Climate change. Politically speaking, it may be one of the largest elephants in the room. And N.C. Central University has set its sights on educating both students and professors about the risks and realities of climate change. In 2012, the NASA Innovations in Climate Education project awarded Delaware State University a $188,0921 grant. Part of this money was granted to NCCU and other minority institutions to improve climate change education on campus. In their grant application, Zhiming Yang, assistant professor, and William Harris associate professor, from environmental, earth and geospatial sciences, wrote that the project “aims to prepare underrepresented STEM teachers that are competent for teaching the contents of the Earth, climate, and climate change.”
“In the past, I doubt we’ve had some grant like this,” Yang said. Yang said the grant has enabled him to bring scholars with more expertise on climate change to NCCU. Professors from Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State have come to campus to discuss climate change. “They actually know climate change. They have a lot of expertise,” Yang said. On March 23, Yang organized a guest lecture on climate change with Charles E. Konrad, a UNC- CH professor and director of the Southeast Regional Climate Center. In addition to inviting guest speakers, Yang said he modifies the content of his courses and incorporates aspects of climate change in his teachings.
“This is a way we try to introduce something new to the student,” he said. In addition to in-class lectures and exercises, Yang also takes students on field trips. He took his students to the Durham landfill and to a hog farm in Raleigh to measure greenhouse gases with instruments purchase throughout the grant. “I believe in learning by doing,” Yang said. “Inside of class we talk about it but we want the students to go out and take measurements.” Yang said the grant also allowed NCCU to build its own weather station, located on East Lawson Street, where students can record measurements. “This is not just a weather station you can use at home,” he said. “It is used for scientific research.” Yang said the program includes a summer internship for education majors.
Each year, one or two students are chosen to develop lesson plans that include climate change education. “We’re trying to talk more about climate change,” Yang said. Harris, who also incorporated climate change into his courses, said he hopes the courses get students and professors more educated on climate change. “What we consider successful is to have the average person be able to understand climate change,” he said. “We want people in this world to be environmentally conscious.” Williams, who teaches an online weather and climatology class, said he taught exercises in climate change and taught his students on carbon footprints.
He said his students seemed “very enthusiastic” about learning about climate change and enjoyed traveling on the field trips to take measurements. “The whole idea is to get students into some kind of science,” he said. “Hopefully this will entice them to do that.” Williams said the grant has been a rewarding experience, and that education about climate change is a step in the right direction. “It is a great idea, and I enjoyed doing it,” he said. “It’s a great idea for the country, for the nation, and for the world.”