TRAVERSE CITY — John Lutchko grew up surrounded by fresh water.
“I grew up in Traverse City,” he said. “The bay was my backyard. My family had a cottage on Lake Leelaunau. I spent every summer there.”
Now Lutchko, 31, is one of the first area college students who will parlay a lifelong love of H2O into a bachelor’s degree in fresh water science and sustainability. It’s an opportunity available through a new partnership between Northwestern Michigan College and Western Michigan University.
The new degree program officially launches in September, but WMU will offer two courses toward the program through its Traverse City-based Extended University Programs division starting May 5.
Hans Van Sumeren, director of NMC’s Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, said those classes filled up with interested students weeks ago, and college officials are talking about opening up more sessions.
The new degree program should offer students ample professional options after graduation, especially as fresh water becomes an increasingly limited natural resource, Van Sumeren said. He pointed to the relationship between water, food, and energy and said you cannot alter one of those things without directly impacting the others.
“It takes energy and water to grow food,” he said. “We’re going to have to find ways to produce foods that are more efficient in the use of water. It also takes an enormous amount of water to produce energy, and a tremendous amount of energy to use water.”
Van Sumeren said such challenges are not going away, and he expects to see more universities create degree pathways like the partnership between NMC and WMU.
Lutchko, of Traverse City, completed a fresh water studies associate degree at NMC in December and started pursuing a marine engineering technologies assoicate degree. He’s also taking classes through WMU to work toward a bachelor’s degree.