RIVERSIDE: UCR wins NASA grant to teach climate change

The Press-Enterprise

Three professors at UC Riverside have landed a $350,000 NASA grant to teach nonscience-focused students in high school and college about climate change.

They will use data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to help students navigate through the debate over climate change and understand the science for themselves, said Mary Droser, chairwoman of UCR's Department of Earth Sciences and the project's principal investigator.

"They get pummeled by the media -- people saying 'There is no climate change,' or 'The end is coming.' We need an informed public because climate change is coming, it's a very scary thing, and these are future voters. They need to see through the media hyperbole," Droser said.

David Bauman / The Press-Enterprise
From left, UC Riverside grad students Daryl Kohut, Emily Wooton and Michael Trombower work at an extraction line used to analyze carbon stored in ocean rocks that will help them determine past global climates conditions.

The "Down to Earth Climate Science Project: Engaging Tomorrow's Leaders Today," officially starts Jan. 1. But Droser and her colleagues, David Mrofka and Richard Minnich, are already working to restructure classes around the NASA information and working with Riverside Unified School District to coordinate the program there.

For about 3,000 students per quarter in UCR's lower-division global climate change classes, online labs will now be included and curriculum built around a wealth of NASA information, including 50 years worth of ocean temperature changes and ice melt, she said. Classes such as oceanography and physical geology will also include a couple of labs incorporating the data.

The grant was among $7.7 million in Global Climate Change Education Awards to 17 colleges and nonprofit groups nationwide. Winning proposals used innovative approaches to using the NASA content in teaching, according to a NASA news release. The competitive awards ranged from $300,000 to $700,000.

UCR recently got a 3-year, $350,000 NASA grant to teach about climate change.

UCR's three-year project is aimed at sparking interest in science and technology careers among students in Southern California.

At the high-school level, the grant allows for $500 stipends for science fair projects that utilize NASA studies. Plus, students will get help from experts at UCR. Droser and her fellow professors will target earth science classes, which are not considered a laboratory class for UC admissions and are often the track for students who are not college-bound.

Grad student Michael Trombower handles material taken from a lakebed that will be carbon-dated to determine age.

The UCR professors will meet next month with Dale Moore, the science specialist for Riverside Unified, to hammer out details.

The district is emphasizing science classes to prepare students for college and careers, Moore said. The board next month will consider a proposal to start a science, technology, engineering and math-focused elementary school that would coordinate with UCR.

"There are so many career opportunities, and in the future there are going to be even more, not just because technology is growing but because you have so many baby boomers retiring out of those fields," he said.

High school students also will go to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena to see first-hand how the information is collected, and scientists will visit UCR for open forums. It might inspire some people to walk instead of drive their car or advocate for climate change legislation.

"Even just one or two (people) can make a difference coming out of this group," Droser said.

Reach Janet Zimmerman at 951-368-9586 or jzimmerman@PE .com.

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