrees and are working for government, industry and non-profits.

“One person can really make a difference,” Sister Damien Marie said. “In my teaching I hope to contribute to UST’s efforts to form our students into whole persons. If they’re formed well, they can make a real difference in the world.”

To learn more about a degree in environmental science or environmental studies at UST, email Sister Damien Marie at or call 713-525-3894.