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Teaching Climate Science and Policy to Engineers

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

What Else do Environmental Engineers Need to Know

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1376.1 - 22.1376.14



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Paper Authors


Susan Powers Clarkson University

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Susan E. Powers is the Associate Director of Sustainablity in the Institute for a Sustainable Environment and a Professor of Environmental Engineering at Clarkson University. She has coupled her research and education endeavors for several years, resulting in the creation of several classes that align with her research interests in industrial ecology and sustainability.

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Jan DeWaters Clarkson University

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Suresh Dhaniyala Clarkson University

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Mary Margaret Monica Small Clarkson University

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Teaching Climate Science and Policy to EngineersA new course was developed to improve engineering students’ understanding of the earthscience associated with global climate change, human interactions with climate, mitigationtechnologies and policies, and adaption strategies. As the scientific debate has progressedbeyond the existence of global climate change and has begun to focus on solutions, there is atremendous opportunity for engineering students to contribute to these discussions. Activeparticipation requires students to be educated not just on the technological aspects related toglobal climate change but, as importantly, on the science, energy, and policy aspects as well.The three-credit course, entitled Global Climate Change: Science, Engineering, and Policy, ishighly quantitative and taught through an inquiry-based pedagogical approach. Every student isrequired to pose their own question about climate change phenomenon and investigate thehistorical data, related model predictions for future scenarios, and potential for mitigation andadaption. They use multiple sources for energy and climate data (DOE, NASA, NOAA etc.),simulation results from global climate models, and results from running their own climatemodels (EdGCM) to answer their question. Extensive use of MS Excel and Matlab are requiredfor handling and analysis of the large data sets. Some examples of projects completed in theSpring 2010 semester include: • What is the response of the global radiation balance from increased atmospheric CO2? • In important corn production areas (42˚N in the U.S.), is the length of the growing season changing because of climate change? • What is the correlation between cloud coverage and precipitation? How would this influence geoengineering efforts? • What are the effects of global climate change on quantity and equity of rainfall distribution?The impacts of the course on the students were assessed with a combination of quantitative andqualitative approaches that used pre-post climate literacy and engineering self-efficacy surveysas well as qualitative focus group discussions at the end of the course. Substantial quantitativegains were made in the students’ climate literacy, especially in knowledge areas. Students alsoshowed gains in their self reported feelings that they could solve a new problem or tackle achallenge, were good at interpreting charts and graphs and manipulating databases, and wereinterested in pursuing a career in science or engineering that would contribute to solving theglobal climate problems. Qualitative assessment results indicted that students felt moreconfident in their ability to contribute to climate change mitigation through both their personalknowledge and professional career options.The objectives of this presentation will be to reinforce the need to teach engineering studentsabout climate change science, mitigation and adaptation, and to share our experiences andapproach to teaching the course and assessing student outcomes.

Powers, S., & DeWaters, J., & Dhaniyala, S., & Small, M. M. M. (2011, June), Teaching Climate Science and Policy to Engineers Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18677

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