Climate Educator Forum 2016

Connie Mutel, Senior Science Writer for IIHR, offered suggestions for educators to more effectively communicate about climate change at the Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum. (Jenna Ladd/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | October 7, 2016

The University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research hosted the 2016 Iowa Climate Science Educators Forum in West Des Moines this Friday.

The event featured presentations from leaders in higher education, scientists, and experts in related fields that aimed to improve climate science education for students in Iowa. Kris A. Kilibarda, State Science Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education, outlined the goals and implementation plan for Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). NGSS are K-12 science standards that will be adopted by schools in Iowa over the next three years. The standards promote cross-curriculum, investigative learning that includes elements of climate science.

Des Moines Area Community College student Maxwell Blend attended the forum. Maxell, now 25, attended K-12 within the Valley Community School District. He said, “Growing up, I guess I wasn’t introduced to science or mathematics super early on, at least not in a complex manner…so it’s really cool to see that they’re actually going to be teaching students some of those critical thinking skills.”


Event organizer David Courard-Hauri also took the time to reflect on the recent release of the sixth annual Iowa climate statement titled Iowa Climate Statement 2016: The Multiple Benefits of Climate-Smart Agriculture

Giselle Bruskewitz, Coordinator of Sustainability Education at Central College, said that she found both the statement and forum to be relevant to her work. She said,

“I think all of that kind of ties into what we do at Central College with interdisciplinary education. Climate change should be part of what we’re teaching in higher ed, and it should be pervasive not only in the curriculum but also in the day-to-day experiences, such as how we’re eating on campus and how that ties us to our agricultural system.”

Central College is one of only 13 colleges in the country to require all of its students to take a sustainability course before graduating. The campus boasts an organic garden that provides experiential learning and food for students. The Pella college also leads a Sustainability Faculty Workshop for higher education instructors of all disciplines to design courses which integrate sustainability into their coursework. “This interdisciplinary approach is something that’s really central to what we do,”Bruskewitz added.

Over the lunch hour, Senior Science Writer for IIHR at the University of Iowa, Connie Mutel, offered suggestions for climate scientists looking to more effectively communicate their work to the general public. Mutel, who is also the author of A Sugar Creek Chronicle: Observing Climate Change from a Midwestern Woodland, emphasized the importance of storytelling and a solution-based tone when communicating about climate change.

Dr. Diane Debinski, Professor of Conservation Biology at the Iowa State University, presented about climate change adaptation within grassland ecosystems as reflected by her field work in Ringold County. Debinksi said,

“This conference was a great opportunity for educators from K-12 to university level to share ideas about how to communicate about climate change using stories, graphs, and imagery.”


Iowa professor selected to serve on U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce

University of Iowa associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, associate faculty research engineer at IIHR, and Director of the Environmental Policy Research Program, David Cwiertny. (Anne Easker, IIHR)
Jenna Ladd | October 6, 2016

Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) member David Cwiertny has been selected to serve on the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce as minority staff. Cwiertny, who is also the Director of the Public Policy Center’s Environmental Policy Research Program, received the appointment through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS creates opportunities for scientists to offer their expertise and analytical skills to legislators while also learning more about the policy making process firsthand. Cwiertny said,

“Evidence, rooted in sound science, should whenever possible be used to inform and improve decision making and new policy.  And science has never been more important for informing policy, particularly as society begins to address how best to manage and adapt to a changing climate. So in my discipline of environmental engineering and environmental science, I think there is a real opportunity for scientists and engineers to help advance policy that better enables sustainable development both in the US and around the globe.”   

As an AAAS 2016-2017 Congressional Fellow, he will serve on both the energy and power and environment and economy subcommittees. Cwiertney, who is also an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate faculty research engineer at IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering, will function as a technical expert within the two subcommittees, which are responsible for all legislation and regulation related to water, air, and soil quality and energy. He added, “I’m eager to see, first hand, what the major hurdles are to translating scientific discovery into evidence-based decision making, and how we can improve and evolve our craft as researchers to better help policy makers.”

Cwiertny is one of two fellows that were selected from a pool of over 100 applicants.

On The Radio – Workshop brings together scientists and educators

Teachers participating in a curriculum development workshop at the Critical Zone Observatory environmental science workshop last month. (Nick Fetty/CGRER)
Jenna Ladd | August 1, 2016

This week’s On The Radio segment covers the Critical Zone Observatory environmental science educator workshop that took place last month.

Transcript: Workshop brings together scientists and educators

Two University of Iowa professors from different disciplines came together last month to host an event aimed at helping teachers better connect with their students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Nearly two dozen Eastern Iowa teachers got together last month for a workshop that taught them about hands-on activities and lesson plans to better engage their students and potentially attract them to STEM careers. The event was organized by UI earth and environmental sciences professor Art Bettis along with College of Education clinical assistant professor Leslie Flynn. The event was also sponsored by the UI State Hygienic Laboratory and the Intensively Managed Landscapes Critical Zone Observatory, a National Science Foundation-supported research collaborative that studies the impact agriculture has on land, air, and water in the Midwest.

The workshop consisted of two parts: a morning session that had the teachers at a research site in eastern Iowa County learning about hand-on activities and potential field trip opportunities for their students. The teachers took water samples and tested them for various metrics such as nitrate levels. In the afternoon, the teachers took part in a curriculum development exercise at the State Hygienic Lab.

Dr. Bettis – who is also a member of the UI’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research – said he was happy the event was able to bring together scientific researchers and public educators.

Art Bettis: “With the CZO, we want to, just like all scientists we want to be able to get our science out to the public and there’s multiple ways of doing that but I’m a pretty firm believer that one of the really, really critical and best ways to do it is through education.”

For more information about the Critical Zone Observatory Environmental Science Workshop, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

CGRER 25th Anniversary Profiles: Rhawn Denniston

Rhawn Denniston is a CGRER members and a professor of geology at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. (Cornell College)
Rhawn Denniston is a CGRER member and a professor of geology at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. (Cornell College)

Nick Fetty | August 28, 2015

Rhawn Denniston first got involved with CGRER as a PhD student at the University of Iowa and continues to remain a member now on the faculty at Cornell College. He worked closely with CGRER co-founder Greg Carmichael while at the UI and said the connections he established at CGRER helped to make his current research possible.

“Two of my recent National Science Foundation grants were made possible because CGRER provided me the financial support to perform the preliminary fieldwork and obtain some initial data,” he said. “I published a paper two months ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on the nature and origins of Australian hurricane activity over last two millennia, and CGRER funding was instrumental in getting this project up and running. Similarly, CGRER support has jump-started a project with colleagues from Iowa State on the North Atlantic Oscillation, a major driver of European rainfall variability.”

While many of CGRER’s members come from large research-based universities, Denniston represents a small liberal arts college with approximately 1,100 undergraduate students. He said the partnership between the two institutions helps CGRER to serve as a resource for the entire state of Iowa.

“The connection between CGRER and liberal arts colleges represents a wonderful cross-pollination of ideas and talents,” he said. “By linking and supporting people from a wide array of backgrounds and interests, CGRER acts as an amplifier for environmental research. And because a substantial percentage of students at small liberal arts colleges like Cornell College are Iowans, the work CGRER does with faculty from these institutions enriches the experience of undergraduates outside the U of I.”

This article is part of a series of stories profiling CGRER members in commemoration of the center’s 25th anniversary this October.

University of Iowa hosts international conference about environmental contamination

Nick Fetty | August 19, 2014
Water pollution in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)
Water contamination in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)

Beginning today and continuing through Friday, the University of Iowa is hosting a conference to discuss emerging contaminants and their effect on the environment.

EmCon 2014: Fourth International Conference on Occurrence, Fate, Effects & Analysis of Emerging Contaminants in the Environment will feature speakers from all across the world, including a keynote speech from University of Iowa engineering professor and CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor. Representatives from various Big Ten schools (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin) as well as Iowa State, Stanford and several other educational and governmental entities are scheduled to give speeches or other presentations. The event “will focus on the most recent developments and findings concerning the source, occurrence, fate, effects, and analysis of emerging contaminants in the environment, providing an ideal venue for exchange of cutting-edge ideas and information in this rapidly evolving research area.”

The first conference, EmCon 2007, was held in York, United Kingdom and brought in more than 100 attendees from all around the world. EmCon 2009 was in Fort Collins, Colorado and EmCon 2011 was in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The National Hydraulic Engineering Conference 2014 is also taking place in Iowa City this week. This event will focus on “sustainability in the design of infrastructure in a rapidly changing environment.”

EmCon 2014 begins at 4 p.m. today and the full schedule of events is available here.

Governor Branstad hails Iowa’s solar energy progress

Solar energy panels at the Iowa State Fair;  Photo by vanhookc, Flickr.
Solar energy panels at the Iowa State Fair;
Photo by vanhookc, Flickr.

During Iowa Solar Day, an annual event sponsored by Iowa’s Solar Energy Trade Association (ISETA), Governor Terry Branstad and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, said because Iowa is a leader in wind energy, we can use the same road map to become a leader in solar energy as well.

“I see tremendous potential for growth in solar energy as I do in other renewable energy items in our state,” Gov. Branstad said.

Northey expressed support of expanding Iowa’s solar energy tax credit and on March 27, 2014, the bill to triple the tax credit passed unanimously in the Iowa Senate.

Increasing Iowa’s solar energy is an important aspect of boosting the state’s overall use of clean energy, however Iowa has only tapped a small portion of the potential solar energy in the state.

To read the full story, visit the Iowa Environmental Council.