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Sixth College Receives NASA Climate Change Education Grant

Inga Kiderra | June 1, 2009

NASA has awarded a $150,000 Global Climate Change Education grant to UC San Diego’s Sixth College to develop a course sequence in "Climate, Technology, and Culture" for its core curriculum.

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Naomi Oreskes, Sixth College's provost and the principal investigator on a $150,000 NASA education grant.

The proposed course, which will become a part of the college’s interdisciplinary Culture, Art and Technology program, will educate freshmen in the basic scientific understanding of global climate change; the social challenges it entails; and the role of technology in understanding and addressing it.

The principal investigator on the grant is science historian and Sixth College Provost Naomi Oreskes. Co-PIs are climate scientist V. Ramanathan and academic coordinator Cheryl Peach, both of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD.

“It’s not a whole lot of money but it feels like a great step in the right direction,” said Oreskes, whose work has played a critical role in establishing that there is a clear consensus about global warming among scientists. “UCSD has long been a leader in the science of climate change.  Now we plan to become leaders in climate change education, too.”

Oreskes believes the courses—at least two to start—will be unique on campus in that they will “treat climate change as a holistic, integrated problem.”

The UCSD proposal is one of 22 nationwide that NASA selected for funding “to enhance learning through the use of NASA's Earth science resources.”

In announcing the awards, the national organization indicated that “the selected grant winners proposed ways to enhance students' academic experiences or improve educators' abilities to engage their students by providing opportunities to investigate the Earth system using NASA resources. These grants support NASA's goal of engaging students in the critical disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and inspiring the next generation of explorers.”

The grants are part of a program Congress began in fiscal year 2008. Winning proposals were selected through a merit-based, peer-reviewed competition.

“Anyone who knows anything about climate science knows that NASA has played a huge role in revealing the problem—primarily through its satellites,” Oreskes said.  “We don’t know about climate change personally, we know about it through technology.”  

Technology, of course, said Oreskes, caused the problem in the first place. Hopefully, she said, technology will help to fix it as well.

A professor of history and science studies and a member of the UCSD faculty since 1998, Oreskes is known for her seminal work dealing with the science of climate change, specifically on the societal framing and reception of the scientific consensus on global warming. Her 2004 essay, "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change," which appeared in the journal Science, led to numerous citations in a variety of national and international news media outlets. Her research, which was also referenced in the academy-award winning film, "An Inconvenient Truth," documented a scholarly consensus on two points: The earth is warming and humans are the cause.

Oreskes began her tenure as provost of Sixth College in July 2008. She had only been provost a week when the opportunity to apply for the NASA funding came up. “I thought it had our name written all over it,” she said, “so we went for it!”

Sixth College is UCSD's youngest college in the campus' unique family of undergraduate colleges. Established in 2002, Sixth College focuses on the intersection of culture, art and technology, and seeks to prepare students to become effective global citizens, who engage creatively and ethically with the complex issues facing the world in the 21st century.

Oreskes said she expects Sixth College to offer the first course by Winter 2010.

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