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East Carolina University first in U.S. to offer interdisciplinary master’s degree in sustainable tourism

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (June 17, 2010)   —   As summer officially begins June 21, East Carolina University faculty will be hard at work on the institution’s newest degree offering.
The first in the nation, ECU’s interdisciplinary master’s degree in sustainable tourism reflects a growing concern among businesses, consumers and academics about balancing the ecological, economic and social impacts of tourism on vacation destinations around the world.
“There is a close link and relationship between good science and good business,” said Dr. Patrick Long, director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism. “We need to train and educate our future leaders in this industry on how to best integrate those two major components.”
The UNC Board of Governor’s approved the degree on Jan. 8, and the full program is already in motion.
As the Center defines it, sustainable tourism “contributes to a balanced and healthy economy by generating tourism-related jobs, revenues and taxes while protecting and
enhancing the destination’s social, cultural, historical, natural and built resources for the enjoyment and well-being of both residents and visitors.”
ECU will be the first U.S. university to offer the master’s degree, but such studies aren’t uncommon in other parts of the world, including Europe, Australia and Asia. U.S. institutions are embracing sustainability as an academic discipline, however. Appalachian State University, for instance, offers a bachelor’s degree in sustainable development.
Dr. Deirdre Mageean, vice chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies, felt strongly that the master’s degree should have an interdisciplinary reach, Long said. The resulting program draws upon various departments in the College of Business, the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Human Ecology, and the College of Health and Human Performance, so that students can develop a broad knowledge base.
“That’s why this partnership is so unique at ECU,” said Dr. David Edgell Sr., professor of tourism in the Department of Hospitality Management and a former Commissioner of Tourism for the U.S. Virgin Islands. “You’ve got four colleges involved in this academic program.”
Graduate students already are doing coursework in the program. One student is working on a study of renewable energy strategies in tourism. Another is studying legislative attitudes toward sustainability in tourism.
“Sustainability is a critical issue at the global level,” said Dr. Joseph Fridgen, a professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies and director of the master’s program. “Increasingly, businesses are starting to demand knowledge about green practices, so why not educate students to be the future leaders of tomorrow in that field?”