In 1991, the Regents of the University of California gave their approval to establish the School of Environmental Science & Management at UC Santa Barbara. Plans for a new building to house the school were begun a year later. The time was right. Growing world population and rising standards of living were placing ever-increasing demands on Earth’s limited resources and unprecedented strains on its natural systems. Environmental challenges were escalating in number and complexity. Meanwhile, extraordinary technological advances — from increasingly powerful computers to advanced communication networks and remote satellite sensing capabilities — had led to breakthroughs in mapping and monitoring the planet's snow cover, forests, oceans, and atmosphere.
Information resulting from these transformational technologies led to a deeper understanding of the environment as a series of interdependent systems and underscored the intricate links between the status of human systems and the state of the natural world. Further, scientists had begun to understand the prominent role that humans play in shaping the environment, whether in terms of ocean degradation, pollution, climate change, or loss of biodiversity. We had entered the era of "coupled" systems, when it would be meaningless to study or understand the environment without also studying the human actions that impact it.
With this more integrated view of the environment came the need for a new kind of solution-oriented environmental professional, one who would be highly trained in the quantitative, multidisciplinary analysis of environmental problems and would combine expertise in a range of methodologies with a solid understanding of the political, economic, and social dimensions of environmental decision-making.
The school was created as a center of related research and a crossroads where prominent leaders, thinkers, practitioners, and innovators could convene to present, discuss, and debate new findings and evolving knowledge in the critical disciplines related to environmental science and management.
Sense of Place
Backed by the Santa Ynez Mountains and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, UC Santa Barbara is the ideal setting for such a school. Often considered the birthplace of modern environmentalism, for the galvanizing role the 1969 oil spill played in raising the nation's environmental awareness, Santa Barbara itself extends the context of a school dedicated to responsible stewardship of Earth’s resources.
Ultimately, though, it was neither the oceanside setting nor the high level of local environmental awareness that convinced the regents to choose Santa Barbara as the site of the UC's first and, to date, only graduate school of environmental management. Rather, understanding that the new school would be multidisciplinary by nature, the regents based their decision on UCSB’s strong reputation as a center of cross-disciplinary studies and the strength of its numerous other schools and departments. Nationally recognized programs in the natural and social sciences — geography, Earth sciences, engineering, and economics, to name a few — would provide a solid foundation for the Bren School’s integrated approach, as well as faculty who could take on joint or temporary appointments with the new school to complement and extend the reach of its own new full-time faculty.
In 1994, Jeff Dozier, professor of Earth systems science, became the school’s first dean, and a master's program was designed to offer courses in natural and social sciences, as well as ecology, management, and risk assessment. The school appointed its first faculty members in 1995, accepted its first master’s (MESM) students in 1996, and graduated its inaugural class of 20 in 1998. The PhD program was added two years later and graduated its first three students in 2002. There are now approximately 175 master’s students in the school, equally divided between first- and second-years, and 40 PhD students.
In 1997, after receiving a major gift from the Donald Bren Foundation to provide funding for endowed faculty chairs, faculty scholars, visiting lecturers, conferences, and student support, the school was renamed the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. Construction of Bren Hall began a year later, and the building opened in April 2002 as a model of sustainable design and construction. It has since won numerous awards and was the first laboratory building to receive the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Platinum Award — the highest certification possible — while earning recognition as the greenest laboratory building in the United States at that time. In 2009 it became the first building to earn LEED Platinum accreditation twice, the second time as an existing building. Home to classrooms, lecture halls, and state-of-the-art facilities and labs, Bren Hall has become a benchmark of sustainable design, construction, and operation.
In fall 2000, after six years as dean, Dr. Dozier returned to full-time teaching at the Bren School, and Dennis Aigner, formerly dean of the Graduate School of Management at UC Irvine, was appointed the school’s second dean. Dr. Aigner brought an increased focus on the corporate and legal aspects of environmental problem solving and continued to expand the vision of the school as a leader in cutting-edge research and integrated environmental solutions. After completing his five-year term in summer 2005, Dr. Aigner was succeeded by Bren Professor John Melack, who served as acting dean for six months prior to the arrival of Ernst von Weizsäcker, who arrived at Bren after having chaired the environmental committee in the German national parliament. With Dean von Weizsäcker's departure at the end of 2008, Dr. Melack stepped in for a second time as acting dean until the appointment of Steve Gaines, whose tenure as the fourth Bren School dean began in January 2010.