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By James Brey, Director, AMS Education Program & Elizabeth Mills, Associate Director, AMS Education Program
(This article appears in the December, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

ACUPCC ImplementerThere has never been such a critical need for educating today’s undergraduates on Earth’s changing climate and pathways to sustainability.  The footprints of climate change surround us – Arctic sea ice reached its record lowest extent in August 2012, the 10 warmest years in the global climate record have occurred since 1997, and global sea level continues to rise (1). Climate change is also predicted to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, which combined with sea-level rise, may lead to more natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy (1, 2, 3).

It is imperative to develop a scientific workforce ready to tackle the challenge of climate change in light of the new energy economy and various societal and political factors. The National Science Foundation (NSF) underscores the need for increasing public literacy in the Earth System Sciences, including climate science literacy, and preparing a highly skilled scientific workforce reflecting the nation’s diversity (4, 5).

To promote climate science literacy and geoscience diversity, NSF is supporting a long-term partnership between Second Nature and the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Education Program that will introduce the AMS Climate Studies course to 100 minority-serving institutions (MSIs) over a five-year period (6).  AMS is now enrolling 25 MSI faculty members to attend the expenses-paid Course Implementation Workshop in Washington, DC, from May 19-24, 2013.

The Implementation workshop leverages the expertise of NASA, NOAA, and Howard University climate scientists, as well as faculty from George Mason University and James Madison University, both signatories to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). The 2013 AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project informational website and application form are available online. The deadline for application is March 15, 2013.

The AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project aligns with the goals of the ACUPCC and supports the diversity initiatives of Second Nature. The AMS-Second Nature partnership is enabling signatories to strengthen the curriculum component of their ACUPCC Climate Action Plans.  Faculty members representing 28 MSIs attended the inaugural Course Implementationamsbrochure-larger Workshop in May 2012 and are introducing the climate course at their local institutions this academic year.  The 2012 cohort included 9 signatory MSIs: California State University Monterey Bay, Coppin State University, Delaware State University, Jones County Junior College, Monroe Community College (NY), Morgan State University (MD), New Mexico State University, New Mexico State University – Grants Campus, and South Mountain Community College (AZ).

AMS Climate Studies is closely tied to campus wide sustainability efforts. As Professor Mintesinot Jiru (Coppin State University) explains, “this course alone will enlighten our students with the contemporary issues of climate and impact of climate change. The course is a good addition to the other sustainability related courses we have on campus. It will strengthen our effort to infuse sustainability education in our curriculum. I am working with our Associate Vice President for Government and Public Policy, who is also in charge of sustainability initiative on campus, to ensure that what we do in the classroom is also reflected on our campus-wide sustainability initiative.”

Professor Jason Szymanski of Monroe Community College is also connected to his college’s Climate Action Plan. “Indeed this course will promote awareness of, and engage students in, sustainable, college-wide actions. I am working with the College’s Sustainability Steering Committee to support the College’s Action Plan. For example, written into the curriculum of the course is a component that highlights sustainable practices on campus including our ride-share program, our new LEED Certified building, electrical co-generation facility, and recycling initiatives. Students will also be taught carbon-reducing practices that they can incorporate into their day to day routines.”

Faculty members are drawn to the AMS Climate Studies Diversity Project for many reasons. Some are key players in their Climate Action Plan development and implementation. Others, like Professor Michael Leach of New Mexico State University – Grants Campus, want to educate their students about climate science topics using current data with the sustainability connection as a plus.  As Professor Leach explains, “I was not aware that our college was an ACUPCC signatory when I applied for the Climate Diversity Project, however I was aware that we were involved in some type of sustainability program, as I had to report if my classes had a sustainability component. That is easy to report for my AMS classes. I chose climate studies for many reasons, but the fact that it would help my students understand the complexities of climate, and the human factors involved in climate change were tops on my list. I feel it is extremely important for all college graduates to have broad general knowledge of climate change, as it is their generation that is going to be involved in helping to fix the problem.”

AMS Climate Studies is a course package available to undergraduate institutions nationwide. The course can be offered by science faculty with a range of backgrounds, within various learning environments from face-to-face to online instruction. Developed by AMS staff scientists and science educators, the course includes a comprehensive 15-chapter textbook, an Investigations Manual with 30 laboratory-style activities, a course website containing current science investigations and real-time data, and a faculty website and resource CD. Course activities and test banks are provided in Respondus format that can be ported into a course management system for automated scoring and immediate student feedback.

Faculty fit the course into different departments and levels depending on their local college requirements. For example, Professor Constance Falk of New Mexico State University plans to first offer the course in spring 2013 as a senior level honors class. She explains that “the course will be open to all majors and focus on science, policy, and politics.” Professor Chunlei Fan of Morgan State University first offered the course as a “498” internship class in fall 2012 and awaits full course approval. Professor Szymanski has the 4-credit sequence of Climate Change with a laboratory approved at a 200-level.  Many others implement the course at the introductory undergraduate level.

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References:

(1)    American Meteorological Society (Adopted 20 August 2012) “Climate Change: An Information State of the American Meteorological Society” Boston, MA: American Metrological Society, http://www.ametsoc.org/policy/2012climatechange.html

(2)    National Research Council, 2012. “Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices. “ Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=14674

(3)    Kahn, Brian.”Superstorm Sandy and Sea-level Rise.” 5 November 2012. NOAA ClimateWatch Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.climatewatch.noaa.gov/article/2012/superstorm-sandy-and-sea-level-rise

(4)    National Science Foundation (2012) Strategic Frameworks for Education & Diversity, Facilities, International Activities, and Data & Informatics in the Geosciences http://www.nsf.gov/geo/acgeo/geovision/geo_strategic_plans_2012.pdf

(5)    NSF Advisory Committee for Geosciences (2009) Geovision Report http://www.nsf.gov/geo/acgeo/geovision/nsf_ac-geo_vision_10_2009.pdf

(6)    Brey, James. “American Meteorological Society and Second Nature Partner to Strengthen Climate Sustainability-Focused Curricula at Minority-Serving Institutions.” February 2010. Advancing Education for Sustainability. Retrieved from… https://secondnaturebos.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/american-meteorological-society-and-second-nature-partner-to-strengthen-climate-and-sustainability-focused-curricula-at-minority-serving-institutions/

The following authors also contributed to this article:
Kira Nugnes, Program Assistant, AMS
Kathryn O’Neill, Content Specialist, AMS
Maureen Moses, Program Assistant, AMS

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By Christie-Joy Hartman, Executive Director, Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, James Madison University; Linda Petee, Sustainability & Risk Management Coordinator, Delta College; Jennifer Andrews, Director of Program Planning & Coordination and Tim Ryder, Undergraduate Climate Fellow, Clean Air-Cool Planet; Rita Alison, National Senior Manager Sustainability & Environmental Stewardship, ARAMARK

(This article appears in the September, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Food consumption is a potentially significant Scope 3 source not currently included in many universities’ emissions inventories. Faithful readers of The Implementer, may recall an article from 2010 discussing the development of the CHarting Emissions from Food Services (CHEFS) calculator that estimates food-related climate impact. CHEFS is a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) tool that accounts for emissions associated with the production, use, and disposal of campus food-related products. The CHEFS tool, developed by Clean Air-Cool Planet with initial support from ARAMARK, is currently completing a beta test following successful pilot testing in 2011. The beta test entails four campus sustainability coordinators working with ARAMARK staff to collaboratively detail and tally a semester’s worth of campus choices in menu planning, purchasing, and dining-related operations.  The data is entered into the CHEFS web-based interface, producing the food-related carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for each campus.

With finite resources and a myriad of environmental project possibilities, campus sustainability coordinators need to consider and often justify measuring and reporting yet another set of metrics. The intent of CHEFS is to help determine the relative significance of Scope 3 food-related emissions by quantifying the magnitude and effect of the food product lifecycle. For example, preliminary results from one of the beta-testing schools indicate that meat represents 55% of that campus’ total food-related carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and removing one day’s worth of meat reduces approximately 8% of those emissions.  These kinds of results could provide valuable information for prioritizing institutional and individual food purchasing actions. James Madison University (JMU) and Delta College, two of the higher education institutions who are participating in the CHEFS beta test, are investing time in CHEFS with the goals of not only enhancing institutional decision making and informing consumer choice, but also enhancing education.

Delta College, which has a self-run dining service program, has collaborated with pilot projects in the past and found them to be mutually beneficial, and it approached the CHEFS project with the goal that it would serve as the campus food operations base year data.  Delta’s institutional strategic planning leads it to benchmark its programs, to assess progress, and to set measurable goals for continuous improvement.  With the purchasing data Delta collected through the CHEFS pilot, it now has a solid foundation of information from which to identify objectives toward more sustainable dining.  As a start, Delta’s office of sustainability is now developing data entry forms so their food service staff can more easily capture their inventory for a seamless transfer to the CHEFS software moving forward.  They found that CHEFS provided them a template and pointed them in the right direction to start tackling the climate impact of their dining services!

Delta College administrators can utilize the results in the context of their broader institutional emissions profile.  For example, the purchasing data that Delta collected for the beta test, while still quite preliminary, suggests that in some instances food purchases alone have more impact than the total of Scope 1 emissions and nearly half of all Scope 2 emissions.

JMU’s dining services is using CHEFS to obtain a preliminary estimate of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from food-related operations for 2011. A JMU graduate assistant is exploring employing CHEFS to analyze a variety of possible future paths, such as adding more vegetarian dishes, developing seasonal menus, and simply operating more efficiently.  Ideally, the results would be used by ARAMARK in combination with cost and feasibility information to reduce emissions.

JMU’s Office of Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability also hopes to use the results to help achieve one of its main goals–challenging citizens to think critically about their roles as environmental stewards. Dining is a focal point at JMU (where on campus dining is ranked by The Princeton Review in the top 10 in the nation) that presents an opportunity to connect with consumers not necessarily already actively engaged in sustainability conversations.  JMU is exploring conducting a second scenario analysis in CHEFS that focuses on individual behaviors such as throwing away less food, utilizing less take-out packaging, and eating less meat. Results could then be communicated to consumers via methods such as the qualitative labeling system that is being developed as part of CHEFS.  The analyses itself could provide opportunities for scholarly articles by students and faculty members as well as material for interdisciplinary undergraduate environmental issues courses.

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