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Report calls on Harvard to expand Climate Change Education

By Nneka Nwogwugwu

A University report issued last week called on Harvard to expand its climate change offerings by hiring new faculty and staff in the field and establishing a standing committee to direct the school’s efforts.

The report, titled “The Future of Climate Education at Harvard University,” was written by a committee tasked with studying the school’s climate change programming. The group consisted of 29 Harvard faculty members and senior teaching administrators from across the University.

The report comes three months after Harvard announced plans to establish a new institute for climate and sustainability that will serve as a hub for climate research and education.

The report offered four overall recommendations for shaping the future of Harvard’s climate education. It called for “faculty hiring, institutionalizing a standing committee on climate education, staffing and substantially funding a climate education accelerator program, and establishing an external climate education advisory committee.”

The committee surveyed students, faculty, and alumni and held focus groups on Harvard’s climate education. The report included testimonies from current affiliates and statistics about student satisfaction with the school’s current offerings.

Only 20 percent of student survey respondents “said there were sufficient opportunities to engage with climate topics outside of class,” according to the report.

About 80 percent of alumni respondents “expressed interest in playing a role in climate education opportunities for current Harvard students,” and 90 percent of student respondents “said they would like to engage with alumni on climate topics as part of courses or in extracurricular capacity,” the report said.

Though there are educational offerings from the Harvard University Center for the Environment and several climate-related classes and undergraduate concentrations, “there are few clear paths for students within schools/departments or across schools to deepen their knowledge and skill set in a structured manner,” the report said.

The committee called on the University to hire more faculty in order to increase the number of advanced climate classes and improve current offerings.

The report also said Harvard should establish a Standing Committee on Climate Education to advance programming, degree, and concentration offerings and explore the potential for a College climate education requirement. Additionally, it suggested the school could “create a climate education accelerator program charged with catalyzing institutional innovation, scaling expertise and impact, and developing partnerships with organizations outside of Harvard.”

In addition to curricular programming, the report called on the University to support opportunities outside the classroom. Harvard’s upperclassmen houses, for example, could help facilitate cross-school interactions between College students and other affiliates, according to the report.

In a message at the front of the document, James H. Stock, Harvard’s vice provost for climate and sustainability, wrote that the report “summarizes the rich offerings in climate education already at Harvard and, importantly, presents a vision of the great potential for expanding Harvard’s efforts in climate education, both on campus and beyond.”

The co-chairs of the committee that authored the report, N. Michele Holbrook ’82 and Dustin Tingley, wrote in the executive summary that the group’s approach “emphasized a process where local groups could meet with their community to understand their needs and develop a vision to share with the larger University committee.”

“A strong and multidisciplinary educational program must be a cornerstone of Harvard’s focus on climate and sustainability,” they wrote.

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