Introducing ACORN Projects

We often refer to an “academic bubble” filled with researchers, professors, and students, like ourselves, who are isolated from the broader communities they inhabit. Importantly, academic research objectives don’t always align with the immediate, actionable priorities of these wider communities. While the extent to which “academic bubbles” exist can be debated, there is undoubtedly room for improvement in conducting meaningful engagement and research in partnership with communities. Particularly at a publicly funded university such as the University of Washington, cultivating meaningful ways to support community priorities is critical.

In early 2020 we, as members of the PCC Graduate Steering Committee (P-GraSC), became interested in finding opportunities for PCC graduate students and postdocs to support community goals related to climate change and the environment. While capstone projects provided avenues to do communication-based work through the PCC, a program for broader community-focused engagement was lacking. To create new pathways for student engagement with the community, we created Actionable Community-Oriented Research eNgagement (ACORN) projects.  Each ACORN project addresses an individual climate- and/or energy-related challenge defined by the community and enables volunteer graduate students to enrich their research experience and apply quantitative, analytical, and communication skills beyond the boundaries of their primary academic focus.

We modeled ACORN after the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange framework for community science, aiming to address community environmental priorities rather than imposing our own ideas of what is needed. This work also builds off a commitment by the PCC “to help society address the challenges of climate change,” which makes the PCC an  ideal place to facilitate ACORN projects.

ACORN already has several exciting projects underway, including expanding individuals’ awareness of their carbon footprints through the Reduce app, working with the Lake Forest Park People for Climate Action to investigate the feasibility of a community solar project, and investigating best practices for demand response programs with the Washington State Department of Commerce. We are continually in the process of locating more projects, and increasing PCC involvement with community-based science through ACORN.






In the long-term, we recognize that volunteer-based projects offer no tangible financial or academic reward beyond skill- and network-building and can therefore be exclusionary to many students who don’t have the ability to take on such volunteer work. ACORN is already off to a successful start, but in the future we hope to find ways to compensate students for time spent working on ACORN projects. This compensation could take the form of small stipends, a certificate, similar to the Graduate Certificate in Climate Science, or another method. Working to make programs such as ACORN accessible for all students is important in ensuring equitable opportunities in academia.

How to Get Involved

Community Leaders

Are you interested in launching an ACORN project to support your community’s goals? If so, please email with a brief introduction including a primary contact as well as some basic details about your project idea and the community it engages.

PCC Graduate Students and Postdocs

First, sign up for the PCC Listserv to get updates when new projects are searching for graduate student volunteers. If you are attending the 2020 PCC Summer Institute stop by our virtual poster session on Monday, September 14th. Can’t make it or still have a question?  Don’t hesitate to reach out to us via email at and we’ll be happy to see how we can help.

And be sure to check out our website! We look forward to hearing from you!


Tyler Cox, Lily Hahn, and Greta Shum are all third-year PhD students in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and members of the PCC Graduate Student Steering Committee (P-GraSC). You can reach them all at

Tyler Cox, Lily Hahn, and Greta Shum are all third-year PhD students in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and members of the PCC Graduate Student Steering Committee (P-GraSC). You can reach them all at