THIS IS HARD: TRANSFORMING STUDENTS INTO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATORS ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE-RELATED HAZARDS, RISKS, AND VULNERABILITIES
The vast majority of undergraduate students in community colleges and public universities in the Pacific Northwest are attending college close to home. The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site at Central Washington University entitled “Hazards and Risks of Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest” was designed to attract these students, early in their college careers, to engage in research that is relevant to their communities and cultures. A primary goal of the program was to develop the interdisciplinary problem solving skills, communication skills, and personal efficacy in the next generation of workers who will face challenges in mitigating climate-related risks affecting the diverse communities in the region. The REU has been particularly interested in fostering interdisciplinary research for both students and faculty in the region.
In each of the past three years, students have been highly successful in their individual research projects, presenting their work at a regional climate conference and beyond. At the same time, many have noted the challenges in working together in a truly interdisciplinary project, and in developing the methods to both gather information from and communicate with those who are not convinced of the urgency of climate change impacts. Engaging student participants in a series of activities that include a review of the literature on risk perception and an interdisciplinary field trip, they begin to understand that effective communication is hard, filled with nuances, and the required strategies vary based on the target audience. However, the comprehensive approach taken in this program appears to have an impact on students and their communities in modifying that message as needed to reach communities of interest.