By Amy Brodbeck, SMEA graduate student
After earning a Bachelor’s of Science in biology in 2011, I spent the next five years of my life engaging with the public in the field of environmental education and outreach. Through these experiences, I gained insight into the general public perception of different aspects of the environment. The level of interest and understanding varied, but one factor remained relatively constant—people wanted to talk about climate change.
I returned to school to earn a Master’s in Marine Affairs to engage in the management side of our marine resources, gain a deeper understanding of how humans impact our environment, and expand my experience with science communication. The Program on Climate Change Graduate Certificate in Climate Science offered an ideal opportunity to delve into both the science and communication of climate change while pursuing my degree at the University of Washington.
To fulfill the science communication course requirement for this certificate, I participated in the Pacific Science Center’s Science Communication Fellowship program. I worked with another UW graduate student to develop a hands-on activity about biomagnification in Puget Sound, and gained experience interacting with museum visitors of all ages. This opportunity also expanded my network of science communicators, which has been an asset in learning more about the science outreach opportunities available in the greater Seattle area.
Through this certificate program, I aimed to gain a stronger foundation in climate science to deepen my conversations with the public about climate change. The Fundamentals of Climate Change, in particular, did just that by increasing my understanding of general climate systems and opening my eyes to the interconnectedness between the atmosphere and the biosphere. I also enjoyed the Climate Change and Food research seminar, as it provided insights into the tangible impacts climate is already having on local farmers and on many societies around the world.
The most impactful component of this certificate program for me has been the opportunity to engage in my own climate change communication project. While working as a science communication intern at the Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC) in Cordova, Alaska, I developed 5 climate change videos for local classrooms to highlight local climate change impacts.
The PWSSC science education coordinator designs and delivers monthly “Discovery Room” programs for the 4th, 5th and 6th graders in town, through which students engage in interactive activities around different themes. Fourth graders study ecosystems and food webs, fifth graders study salmon, and sixth graders study oceanography and glaciers. She was excited to incorporate videos about local climate change into these programs and played a key role in identifying Science Center needs and ensured that the videos were useful and impactful for her students.
I collaborated with three different PWSSC scientists to highlight each “Discovery Room” theme—working with our bird biologist to show how and why she studies birds, our oceanographer to highlight recent changes in ocean conditions such as temperature and salinity, and our salmon biologist to reveal the changing sockeye salmon sizes. I sought to portray these scientists as fun, approachable community members who are working to solve local problems, while also helping students understand the value of scientific research.
In addition to working with scientists, I also interviewed three local community members who shared their personal experiences with environmental change over their decades of living in the region. Next time I engage in an outreach project on a community level, I plan to involve community members earlier in the project development stage, as I would like to make closer links between their stories and the scientific findings of the PWSSC researchers.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this certificate program, as it has provided me with a foundational understanding of climate science and tangible communication and video production skills. I plan to continue using these skills in my career, working as a liaison between the science community and the general public and policy makers.
Part 1: Oceanography Research- “How do scientists study plankton and why should we care?”
Part 2: Oceanography and climate change- “How does climate change affect our oceans and local Alaskans?”
Video: Salmon research and climate change- “Smaller salmon meet climate change”