Bringing Diverse Voices to Cli...

Bringing Diverse Voices to Climate Change Research

African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, Hispanic Americans comprise 16%, and Native Americans 1%. However, PhDs awarded from U.S. universities do not mirror these numbers. Moreover, a recent study published in EOS indicates that minorities earned fewer than 4% of the all the PhDs granted in the geosciences.1 The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. university community are well aware of the issue and striving to address it. Already, NCAR, NSF and the university community are involved in robust collaborations with minority-serving institutions such as Howard University, and have regular educational exchanges with Haskell Indian Nations University. In addition, all of NCAR’s summer programs for students, including the Summer Internships in Parallel Computational Science and Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research, have a strong diversity focus.

The Research Applications Laboratory (RAL) recently added another program to NCAR’s diversity efforts, running a workshop developed for graduate and undergraduate students and their professors. The 4-day event, “Enhancing Diversity in Climate Change Science and Applications: From Models to Adaptation,” was designed to familiarize participants with concepts related to climate change science, modeling, and scientific uncertainty. RAL’s Mary Hayden, Olga Wilhelmi and Jennifer Boehnert led the workshop effort, devising it to function as an interdisciplinary training, with the variety of daily sessions focused on topics ranging from fundamental climate science to societal vulnerability and adaptation.

Hayden, Wilhelmi, and Boehnert build from their experiences teaching undergraduates from different U.S. tribal colleges at Haskell University in Lawrence, Kansas. They participate in a NASA Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates grant, led by Kiksapa Consulting, which takes them to Lawrence each summer. Over the course of two days, the trio team-teach an interactive, hands-on class that includes Geographic Information Systems (GIS) training, as well as lectures and discussions. For the workshop at NCAR, a similar approach was taken.

“At the NASA Summer Research Experience, Jenn does all the GIS teaching and trains the students on how to use the tools,” explains Hayden. “Olga talks to them about climate science and societal vulnerability related to extreme weather and climate change – for example, talking about the importance of using an approach that integrates physical and social science to understand the effects of heat-wave events on human populations. I teach them about climate from a social science perspective, discussing the differences between qualitative and quantitative research methods related to adaptive capacity. The class goes beyond looking just at demographic data – they learn the importance of actually talking to people.”

"The GIS portion of the workshop gives participants a hands-on opportunity to integrate climate model output, socioeconomic data, and survey information in GIS across scales," Boehnert says.

RAL funds targeted specifically for diversity efforts supported bringing 30 students and teachers to NCAR. The finalists included 12 student-teacher teams – 12 professors, and their students – who came to Boulder from minority-serving institutions located around the nation. In addition to the practical GIS training, each day included small-group discussions, as well as topical lectures that tied to the day’s scientific focus.

By bringing in faculty members and their students, RAL hopes to strengthen its visitor program, and establish future collaborations that will evolve based on ideas generated during the workshop. Already, some of the faculty participants are interested in replicating the workshop at their home institutions, and one professor has expressed interest in participating in one of RAL’s research programs, which is focused on studying the causes of meningitis outbreaks in Ghana; she’d like to use it as a training ground for her university’s medical students.

“The level of engagement from the students and professors was great – everyone had myriad questions and all were actively engaged throughout the four days, despite the hectic schedule and are looking forward to future collaboration opportunities,” says Hayden. 


1 Morris, V. R., H. M. Mogil, and T.-W. Yu (2012), A network of weather camps to engage students in science, Eos Trans. AGU, 93(15), 153, doi:10.1029/2012EO150001.