Tuesday is World Water Day, and the White House is bringing the issues of water to the public forefront at a special Water Summit. Stephen Schoenholtz, coordinator of Virginia Tech’s new bachelor’s degree in water: resources, policy, and management, will present the university’s commitment to water sustainability and security at the summit.

The live-stream event has ended. Watch video from the summit.

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The White House Office of Science and Technology selected Virginia Tech as one of its 150 invitees from across the nation to participate. Schoenholtz, president-elect of the National Institute for Water Resources and director of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, will deliver Virginia Tech’s commitment to a sustainable water future as follows:

“The newly established interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program in Water: Resources, Policy, and Management at Virginia Tech is designed to prepare students for rapidly expanding employment opportunities to address complex water-resources challenges for a sustainable and secure water future. Today, Virginia Tech is committing to expand this program by reaching enrollment exceeding 100 undergraduate students, increasing the program’s endowment to $2 million, and expanding by 2018 to include a graduate program offering M.S. and Ph.D. degrees for students seeking advanced interdisciplinary training.”

Schoenholtz explained, “With the current national spotlight on the water woes in Flint, Michigan, the water problems of our nation and around the world are at last on everyone’s radar. Citizens now know what scientists have been trying to tell policymakers for years — that the quantity and quality of our water can no longer be taken for granted anywhere on the globe. Flint’s problems are our wake-up call. And the White House Water Summit is the catalyst for action and solutions for the spectrum of water challenges.”

Paul Winistorfer, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, had saw that the complexity of the world’s water problems for a sustainable future needed an interdisciplinary approach, so he encouraged development of a new degree program that now encompasses faculty from five of Virginia Tech’s eight colleges and is the first of its kind in the United States.

The water degree covers water quality; watershed management; aquatic ecosystems; policy and planning; international water management; public health; climate, energy, and food; and hydrology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 18 percent growth in water-related employment from 2010 to 2020, which should translate into opportunities for graduates of the water degree program.

“The novel water degree,” said Schoenholtz, “prepares students for jobs with public agencies and nongovernmental organizations, as well as with architecture, urban planning, engineering, scientific, and technical consulting firms,” said Schoenholtz, who is also professor of forestry hydrology and soils the College of Natural Resources and Environment.

One of his water major students, sophomore Maggie Carolan of Stafford, Virginia, is a member of the Virginia Tech team led by Marc Edwards that uncovered the water crisis in Flint. Edwards, the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering, has been leading the effort to assess the extent of the city’s water crisis.

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