When the University of Montana launched climate change studies in 2009, it was the first in the nation to start an academic program focused on the topic, according to UM.
Last year, an external reviewer examined the program, and she gave it high marks in an April letter to the provost's office.
"This is a strong program, a plucky start-up that is now ripe for and deserving of greater institutional support and strategic internal growth," said SueEllen Campbell, professor at Colorado State University. " ... This program belongs firmly to the unfolding future rather than the past.
"Among many other things, it represents the role the sciences combined with the other liberal arts can – and indeed, must – play in the troubled times ahead."
Campbell described the program as "a standout" in the country, with Cornell University "the closest match," and she identified the reasons for its success. In the letter, she also offered recommendations for moving forward.
One reason the program is strong is that it strikes the right balance in offering a broad, yet still focused, examination of climate change across disciplines, she said. Other programs are too narrow, focusing only on, say, energy or policy, and some are too broad, tackling sustainability in general.
"The second is your emphasis on practical experience for the students, something I didn't notice anywhere else," the reviewer said in the letter.
Campbell also offered recommendations, including "increased institutional support." Director Nicky Phear's job is a three-quarter time position. The reviewer suggested the post be funded at 40 hours a week, be "preferably secure," and include a part-time assistant.
Phear said the administration has worked to secure her position at UM, and she believes it is on more solid footing this year than it was last year. As part of the retention, she moved from the College of Forestry and Conservation to the Davidson Honors College.
"I also see a need for increased (non-monetary) support from other parts of the university," the reviewer said. "Some of this could be simple lip service from administration: the more visibility the program gains on and off campus, the stronger its potential for growth, reputation, and effect."
She recommended those in the program work closely with the UM Foundation to cultivate donors as well.
"I see the University of Montana's Climate Change Studies minor as an important program, one that is both already remarkably strong (especially given the restraints on human energy and institutional financial, and perhaps also political conditions), and simultaneously an excellent candidate for growth," Campbell said. " ... I urge you all to think big."