The first day of the inaugural Duke Climate and Sustainability Teaching Fellows’ weeklong workshop series is wrapping up when Alex Glass assigns homework to the assembled faculty participants: “Before tomorrow, I challenge you to come up with a topic from your course that you think doesn’t relate to climate change at all. Tomorrow we’ll discuss ways it does.”
The Climate and Sustainability Teaching Fellows Program may be new, but for its three faculty co-leads — Charlotte Clark, Associate Professor of the Practice of Sustainability; Priscilla Wald, R. Florence Brinkley Distinguished Professor of English; and Glass, Senior Lecturer in Earth and Climate Sciences — intersecting disparate topics with climate and sustainability is not. The three have spent their careers teaching Duke students these themes and their interdisciplinary connections.
“Systems thinking is absolutely crucial for understanding climate change,” says Wald. “The point of the exercise is to recognize different and complex ways in which everything—even the most seemingly implausible things—are connected to each other and could be connected to climate change.”
“…even the most seemingly
implausible things—are connected to each other and could be connected to climate change.”
The program aims to foster systems thinking in faculty from around the university, inviting them to explore the connections of climate change and sustainable solutions within their subject areas. Twelve faculty members have been selected for the program’s inaugural cohort, from seven of Duke’s ten schools. This summer, each teaching fellow will revise one of their existing courses to incorporate climate and sustainability, to better prepare students when they encounter these concepts in their careers.
For Clark especially, this program has deep roots. From 2010 to 2019, she led the Trillium Sustainability Fellows Program, aimed at increasing prevalence and quality of sustainability concepts in academic courses. Although pandemic issues discontinued Trillium, the new Climate and Sustainability Teaching Fellows Program has evolved naturally from it.
“The core concepts and structure from the legacy Trillium workshops have informed what is evolving now into the new Fellows program, with the exciting additions of a climate focus, support from Learning Innovation, and funding from the Climate Commitment,” says Clark.
In planning for the new program, Clark, Glass, Wald, co-facilitators from Duke Learning Innovation (Amy Kenyon, Randy Riddle and Jess Dewey), and staff from Sustainable Duke (Emily Bilcik) retained the outdoor excursions from Trillium, including trips to the Duke Campus Farm and the Duke Gardens.
Fellows are encouraged to consider how they might use these environments for hands-on learning experiences and applications of climate and sustainability knowledge. Throughout the workshops, discussions on climate and sustainability are interspersed with trainings from Learning Innovation staff about techniques to teach students about climate and sustainability through non-lecture-based approaches.
Fellows will spend the summer working on course revisions and syllabi, and each of these updated courses will be taught in the 2023-24 academic year.
"I hope to learn more about climate impacts and sustainable examples of autonomous technologies that I can bring into class to better contextualize learning for my students,” says Oca, whose course revisions will intersect climate with the burgeoning challenges and opportunities of automation in our society. “Through specific case study examples, I hope students will develop a more holistic understanding of the impacts of the technologies they develop and will develop in the future that include people and our environment.”
As the fellows resume their workshops on the second day and are asked what they found in their course materials that didn’t relate to climate change, sheepish smiles emerge.
“Nothing,” says Giovacchini. “It all connects to climate.”
Gifts from Mike and Karen Stone and Jeff and Laurie Ubben, the Climate and Sustainability Teaching Fellows Program is expected to run again in Summer 2024 with a new cohort of teaching fellows. A call for proposals will be issued in late fall 2023. This program reflects the goal of the Duke Climate Commitment to educate and empower a generation of climate- and sustainability-fluent changemakers. Through its Climate Commitment, Duke seeks to imagine, design and implement a sustainable future for all.