Teaching Climatology as a Social Science

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Monday, 3 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Montgomery Walker, Yakima Valley Community College, Yakima, WA

I was stunned, and somewhat nervous, to be invited to attend the 2013 NSF-AMS Climate Studies Diversity workshop. While my case of nerves was largely based on a leap into unknown territory, I am glad I took that leap. The presentations and fieldtrips were all incredibly informative. Resources, such as NASA's visualization studio and Howard University's Atmospheric Science program (as well as others) were fantastic opportunities to see climate science in action. The field trips mentioned, as well as rock-star moments such as a presentation by Dr. Richard Alley, who I have seen frequently in climate science documentaries, moved my mental state from nervousness to excitement at tackling this subject.

As the sole geography professor at Yakima Valley Community College (YVCC), I have some comparative freedom in tackling the creation and implementation of a climate studies course without worrying about what my fellow geographers think. However, since the geography department is housed within the social science department, I gradually came to recognize the path of least resistance would be to offer a climatology course as a social science. All the geography courses offered at YVCC have social science distribution save one. That one course, physical geography, has a natural science distribution, which causes some scheduling difficulties. Unlike the geography courses with social science distribution, physical geography must gain additional approval from the natural science department in order to be taught. This bureaucratic turf war led me to the conclusion that creating a climatology course as a social science class would face fewer obstacles than a climatology course as a natural science. Although I have some discomfort at labeling climatology a social science, my alma mater offers a climatology course as a social science and recently I attended a two-day workshop on climate change at the University of Washington, where the vast majority of the speakers were addressing climate from a human perspective. All this has helped me accept the appropriateness of my climatology course being offered as a social science.

Currently, my climatology course is in the most infantile of stages. The process of drafting the paperwork necessary to create this class has just begun. My personal timeline is to complete to appropriate paperwork this summer and present my proposal to the Curriculum Committee at the beginning of the 20132014 academic year. Hopefully, by presenting my course proposal to the Curriculum Committee as a social science, I can defuse any resistance from the Natural Science department. Once I have navigated the shoals of the Curriculum Committee, I can then present an approved climatology course at the social science's 20142015 academic year annual scheduling retreat, in January 2014. At this meeting, I plan on requesting climatology be placed on the fall 2014 academic calendar. At YVCC, fall quarter has the highest level of enrollment, thus it is a more forgiving term for offering new courses.

As is apparent from my language, this process is still in its initial phase. Nevertheless, I do not foresee any difficulties beyond the issues with Curriculum Committee, and even that may appear to be a nonissue.