Climate change is perhaps the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, and just thinking about it can make someone feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
How can the next generation of environmental professionals be prepared to deal a problem that big?
One answer could be found this fall in the Climate Corps class taught at the University of Connecticut by Sea Grant’s Juliana Barrett and Bruce Hyde, land use academy director at UConn CLEAR (Center for Land Use Education & Research). Now in its second year, the course invites students to tackle this global challenge on local scales, methodically breaking it down into more manageable parts.
The UConn Climate Corps is an undergraduate classroom and service learning opportunity. The program consists of a 3 credit course (Fall semester) on the local impacts of climate change, followed by a 3 credit independent study (Spring semester) during which students work with Extension faculty to assist Connecticut communities in adapting to climate change. In Spring of 2018 the Corps worked with the municipalities of Hartford, Westbrook, and Old Lyme.
A student in the 2017-18 class and shared her thoughts with Extension Educators Bruce Hyde and Juliana Barrett.
Also I just wanted to say thank you for all the hard work you two put in to make this class/independent study possible. I had an amazing experience with it and met a lot of great people. I actually just accepted a really great post-graduation job offer from Homesite Insurance in Boston as a Catastrophe Risk Analyst, and half of my interview was spent talking about this independent study. I’ll be doing natural hazard risk modeling and identifying at-risk areas for certain natural disasters as a result of weather patterns, geographic locations, and climate change, which is something this independent study really prepared me for/got me interested in. This wouldn’t have been possible without you two and the Climate Corps class, so thank you so much!! Climate Corps had a huge influence on me, and for a while I wasn’t super excited about the sorts of jobs I’d be qualified to do with a Geoscience degree (consulting and cleaning up hazardous waste spills somehow didn’t appeal to me), but having this experience opened so many doors for me and exposed me to so many different things I could do. I’m really excited to start my new job because I’ve been able to combine a career with something I find super interesting, and I really have you two to thank for that.
I recommended Climate Corps to a bunch of people and I think one of my friends is signed up for it next year, so please keep doing this, it’s a great experience for us students (and I’m sure also for the towns we work with)! Thank you again!
The shoreline community of Westbrook, Connecticut, situated halfway between New Haven and New London, is home to approximately 7,000 residents while supporting seasonal tourists with numerous beaches and shopping stores in the town’s outlet. It is also the municipality I was assigned to research and create a vulnerability assessment for during my time at the UConn Extension Office Internship in partnership with the Climate Adaption Academy and Climate Corps. Through the internship I achieved the Extension Office’s mission of using scientific research to engage with members of the public and municipalities, breaking down complex problems and developing easy to understand solutions that may help inform policy in the future.
Using the town’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan and various mapping services, I compiled a list of assets that I determined to have some level of vulnerability to climate hazards (such as flooding, sea level rise, damage from high precipitation events) primarily based on their geographical location to bodies of water. Although this information was similar to that described in the town’s plan, my created final product takes the basic material and provides recommended actions to reduce vulnerability, thus going one step further. With my help and the aid of future interns, the municipality can prepare for the impacts already being seen from climate change while simultaneously saving money. Figuring out the best way to protect assets and people within communities, whether proposing solutions on a town wide or specific infrastructure basis (an approach this internship takes with the Climate Corps Information Sheet), is an important discussion to have and comparison to make. Creating the vulnerability assessment was a rewarding process and the completed 38-page document (including references and figures) is something that I am proud to show to anyone willing to learn about the risk-based evaluations. I hope that the work done in this internship will grow into a much more substantial program and help Connecticut become a leader in climate adaptation.
Additional internship responsibilities included website updating and offering recommendations for a role-playing exercise that will occur in a new Climate Corps related class during the upcoming semester. These activities helped me reflect on past, similar experiences so that I could make any changes to proposed material to avoid previous problems I had encountered. Finding links to put on the Adapt CT website (through UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research) helped bring out my creative side and allowed me to delve into topics that really interest me.
Although attending meetings (except with the Westbrook town planner) and conducting a field site visit were not a part of my official obligations, seeing people and infrastructure in person really tied everything in the internship together. By seeing the people, along with their properties and other assets, that will be most negatively impacted by climate change in the future, my work felt much more important knowing what I did this summer may have a positive influence in time. Talking to members of shoreline communities from various backgrounds also made me realize that the climate will leave people of all classes vulnerable to events such as sea level rise, storm surge, flooding and tropical storms/hurricanes. Overall, this was more than just a summer job, rather a learning experience teaching me the ins and outs of local government, how input from the public affects an administration’s policies and the importance of maintaining natural landscapes within man-made ones.
Extension faculty is leading a collaborative new program focused on the impact of climate change on Connecticut communities. The UConn Climate Corps will bring together undergraduates enrolled in the environmental majors with town officials, to the benefit of both groups. The program is supported for three years by a competitive grant from the UConn Provost’s Office, in support of the Academic Plan goals of Excellence in Undergraduate Education and Public Engagement.
Students at the University are increasingly interested in the topic of climate change, which many feel is the environmental issue of our time. At the same time, many communities across Connecticut are struggling with how to adapt to climate change, and how to marshal the resources needed to do so. To address these complementary needs, Extension faculty associated with the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) have developed the Climate Corps, a new multi-departmental collaboration at UConn that will combine classroom instruction and service learning to create a unique assistance program for Connecticut communities. Students in the Environmental Studies, Environmental Science, and Environmental Engineering majors will be recruited for the program, which consists of a class during the fall semester and in-the-field work with town officials during the following spring semester.
The class, Climate Resilience and Adaptation: Municipal Policy and Planning, will first be offered in the fall semester of 2017-2018 academic year and will focus on local, practical issues and impacts arising from climate change. Extension’s Juliana Barrett will lead the course but will be team-taught by Climate Corps team members and outside experts. “This course is not so much about the physical science of climate change as it is about local policy responses,” says Barrett. “In order for the students to really understand how climate change can affect local policies and operations, they have to have a firm grasp on how decisions are made at the town level, so there will be a focus on local decision making and on the federal and state legal frameworks in which towns operate.”
Students who complete the fall course are then eligible for the spring practicum course, led by Extension’s Bruce Hyde. The practicum builds upon the ongoing work of Hyde and Barrett, who form the CLEAR/Sea Grant climate team and have been working with towns for several years, including organizing a series of workshops called the Climate Adaptation Academy (see tools and training at right). Students will break up into teams of 3 or 4, each working with Hyde and other Extension faculty to engage selected towns on climate adaptation needs. Towns will have to apply to be included in the program, and several towns have already expressed interest before the application form has been issued. After meeting with town officials the students will embark on one or more projects designed to support the town’s adaptations efforts. These projects could include vulnerability assessments, evaluation of adaptation options, outreach strategies and products for educating the citizens, or other options.
A land use planner with over 30 years of experience working at the municipal level, Hyde is in tune with the world of local government. “Most towns understand that planning for climate adaptation is critical, yet many are unable to find the resources to begin the process,” says Hyde. “Our experience with our Extension undergraduate interns over the past several years has taught us that these students can do very high quality, sophisticated work, and we want to harness that work to the benefit of the towns. And at the same time, it provides a great ‘real world’ service learning experience for the students.” He notes that through their undergraduate training and simply by the technology-friendly nature of their generation, the students have the capacity to perform research, mapping and other tasks that are beyond the reach of busy local planners.
The Climate Corps is a unique multi-department collaboration between CLEAR, Connecticut Sea Grant, and the three Environmental majors, which in turn involve the departments of Geography, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Natural Resources and the Environment. The project team, which includes the Directors of all of these programs in addition to Barrett and Hyde, feels strongly that the Corps can become a model program that eventually can be expanded in scope, expanded in topical focus, and perhaps adapted by other universities and other states. Class starts in September!
As 2017 gets underway, CLEAR folks are working hard on the early stages of major new projects that cover all three of CLEAR’s traditional program areas, and actually add a fourth! Each one of these projects will no doubt be the fodder for many blogs to come, but for now, here’s a quick summary of new CLEAR initiatives.
The Water Team is a few months into a five-year effort to support the 121 towns covered under the newly enhanced “MS4” state stormwater regulation. MS4 is a part of the Clean Water Act and stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System. Although only 8 of the 121 towns are entirely new to this regulation, there are important new additions to the requirements and our new program is focused on helping towns navigate these changes. Stormwater management has been a major focus of CLEAR since before there was a CLEAR, dating back to the advent of the NEMO Program in 1991, so we are very excited to have the chance to tackle this issue in new and expanded ways.
The Geospatial Team is working hard on a redesign and expansion of Connecticut Conditions Online, or CT ECO, a partnership with CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that is the state’s flagship/go-to/one-stop-shopping/cutting-edge online site for natural resource maps and data. First of all, the website is being upgraded with new hardware and software. Second, it’s getting a design facelift, not only to look pretty but also to be more mobile-friendly. Third, in early 2017 CT ECO will be adding new high resolution statewide imagery (3-inch pixel resolution!!!) and elevation (lidar) data, both obtained in the Spring of 2016 (project description here). This amazing stuff is suitable for any number of tasks. Blogs will no doubt be flying off of Emily Wilson’s desk on these topics in future.
Student teams led by Bruce Hyde and other CLEAR faculty will work with Connecticut towns as part of the UConn Climate Corps.
The Land Use and Climate Adaptation Team is working on the launch of the new UConn Climate Corps, a program focused on undergraduates from the Environmental Sciences, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Engineering majors. In concert with the directors of those three majors, we are developing a fall semester class that will focus on local issues and problems associated with climate change; during the following spring semester “practicum,” student teams will work with CLEAR faculty to provide on-the-ground assistance to towns by conducting vulnerability assessments and other studies, developing educational materials, or performing any number of other tasks. We are hoping that this combination of classroom and service learning will become a model that can be adapted to other issues, and possibly other universities.
Lastly, CLEAR now has a fourth Program Area, secondary school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. This is a very recent development built upon the Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA) run out of one of the Center’s parent departments, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. The NRCA, now in its fifth year, is a program for high school students that combines on-campus natural resources education with community service projects, and CLEAR folks make up much of its teaching faculty. This past fall, a multi-departmental team from CAHNR and the Neag School of Education received two grants to expand the NRCA concept in several ways. The first project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will bring together high school students and adult conservation volunteers (from land trusts, conservation commissions, etc.) in two-day workshops focused on local natural resource management. The second will be a three-day teacher professional development class held on campus, focusing on water resource management and the use of online geospatial tools for teaching within the framework of the Next Generation Science Standards. CLEAR is the home of this new triad of interwoven projects. MUCH more later!
UConn Extension’s Chet Arnold, Juliana Barrett and Bruce Hyde are part of a team that received funding from the University as part of the Academic Plan Proposal Awards. Other team members include: Mark Boyer (Geography), Maria Chrysochoou (Civil and Environmental Engineering), Sylvain DeGuise (Pathobiology), and John Volin (Natural Resources and the Environment).
This project will create the UConn Climate Corps, an undergraduate program built upon a new 3-credit course and a subsequent 3 -credit practicum during which students will assist Connecticut communities in adapting to climate change. During the internship, student teams will work closely with Extension faculty mentors to directly engage town officials; the students will collect and present information that will be used by towns as they plan for climate resiliency. The Climate Corps will contribute significantly to the Sustainability and Resilience Strategic Area of the Academic Plan, serve as a high profile facet of the University’s public engagement portfolio, and provide a real world service learning experience and work force development for high-achieving students in environmentally related programs, including the Environmental Sciences, Environmental Studies, and Environmental Engineering programs.