One evening this past December, people settled into bar stools at the Flagstaff Orpheum, drinks in hand, familiar faces talking across tables. The lights dimmed. Graduate students from NAU’s Climate Science and Solutions program (CSS) were about to tackle the question: What will be the impact of climate change on four sectors: natural resources, business and economics, city services and infrastructure, and people.
An hour later the students had delivered an ambitious amount of information. They translated research findings from climate scientists, making the data relevant for the Flagstaff audience. They discussed different possible climate trajectories and what each could mean for the Flagstaff region. Aside from the charts and graphs, the image I left with was that if the climate continues to warm at this pace, Flagstaff terrain might start to more closely resemble Prescott terrain. Far fewer ponderosa pine. More open space. More juniper.
Graduate students in the CSS program take a three-course sequence that focuses on discourse surrounding specific semester-long themes. During the fall semester the theme was “adaptation.” The CSS program has partnered with the City on several projects over recent years. When Karin Wadsack and Buck Sandford, professors in the CSS program, approached the City with this theme, it was right as the City was laying the groundwork for Flagstaff’s first Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP). Together they defined two projects: an educational outreach event in conjunction with the CAAP, and student proposals for shovel-ready climate adaptation projects specific to Flagstaff.
The student projects were mutually beneficial. Wadsack noted, “The students’ work on the outreach project fit perfectly into the “public discourse” aspect of their program.”
Jenny Niemann, Climate and Energy Specialist for the City of Flagstaff, said that partnering with the CSS students was a tremendous help especially at the very beginning stages of defining a path towards a CAAP. In fact, the student presentation at the Orpheum was the first public outreach event in conjunction with the CAAP. “It set the stage for the public discourse portion of the CAAP and helped pave the way for the City’s first CAAP Open House two months later.” said Niemann.
In addition to the outreach event, students developed proposals for “shovel-ready” climate adaptation projects thatcould be implemented locally. The students presented these proposals in the City Council Chambers to City staff as well as the CAAP Steering Committee. Wadsack said, “The students’ shovel-ready projects were all adaptation-oriented, so they enabled the students to dig deeper into areas of interest to them that would be useful to the City. They also got experience developing a project budget and timeline in a real-world setting, as this was delivered to the City for the City’s further use.”
Student Dustin Kebble researched bike-share programs and what lent to their success in other cities. He said, “This project gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to work with non-government or government organizations. It showed that I can create a compelling presentation and show it to a city council. It also boosted my confidence in public speaking.” He added, “My partner and I had to demonstrate teamwork to be able to tackle this project. We had to compromise on certain ideas, and tackle tasks together.”
Niemann said, “The shovel-ready proposals that the students submitted helped city staff understand the breadth of projects that could be considered as part of the CAAP.” Additionally, the student proposals also informed recent budget proposals which included several adaptation projects. Niemann concluded, “I was impressed with the students’ enthusiasm towards the CAAP and the willingness to be part of the public process.”
LEARN MORE: The NAU Climate Science and Solutions program is a five-year program that allows student to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree with a focus on climate and environment. Find out more.