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Starting Next Semester, Students Can Major In Climate Studies At PSU

Lourdes Aviles

Plymouth State University is launching a bachelor's degree program in climate studies. They say it's the only such program in New Hampshire, and one of the few nationwide.  School leaders say the program will allow students to go deeper into climate science and prepare them for a variety of careers, including in emergency management, conservation, public policy, tourism and science journalism.

Lourdes Aviles is a professor of meteorology and the climate studies program coordinator.  She spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello about PSU’s hopes for the program.

Peter Biello: So this program, according to the school, will allow students to go deeper into climate science than they otherwise would have gone. What do you mean by that phrase? What areas of climate science were students previously not studying or maybe not studying enough?

Lourdes Aviles: So the idea is to have a program that is focused on climate science. Climate has been part of the education of students in atmospheric science, meteorology degrees and environmental science, but it has never been the focus of a degree at Plymouth State University and very few degrees around the nation at the moment. So the idea is that they get the foundation of climate science by a combination of atmospheric and environmental science courses that cover those topics. They get some technical and some math training, and then they can explore one or more focus areas depending on their interests and their skills. The idea is that climate is not just a science issue. It is also, you know, a policy issue, environmental effects issue, societal in so many ways, economic, so our students will have the choice of going into any of those areas and then at the end come back and put everything together into a capstone project that uses their climate knowledge and their areas of interests.

Peter Biello: And why is it important to include such a wide variety of coursework in areas of study on climate that don't necessarily involve the traditional sciences, like chemistry? Like, you're including things on public policy and on tourism and on journalism. Why is it important to include those things?

Lourdes Aviles: We are acknowledging the fact that climate is not solely a science problem, and in order to solve the many problems that are associated with the climate change that we are currently undergoing, we will need people that are trained in more areas than just the science. We need people that can understand the science, but also have the skills to work in other areas, such as business, communication, policy, education. So we set out to create a highly flexible and highly interdisciplinary degree.

This story is part of NHPR's climate change reporting project, By Degrees. Share your story ideas and questions with us.

Peter Biello: Were students asking for a specific degree program in climate studies?

Lourdes Aviles: I would say not specifically to ask, because students don't come and ask for a degree. They start browsing around the Internet to see what's available in their areas of expertise. And in fact, I was just Googling, if you want to be a climate scientist, what comes out, what comes up? And it's mostly, where can you do environmental sciences?  Where can atmospheric science and meteorology? And there's only a couple of options.

Peter Biello: And what might employers find valuable about a student with a Bachelor of Science and Climate Studies from PSU?

Lourdes Aviles: The types of jobs these students will be able to do will vary a lot depending on what area they focused on. Something that they will all come out with is a very strong foundation in the science of climate change. So these people that might be working on a business or as policy advisors or creating policy themselves or educating the public, doing advocacy, they will have the knowledge and the understanding to do it appropriately without propagating incorrect information.

Peter Biello: And when might we see the first graduates in this program?

Lourdes Aviles: We are already accepting students for the fall of 2021. So theoretically that would be spring 2025 will be the first graduates. The degree was fully implemented kind of late in the admissions cycle for this year. So it's possible we will not have too many students starting. But hopefully in the year between now and the next admissions cycle, the word will get out and we'll have a lot of students ready to do this.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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