Teens Take on Climate Change
July 1, 2014
Climate change is one of the most critical issues facing the world, experts say, yet the people who will be most affected by its impacts—today’s teenagers— are the least engaged. A new initiative announced today seeks to bridge the gap by uniting Philadelphia public high school girls with their counterparts half a world away in a unique cultural, educational and scientific exchange that will ultimately benefit a larger community.
Building on more than 20 years of climate change research in Mongolia, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University has established a unique partnership with the National Museum of Mongolia in the nation’s capital of Ulaanbaatar. The partnership brings together teenage girls in Philadelphia and in Ulaanbaatar to explore their cultural heritages and how they relate to climate change in their individual neighborhoods, cities and countries. The stark differences in their schools, cities and cultures will serve to demonstrate that climate change is a global issue.
After intensive learning, training and online and social media exchanges starting in August, the Academy and the National Museum will engage the program participants as museum Explainers, or amateur experts. These Explainers will share their newfound cultural and climate change knowledge with museum visitors through short programs and interactive activities that they will have developed under the guidance of Academy scientists and educators. The students also will give presentations at community festivals such as the annual Philadelphia Science Festival.
A total of 15 Philadelphia public high school students who are enrolled in the Academy’s nationally recognized Women in Natural Sciences program will be selected to participate. Five of them will be picked to travel to Mongolia in summer 2015. Fifteen Mongolian girls will be selected from a similar program in their country called ROOTS, and five of them will arrive at the Academy this November.
Participation in this Museums Connect project is made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Administered by the American Alliance of Museums, Museums Connect pairs museums in the U.S. with museums abroad for a cross-cultural exchange that brings people, especially youth, together to open a dialogue through community projects, partnerships with local or tribal governments and schools, and local events.
“Museums Connect is one of the programs of which we are most proud,” said AAM President Ford W. Bell. “AAM is privileged to partner with the U.S. State Department on this initiative, because Museums Connect inspires young people, their communities and their museums to address substantive challenges confronting all of us, and is emblematic of what museums do best.”
“We are thrilled to have been selected in this highly competitive grant process,” said Academy Vice President of Education Dr. Jacquie Genovesi. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime for our WINS girls. How often does a student get to travel to Mongolia to work with climate change scientists on one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time?”
Mongolia is a country with a rich history, unique cultural traditions, and varied environmental features. It is also one of the regions most impacted by climate change: between 1940 and 2012 the temperature warmed by 3.8 degrees F. This substantial rise in temperature has caused pasture grasses to become scarce, making it difficult for the large herder population to properly prepare their animals for the harsh winters, and thus affecting their livelihoods.
The Academy’s scientific work in Mongolia began in 1994 when Dr. Clyde Goulden started researching climate change and its effect on Mongolia’s herders and one of the most pristine lakes in the world, Lake Hövsgöl. During a 20-year partnership, Goulden and other Academy researchers have helped train a new generation of Mongolian scientists.
Because of the huge success and the contribution to science and capacity building, the government recognized and awarded Goulden its highest prizes, the Polar Star and the Friendship Medal. Academy scientists are still making yearly trips to Mongolia to study climate change and its effect on Mongolia’s biodiversity, including fish and insects.
“All this makes Mongolia an ideal place for a discussion on climate change, a critical community challenge,” Goulden said.
Besides the scientific partnership between the nations, the Cultural Repercussions project builds on the Academy’s successful WINS model. WINS is a free, four-year-long after-school and summer science enrichment program for Philadelphia public high school girls who meet the rigorous criteria. Since its founding in 1982, WINS has introduced hundreds of high school girls to future careers in science and other professions by providing hands-on science workshops, career and college exploration, and positive youth development.
A key component of the WINS program is that students are trained to be Explainers in the museum, interacting with the general public and sharing information about topics including animals, water pollution and biodiversity. Starting in early 2015, the teens participating in the Mongolia project will begin adding climate change and its effect on Philadelphia and on Mongolia to their scripts and activities. The Mongolian girls will do the same for their home-based museum.
And the Project Begins
While the five Philadelphia girls won’t travel to Mongolia until summer 2015, and the Mongolian girls are not expected to arrive in Philadelphia until this November, there is much to be done before then.
In August, 15 WINS students will be selected to participate in the project based on their academic skills and social and emotional characteristics. The students will begin working with Academy educators and scientists to develop an afterschool program curriculum on climate change in Philadelphia and Mongolia and its impact on these different cultures.
The students in the two countries will study climate change issues together online through the subtopics of culture, water and food. They will communicate across continents using Facebook, Twitter and other online tools. Through the months, the students will learn ecological principles that they will use to create an electronic museum program guide to train student Explainers to interact with museum visitors.
“We don’t know what they’ll come up with,” said Genovesi. “We want the teens to actually develop these materials so that we get climate change from their viewpoint. While an emphasis will be on cultural exchange—building bridges between nations and students—we want to build science and understanding that is generated by these young women.”
During the two-week trips to partner countries, the girls will explore each other’s cultures, continue to learn about climate change, and conduct research with scientists from each country. They also will learn about different careers in science and museums.
Once the project is up and running, Academy visitors will benefit by learning about climate change in Mongolia and right in their own communities.