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Pathways to Improve Graduate Student Education Through Societal Engagement

The Challenge

Students and faculty in the Department of Climate and Space Science and Engineering (CLaSP) focus on improving our understanding of the climate, space, and planetary environments, with an emphasis on predicting how these environments will change in the future.

However, rapid changes in the Earth’s climate system increasingly require evidence-based decision-making paired with the design and implementation of climate change mitigation and adaptation techniques.

As a consequence, CLaSP students seek to develop components of their dissertations that bridge the gap between improved scientific understanding and societally relevant solutions.

Our Approach

Our goal is to better prepare students for diverse careers that apply their foundational scientific understanding and research to relevant societal problems such as climate change and space weather. This will ultimately provide an educational environment that fosters careers outside of academia and is responsive to the needs of diverse communities as we mitigate and adapt to changes in the Earth-space system. We will develop a new facet of our graduate program to train scientists to translate and communicate research to drive sustainable design, planning, and engineering solutions to solve problems across climate and space environments.

Our approach involves hosting a series of workshops to identify mechanisms that allow students to pursue these pathways at the University of Michigan via the CLaSP graduate program, including:

  • A panel of former students currently working in applied science, policy, or science communications positions outside of academia to discuss how they developed their career path.
  • A half-day event focused on societal engagement. This will include keynote speakers who are demonstrated leaders across different scales of engagement, ranging from local Ann Arbor community members and U-M faculty to those engaged in national and international efforts.
  • A results-focused workshop for students to consult with CLaSP and other U-M faculty on developing educational goals to address different types of societal engagement and helping students design a tailored path to achieve these goals within the CLaSP graduate program. This will include the design of a flexible curricular pathway based on existing U-M courses and certificate programs to identify pathways to a societally relevant education and career. This curricular support will formally recognize this work and provide a clear framework for interested students to pursue their goals.
  • A two-credit course titled “Leadership in Climate and Space Sciences” in winter 2020. This course will allow students engaged in leadership activities for science-based on-campus organizations (e.g., Climate Blue, Michigan University-Wide Sustainability and Environment [MUSE]) or professional societies (e.g., the American Geophysical Union) to develop leadership skills and be rewarded for their efforts. The course will include monthly group discussions, with a focus on leadership skill development, and offer opportunities for students to cross-fertilize ideas and experiences related to working in science-to-society organizations.

By defining and providing educational outcomes outside of academia and basic research, we aim to welcome a more diverse cohort of students to our graduate program.

What We’ve Learned

CLaSP master’s and doctoral students increasingly seek to develop components of their programs and dissertations that venture beyond basic science research.

  • Recently, some CLaSP students have successfully navigated this landscape by receiving Science, Technology, and Public Policy (STPP) certificates through the Ford School of Public Policy.
  • Students have requested more discussion within the department and guidance as to how to develop these skills.
  • The career paths and portfolios of our current and former students are expanding from traditional academic research tracks, and thus it is increasingly important to foster awareness and provide pathways for students to pursue meaningful career trajectories outside of basic science.
  • Providing an educational environment that fosters careers outside of academia and is responsive to the needs of diverse communities will provide a more welcoming environment for a diverse cohort of students in our graduate program.

Next Steps

Following the launch of this program in the 2019-2020 academic year, we will continue to develop and adapt a flexible curricular pathway that supports the emerging needs and interests of our students. We will develop a broader network of alumni who have pursued societally-relevant career pathways and expand our course pathways through other colleges and units at the University of Michigan. In the long term, this may lead to the development of new programs that span units across the university and leverage our broad scientific expertise towards societally relevant solutions.

Location

Department of Climate and Spaces Sciences and Engineering (CLaSP)

Contact

  • Allison Steiner, Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering
  • Jeremy Bassis, Associate Professor of Climate and Space Sciences
    and Engineering

Visit

To learn more visit the Pathways to Improve Graduate Student Education Through Societal Engagement page.

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