Champions of Change Blog

  • Rehearsing the Future - Creating a Shared Vision of Community

    John Morris

    John Morris is being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a park ranger. Growing up, my family spent most of its summer weekends camping and hiking in our National Parks.  I’ve always valued both the lessons I learned there, and the sheer privilege of being able to have such enriching experiences.

    Parks are places in our country that not only protect our natural history, they tell the stories of people and events that create our national heritage.  They not only preserve our past, they foretell our future. So what are the future people or events that will continue to define our heritage? How society faces climate change will surely be one of them.

    A changing climate will have a lot to do with our heritage, and parks make wonderful living laboratories. Parks provide opportunities to gain vision, not only vision about the environment, but vision about the future.  We enjoy the parks,  but we can also use them to understand nature and to appreciate civilization.  To effectively manage our parks (to manage our lives, really), the best results occur when we come together and choose a vision about what it is that we collectively want.  Parks were envisioned for everyone, so their vision has to be shared by everyone.

    Our task as interpreters and educators is to raise awareness about what’s occurring and changing in the world around us, especially when it’s resulting from our collective lifestyle. At the National Park Service, we have explored several possible scenarios that climate change is bringing, to discover ways to respond that have feasible and effective outcomes. We have rehearsed how to cope with them before they actually happen. Similarly, by informing citizens and helping them engage in finding solutions rather than finding blame, we have helped dispel some of the controversy that can be a distraction today.  There are many solutions already available that we can advance together.

    I believe we must also learn and use the power of collaboration and frequent communication along the way. Working closely with others can be a hard and sometimes painful process of confronting controversy or facing failings in ourselves and others, but it is a critical part of the educational effort. Shared mistakes can be empowering, as can acceptance of our shortcomings.  When we share the effort, we not only learn about the impacts and implications of climate change, we also learn about each other and ourselves, and about the creative capacity we have to overcome difficulties.  As a park interpreter, I’m proud to have been a part of all of it.

    We are on the early steps of a long journey. It may take several decades or more to fully respond to our changing climate. Our community in the future will likely be very different from today’s.  I believe we can and will navigate that transformation.  Ultimately, we must learn to create energy differently and use it more efficiently, and I suspect those changes will come mostly from individual choices and new lifestyles, from decisions made by ordinary people in their daily routines.  As educators and interpreters, that puts the responsibility right on our shoulders. We are the honest brokers for the best science, the best ideas and the latest innovations, and the best of humanity to respond. It’s by sharing our hopes, with enthusiasm and passion, that we’ll eventually find success.  What could be more important, or fun - sounds like a pretty good heritage, after all!

    John Morris is a recently retired Interpretive Ranger with the National Park Service in Alaska. 

  • Mass Transit as a Platform for Science Learning

    David Lustick

    David Lustick is being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

    A significant body of research substantiates the drivers and impacts of human-induced climate change. While schools help young people understand basic science, how do adults learn about new and relevant scientific concepts (like climate change) after graduation? Many rely on news sources for general information, but few seek in-depth sources for science understanding.  How can the general public learn about important scientific discoveries? How can they become knowledgeable about emerging scientific issues? These are the questions that drive both Cool Science and Sciencetogo.org, two collaborative projects that use public mass transit as a milieu for informal science learning.

    Cool Science uses children’s artwork to engage the local community with climate science. The project is a collaboration between University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of Massachusetts Boston, Anastas Advertising, and the Lowell Regional Transit Authority.  Each year, we hold an art competition in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where students from grades K-12 are encouraged to express their ideas and questions about climate change through the visual arts.  The best submitted artwork is then displayed in and on local buses.  As the buses travel their routes, the community can see, consider, and reflect upon young people’s ideas about climate change.  With 5,000 riders per day and 500 participating artists annually, Cool Science engages both formal and informal audiences.  Initially supported through a University of Massachusetts’ Creative Economy Grant, Cool Science now also includes corporate sponsors, such as United Parcel Service.  Our goal is to continue to foster such partnerships and bring Cool Science to other communities across the Commonwealth and the nation.

    ScienceToGo.org also uses mass transit as its platform for learning about climate change. This partnership features a 12-month multi-media learning campaign staring “Ozzie the Ostrich,” who appears on posters and placards placed on Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) train cars and station platforms.  Riders follow Ozzie on his story of awakening to the reality, relevance, and current solutions to the climate change challenge.  This campaign brings the power of an effective science exhibit to the daily routines of the commuting public.  With a website and social media hosted by the Museum of Science (MOS) and ad space donated by the MBTA, this National Science Foundation-funded project harnesses the power of marketing to engage 400,000 daily riders with free-choice learning options about climate change.

    Both Cool Science and ScienceToGo.org represent innovative efforts to transform the daily routine of a person’s life into entertaining science learning opportunities.  A big part of these projects’ success can be attributed to our cross-disciplinary approach.  A team of partners from a number of universities and institutions helps to build our work through ScienceToGo.org and fosters effective science communication and engagement. Together, we build relationships between the private, public, and non-profit sectors for the common good of our respective communities.

    David Lustick is a National Board certified teacher and an Associate Professor of Science & Math Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Graduate School of Education. 

  • "How Low Can We Go?" A Fun Challenge for U.S. Schools to Reduce Energy Consumption

    Linda Gancitano

    Linda Gancitano is being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

    Back in 2008, I was watching the Oprah Winfrey Show as she showed snippets of the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. My eyes just happened to catch a scene that would change my world: the swimming polar bear who couldn’t reach another iceberg because the sea ice was melting. As the polar bear drowned, I found myself crying and thinking, this is wrong. This shouldn’t be happening. That image stayed in my mind for a long time.

    In November 2008, I formed a Green Team at Driftwood Middle School (DMS) in Hollywood, Florida. Our team consisted of three teachers and three student leaders. The team has since tripled in size, and the school’s culture is visibly environmentally friendly. In fact, that was a primary objective of our first initiative: we created a visual board so that the entire school could track monthly energy usage.

    Next, we raised awareness of energy conservation via the "How Low Can We Go?" Challenge—an initiative that later became partners with the Miami Heat during NBA’s Green Week to impact 64 Broward County Public Schools, the sixth-largest district in the country. If any partner could raise awareness of reducing CO2 emissions, it was the Miami Heat, voted one of the top "green" sports teams in the country.

    Our first Energy Team, better known as the "DMS Chillers," walked from room to room after school looking for classrooms with lights left on. The students would leave a painted paw print (in memory of the polar bear) on the door saying, “You’ve been Chilled!” as a reminder to teachers to turn off lights when they left for the day. Our teachers and custodial staff started to get really involved in conserving energy. No teacher wanted a big paw print on their door on Monday morning!

    Next up, the Green Team took to creating an Energy Audit Team that ventured into classrooms and made suggestions to the teachers and other students on how to conserve energy. Last year's new initiatives included the "Are You S.E.K.C.?" (Stopping Excessive Kilowatt Consumption) and the "Are You a H.E.R.O.?" (Helpful Energy Resource Officer) campaigns. The students hand out green H.E.R.O. bracelets when they catch a teacher or another student conserving energy. Since the Green Team was formed in 2008, the school has seen a 23% decrease in emissions. Our greatest challenge in decreasing energy even further is technology, an antiquated cooling system that needs to be replaced. DMS continues to expand our alternative energy education by including future projects, such as solar power and a wind turbine, to the curriculum. The tradition of the DMS Chillers lives on, impacting our 1,600 students and faculty.

    So, How Low Can You Go?

    Our partnership with the Miami Heat initially has enticed schools to rise to the challenge of reducing their environmental footprint. Not only by raising awareness of the effects of CO2 emissions but also educating the facilities on potential financial savings through responsible energy consumption. Curtailing wasteful spending on unnecessary energy consumption has the added benefit of allowing schools to allocate those saved dollars to under-funded programs. In the one-month pilot program in February 2014, we saved over $34,000 in energy costs and reached over 90,000 faculty and students. This school year, with 87 schools registered for the challenge, the impact will reach over 100,000. Future possibilities include South Florida's Tri-County Area and the whole country!

    Won't you join us?

    Linda Gancitano is a Physical Education and Wellness educator at Driftwood Middle School in Broward County, Florida.

  • A Generation of Hope

    Gina Fiorile

    Gina Fiorile is being honored as a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change.

    It is an honor to be selected as a White House Champion of Change because I am representing countless students and youth leaders who work tirelessly to combat climate change. 

    My generation is one of subtle controversy.  Recent advances in technology have been openly accepted by youth, and because of this, we have become the most social generation in history.  Our interconnectedness may come with a few negative effects, but there are also significant positive outcomes that result from our social nature.  We are more mindful, more aware, and have more opportunities to support each other.

    My passion for climate education began in high school, where I became involved in the annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit.  This two-day conference is held at a local science museum where students from across the Northeast gather to learn about climate change and create climate action plans to implement in their schools.  Not only do students have the opportunity to learn from renowned climate scientists, but they are also able to build a community around their environmental passions and connect socially.  This summit changed my life in that it inspired me to dedicate my career to the cause.  It also opened the eyes of thousands of students.  It is has been adopted as a model for similar programs across the country as part of the White House’s Climate Education and Literacy Initiative, and has spread internationally.  My peers and I had the opportunity to be featured in a PBS documentary titled “The Resilient Ones,” which followed us throughout the planning process.  After my experience at the Summit, I was inspired to take on a number of projects including waste reduction, the building of a greenhouse and school garden, the local farm-to-school movement, and communications with the community.  My work and motivation is an example of the outcomes of successful climate education.

    I do not believe it is a coincidence that the generation I am a part of has arrived at the same time in history as human-induced climate change.  We now have the tools we need to communicate the effects of climate change and fully understand the science behind it.  We have the capacity to build a network around climate science and climate education in the battle for sustainability. 

    It is time we take advantage of the opportunities we have created for ourselves to fight this battle with full force.  An attitude of realism as opposed to negativity is what will carry us through.  It is important that we look to future generations as a source of hope when we feel discouraged by setbacks on the road to sustainability.  Our greatest defense in this fight is an increase in climate literacy, so that future leaders are better prepared to catalyze positive change.

    Climate change is one of the greatest challenges we have faced because it is an issue that will impact every single human being and living thing now, and for millions of years to come.  If this is the case, how can we not do everything in our power to combat it? In accepting our responsibility to educate future generations by utilizing all of the resources we have, the next generation will be more capable to combat this challenge.  They are a source of hope during this period of ecological and social change. 

    Gina Fiorile is a freshman Environmental Studies Major in the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont.

  • The White House Recognizes HBCU Leaders Who Are Champions of Change for Advancing College Completion Among African American Students

    This Black History Month, the White House will recognize faculty and staff members at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that drive the college completion agenda. These leaders work with students, families, higher education leaders, and policymakers to build paths to graduation. 

    To reach President Obama’s goal of helping our nation lead the world in college completion by 2020, we must ensure that more African American students graduate from college. Currently, the college graduation rate for African American students is 34.3 percent, compared to 47.1 percent for Asian students, 46.2 percent for white students, and 41.05 percent for Hispanic students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015). 

    HBCUs meet the challenge. Innovative strategies and visionary leadership can advance college completion among African American students. For more than a century, HBCUs have been exemplars in producing African American college graduates who lead their fields. A recent report from the National Science Foundation revealed that 21 of the top 50 institutions for producing African American graduates who go on to receive their doctorates in Science and Engineering (S&E) are HBCUs. In total, between 2002 and 2011 among the top 50 institutions, HBCUs collectively produced 1,819 African American graduates who earned a doctorate in S&E, predominately white institutions produced 1,600, and foreign institutions produced 798.

  • Nominate a White House Champion of Change for Climate Education and Literacy

    Communities across the United States are working to advance understanding of climate variability and change. Local leaders are helping to increase science-based understanding and awareness of current and future climate change, enhancing climate literacy in K-12 classrooms, on college and university campuses, and in parks and museums across the country.There has been tremendous progress to date, but there is still more work to be done.

    A climate-literate workforce will be required for tomorrow’s community leaders, city planners, and entrepreneurs to have the information, knowledge, and training to make sound choices and grow businesses in the context of a changing climate. That’s why on December 3, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) launched the Climate Education and Literacy Initiative, focused on connecting Americans of all ages with the best-available, science-based information about climate change. This initiative builds upon a Call to Action around climate education and literacy that received nearly 150 submissions from schools, communities, individuals, and organizations across the country.  These responses demonstrated the magnitude and diversity of efforts underway and articulated ideas for future action. 

    Today, we’re asking you to help us identify and honor local leaders who are taking action to enhance understanding of climate change as Champions of Change for Climate Education and Literacy. These extraordinary leaders will be invited to the White House to celebrate their accomplishments and amplify their work to promote climate education and literacy as a critical step toward building an educated, next-generation American workforce that grasps the climate change challenge and is equipped to seek and implement solutions.

    Please submit nominations by midnight on Tuesday December 23rd, 2014. Nominees may include the following types of individuals:

    • Educators who serve as leaders in promoting and integrating best-available climate science into their classrooms.
    • Outstanding students who demonstrate a high proficiency in climate knowledge and skills and leadership both inside and outside of the classroom.
    • Young scientists who are advancing understanding of climate impacts and solutions.
    • Leaders from, organizations that are developing high-quality, science-based tools, resources, and other learning opportunities for students of all ages.
    • Individuals from place-based institutions (zoos, parks, aquaria, museums, etc.) that are effectively engaging visitors around climate change.
    • Business leaders taking action to enhance understanding and awareness around climate change.

    Click on the link below to submit your nomination (be sure to choose Climate Education and Literacy in the "Theme of Service" field of the nomination form):

    Nominate a Climate Education and Literacy Champion of Change

    We are looking forward to hosting this event and to highlighting the incredible work that people across the country are doing to advance climate education and literacy.

    Laura Petes is Senior Policy Advisor for Climate Adaptation and Ecosystems in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.