UNT graduate student Eric Norman may not have known the word "sustainability" when he went on Boy Scouts camping trips to remote wilderness areas. But Norman says those experiences "planted in my mind that there are some things worth protecting."
In May 2012, Norman became one of the first three UNT students to receive the university's "green degree" -- a master's degree in international sustainable tourism through UNT's first joint international degree program. Other graduates are Kyle Presnall and Christina Morris.
The degree is the first of its kind in the U.S. Each graduate's diploma will have the names of UNT's College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism and CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) in Turrialba, Costa Rica.
Students in the master's program, known as MIST, take courses for one academic year at UNT, then go to Costa Rica for a second academic year to prepare for management and leadership positions in sustainable tourism. Sustainable tourism strives to meet the needs of hotels, resorts, tour groups and other tourism markets without compromising natural resources or negatively affecting communities. The field includes ecotourism, which is low-impact tourism in fragile, pristine areas that are usually environmentally protected.
Norman says sustainability is one of those things that just makes sense the more you study it.
"It isn't a corporate social responsibility ploy to add skylights to have something nice to print in a brochure. It is about making changes that help a business improve its odds of success, like helping to alleviate the problems that face communities, reducing consumption of resources and ensuring that you earn adequate returns to keep doing the work that makes the whole cycle continue. It's a really beautiful way to approach life and managing a company," he says.
Norman previously earned a bachelor's degree in hospitality management from UNT in December 2008. He was employed by the Fairmont Dallas Hotel before enrolling in the MIST program in August 2010.
After receiving his master's degree, Norman will return to CATIE to be a research assistant and program coordinator for the center's Sustainability Seminar Series, a four-week summer program that will start this year. Students from New Mexico State University, Oklahoma State University and UNT will earn six academic credits while studying the principles of sustainability in hospitality and tourism and learning from people who have put sustainable concepts into practice in Costa Rica. Norman says the series will be expanded next year to include agribusiness and environmental science. He plans to eventually work as a consultant on tourism development projects.
"There are places in the world where the tourism industry is so underdeveloped that it's crucial that projects are handled delicately. If they're not done the right way, the people in these regions can wind up little better off than they were before, and sometimes worse," he says.
Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at Nancy.Kolsti@unt.edu.