With the culmination of Climate Year 2021, we’d like to share our assessment of how the year’s work impacted the Drexel community. The first half of Climate Year, which we reported on this past June, was a time of launching new initiatives, planning for and creating new programs, and building climate-focused networks among students, faculty and professional staff. During the second half of the year, our work has turned to formalizing these efforts and establishing the structures and relationships that will make the work durable and impactful into the future.
With the culmination of Climate Year 2021, we’d like to share our assessment of how the year’s work impacted the Drexel community. The first half of Climate Year, which we reported on this past June, was a time of launching new initiatives, planning for and creating new programs, and building climate focused networks among students, faculty, and professional staff. During the second half of the year, our work has turned to formalizing these efforts and establishing the structures and relationships that will make the work durable and impactful into the future.
Goal #1: Strengthen Our Institutional Climate Commitment
After nearly two years of collaborating together, the Climate & Sustainability Working Group will be formalizing into an Office of Climate & Sustainability. Last year Drexel established a new position, University Sustainability Officer, held by Bo Solomon, who is part of the team. This new office is physically located alongside the Environmental Collaboratory space in 3101 Market Street.
As a permanent observer to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change’s annual Conference of Parties (COP), Drexel sent a delegation of students, faculty and professional staff to Glasgow for the COP26 conference. For the first time, the University cohosted an event on the international stage, called “Scaling Up: Case Studies in Collaborations Between Cities and Higher Education Institutions,” to discuss how universities and cities can partner for advancing climate action.
Goal #2: Promote Climate & Sustainability-Focused Experiential Learning Opportunities
We piloted two student-focused climate case competitions during the winter and summer terms. These interdisciplinary co-curricular learning experiences met with such success that case competitions will now be a core component of our student programming. Case competitions bring students from all types of majors together on teams to grapple with problems that are relevant to the Drexel community. Participants have reflected that their experiences in these case competitions have been among their most rewarding during their time at Drexel.
Goal #3: Inspire Applied Climate-Focused Research, Civic Engagement and Collaboration
Provost Paul Jensen has appointed Mathy Stanislaus as Vice-Provost and inaugural Executive Director of the Environmental Collaboratory following more than a year of planning for this new project. The Environmental Collaboratory is an important interdisciplinary initiative that unites Drexel and the Academy of Natural Sciences to mobilize Drexel’s powerful research programs and community engagement to identify and implement solutions to environmental challenges.
Additionally, the Climate Resilience Research Agenda has concluded the first phase of an ongoing initiative to identify needed research for climate resilience in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Regional partners in this effort include academic researchers, practitioners, government representatives and non-profit partners. A draft report will be released in early 2022.
The Office of Global Engagement awarded four Global Climate Action grants to jump start or leverage new or existing climate-related research projects with a global collaborator, host a visiting scholar, or develop opportunities for students. The awardees and their projects were:
- Dr. Andrew F. Smith, Department of English and Philosophy: Global Food Systems, Indigenous Climate Justice, and Tribal Land Reclamation
- Dr. Sharrona Pearl, Department of Health Administration Department: CNHP Reads: Global Climate Action Short Stories
- Dr. Simi Hoque, Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering: How do differences in culture and climate affect human-building-environment relationships?
- Dr. Steve Dolph, Department of Global Studies and Modern Languages: Global Classroom Partnership with Plenitud PR, Las Marias, Puerto Rico
Goal #4: Engage the Community Through Public-Facing Climate and Sustainability Programming
The last quarter was characterized by a plethora of significant climate-related programming at the Academy of Natural Sciences. A series of Academy Town Squares drew key representatives from Drexel, City Hall, NBC10 and Philadelphia’s diverse communities to explore the challenges of a hotter, wetter Philadelphia and to examine opportunities to address social inequity by developing more livable communities. An especially powerful event co-created with the residents of Eastwick amplified the efforts of residents to protect their community from severe and repeated flooding and also revived mitigation discussions between Eastwick and City Hall. WHYY covered the event.
Other engagement opportunities during Climate Year included:
- The Academy of Natural Sciences established an urban heat island working group to pull together community leaders and Drexel staff and researchers to generate collaboration opportunities.
- Coinciding with COP26, the Academy of Natural Sciences hosted mock climate negotiations with Drexel students in the Pennoni Honors College and the general public via the Academy Town Square series.
- The Academy of Natural Sciences ran a two-part blog series featuring the voices of local women who are thinking about and working on climate change.
- Students in a Global Studies and Film course taught by the Academy’s Beth Watson, PhD, (Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science Department) and Ben Kalina (Film & Television Department), and supported through the Museum Innovation Fund, organized a “Cinema for the Climate” film festival at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
- The Climate & Sustainability student team launched a new student-led peer education program called Eco-Reps, which will disseminate information, host events and support a more climate-friendly campus culture. Students who would like to get involved can fill out this interest form.
Goal #5: Take Inventory, Coordinate and Track
Following the submission of Drexel’s first STARS institutional sustainability metrics report, the Climate and Sustainability working group analyzed Drexel’s performance during the first reporting year and identified a set of strategies and a pathway to improving upon our bronze rating. We are currently preparing a new report for fiscal year 2021. Participation in STARS offers a structure and a set of best practices for institutions like Drexel which are working to build more sustainable campus communities and climate-friendly cultures. Going forward, the working group will be collaborating with the Office of University and Community Partnerships to link sustainability and equity in a single ongoing data tracking effort, aligning with Drexel’s participation in the Anchor Learning Network to better understand the effectiveness of a locally engaged anchor institution strategy.
Beyond Climate Year
We recognize that grappling with the climate emergency cannot be a project of just one special year. Climate Year helped us elevate climate as a key strategic focus for Drexel, however. The year of talks, program development, relationship building and organizing was the launchpad we needed to integrate climate problem-solving more fully into how we do academics, research, operations and public engagement at Drexel and the Academy of Natural Sciences.
Climate Year has also inspired the use of thematic years as an ongoing platform for linking Academy and Drexel programs and initiatives, and more closely aligning the core academic and research functions at Drexel with the Academy’s presence in Philadelphia as a beloved natural history museum. Thus 2022 is Water Year, which will provide a fresh perspective on the water systems that bind us together and inspire us to work collaboratively to ensure clean and safe water for natural systems and human communities.
Water Year has kicked off at the Academy of Natural Sciences with the exhibition Invisible World of Water, which traces the art and science inquiries of two phenomena of water: diatoms and snow crystals. The exhibition explores how the micro is connected to the macro and the role of both diatoms and diatoms in helping scientists to understand climate change in the geologic record.
This article was first published on the Drexel Climate & Sustainability page.