AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project and Elizabeth City State University: Developing a Climate Science-based Sustainability Curriculum

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Monday, 5 January 2015
Scott D. Bradshaw, Elizabeth City State University, Elizabeth City, NC

Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system, is located in the northeastern corner of the state, a region that the National Climate Assessment identified as one of the most vulnerable to sea-level rise (National Climate Assessment, 2014). Our 21-county service area also faces significant economic and social challenges, with education, employment, and income levels that lag the rest of the state and nation. Given the history of our institution and the challenges faced by our region, we have a special responsibility to address climate change and increase the number of students from underrepresented groups majoring in the geosciences. This report describes our efforts to develop an academic concentration in sustainability with the American Meteorological Society Climate Studies course as its foundation.

The Commitment of ECSU and the UNC to Sustainability

ECSU was the first HBCU to sign the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) as part of the United Negro College Fund's Building Green Initiative in 2010. As described in our strategic plan, it is an ECSU core value to establish and maintain sustainable development and resource management in our operations, planning, construction and purchasing practices, and, further, to systematically integrate sustainability throughout our teaching and community engagement. With the ACUPCC commitment, and the support of Second Nature and the Kresge Foundation, we are working toward the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

ECSU has also committed to the University of North Carolina Energy Leadership Challenge that makes sustainability a focus of the UNC system. Through this initiative, campus leaders from across higher education in North Carolina share goals to reduce energy expenditures, transform energy utilization and reduce the environmental impacts of both higher education and the state. The long-term goals of the Challenge are to:

*Educate our students to be the leaders of tomorrow through active and demonstrative pursuit of the initiative's goals.

*Reduce and stabilize the university's average annual energy expenditures Transform and stimulate the state's economy through the support of Green Energy business infrastructure.

*Be national leaders in sustainability education and in reducing reliance on fossil fuels.   *Create a culture of environmental and economic sustainability across the UNC system through administrative leadership, student involvement, curricula development, campus operations, and new partnerships between the university, its benefactors, and industry.

In order to accomplish these goals, our institution must create sustainability-related academic experiences for our students that are grounded in science, engaging, and tied to addressing the climate crisis. The AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project provides an ideal catalyst for creating these experiences.

AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project

A formidable obstacle in attracting under-served students to the geosciences has been limited opportunity to enroll in introductory-level geoscience courses. Addressing this requires the development of such courses and faculty prepared to teach them. To help address this problem, the American Meteorological Society (AMS), in association with the NSF Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences and Second Nature, developed an innovative introductory climate science course, AMS Climate Studies. To prepare faculty to teach the course, the AMS, in cooperation with NASA and NOAA, conducts an extensive five-day climate science and course implementation workshop exposing faculty to leading researchers and policymakers, and educational best practices.

ECSU participated in the workshop held in the Washington, DC area in May 2014. The educational experiences included:

*Demonstrations of the course delivery system and a variety of implementation strategies

*Distinguished speakers, including Dr. Frank Niepold (NOAA Climate Education Coordinator), Dr. David Titley (Pennsylvania State University), Dr. Franco Einaudi (former Director of the Earth Sciences Division, NASA Goddard), Michele Madia (Director of Sustainability Financing and Policy, Second Nature), and Dr. Richard Alley (Pennsylvania State University)

*Tours of research facilities, including NOAA, NASA Goddard, and the Howard University Beltsville Center for Climate System Observation

*Peer exchange opportunities with geosciences faculty from institutions from across the country

Implementation at ECSU

ECSU will offer the course for the first time during 2014/2015 academic year where it will become part of a growing sustainability-related curriculum:

*Introduction to Renewable Energy Technologies

An interdisciplinary course suitable for both science and non-science majors who would like to learn about energy and energy needs, renewable energy resources, and potential solutions to the energy crisis. It was first offered in Fall 2013.

*Introduction to Wind and Hydro Power Systems

Introduces concepts, designs, tools, techniques, and material requirements for systems that convert wind and water energy into electricity and other usable energy. It was first offered in Spring 2014.


This course prepares students for careers in green technology through investigating current techniques used in biofuel production and addressing energy business information. It will be offered for the first time in Fall 2014.

*Solar Photovoltaic Systems

This course develops in students an understanding of the operation of photovoltaic devices, systems, and applications. It will be offered for the first time in Fall 2014.

*Environmental and Conservation Psychology

The course explores all aspects of human-environmental interactions and the role of psychology in promoting sustainable behaviors, including issues related to sea-level rise, alternative energy, health and wellness, and environmental justice. It was first offered in Fall 2009.

These courses will form the basis of an academic Concentration in Sustainability with the AMS Climate Science course as the required first course in the sequence. Courses will be added across the curriculum, including the areas of Business, Public Policy, and Global Studies. In addition to being taught as a standalone course, modules from AMS Climate Science will be incorporated into other courses, most notably teacher education.

The AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project is playing a major role in ECSU's efforts to integrate sustainability across the campus and to be a leader in the region in climate change mitigation and adaptation.