Returning from sabbatical to teach biogeochemistry, what could be better?

Well, teaching biogeochemistry with an added dash of taking down the patriarchy  celebrating and acknowledging women scientists who are absent from the story of science, of course! This year, all of my students, will write a biography of a woman scientist (as related to the course topic) for Wikipedia. I was (am) so excited about this project – I really want to get it right & this class presented a great space for me to figure out how to best incorporate it into the curriculum: it was tiny (my first tiny class at CC! 6) and it is on what I do, my science. Needless to say, I am super comfortable in EV211 space. I am, after all a biogeochemist.

It was awesome. I almost cried, i definitely teared up a bit – on the last day of class. Most of the students really got into the project. We skyped with my Twitter inspirations (Drs Jess Wade & Maryam Zaringhalam) and chatted with students in a 300-level Sociological Methods class about why we should be doing this. Why it is important to add women scientists to the myriad of biographies on Wikipedia?

Love the powers of Skype – allows me to bring awesome scientists into my classroom

My students emailed their scientists and had great email conversations. The scientists told them how they discovered their love of science, challenges they have had; while most of that can’t go into the biographies due to those pesky citation requirements, it was so awesome to see how genuinely excited my students were when they heard back from their scientist. So thank you to those scientists who have (and hopefully will) email my students back. You are making their day (& getting onto Wikipedia too)! This block the following scientists were added to Wikipedia: Sharon Hall, Yufang Jin, Caroline MasielloDiana Pataki, Amy Townsend-Small, and Lisa Welp!

Want to add a name to the Women in STEM list my students choose from? Go here

This is also the last time that this course – EV211: Human Impacts on Global Biogeochemical Cycling will be taught (it is no longer part of our major).   It is challenging course on multiple levels – going from “what is matter?” (no chemistry pre-req) to an understanding of global biogeochemical cycling – including the five-ish ways we biogeochemists seem to like to count electrons –  in one course, is no easy task. Oh and the block is still only 18 days. It is without a doubt the class that I most resemble Miss. Frizzle (at least as far as my students are concerned) and there are only two certainties: the students will discover my love of biogeochemistry and periodic table haiku.

students walk each other through the nitrogen cycle

Each time I teach the course I have a project that incorporates elements (see what I did there?) applied to a real life problem – a farmer’s field, the campus’ goal of carbon neutrality by 2020. This year we focused on sustainability and life cycle analysis. Using their personal water, carbon, and nitrogen footprints as a guide (created via online tools: C, N, water), students worked in pairs to create the elemental footprint of a common student activity on campus. Their goal: to induce a behavior change by creating a science communication campaign for campus.

The students were super creative and did a great job on their projects! CC students definitely shine when given creative license on projects and this group of six students did not disappoint! All students focused on choices made at the individual level as these are things they CAN change and these projects allow they to show other students the power of collective action – even small changes really add up!

Christian and Marguerite created a calculator for students to figure out their CO2-eq footprint for their block break plans. As it turns out driving to Moab from CC produces the same amount of CO2 as the creation of 3 iPhone Xs! Headed to Summit County? each roundtrip is equivalent to 38 hamburgers! Flying out from DIA? Well getting to the airport and back produces the same amount of CO2 as the creation of 602 plastic bottles! Not going to any of those places or plan to travel via scooter? Never fear – Christian & Marguerite created a calculator where you can enter mileage (or choose a common destination), how many people are in your group, how many vehicles you plan to take, and your average vehicle mpg and figure out how on a person by person basis your C footprint of your block break transportation! Pretty awesome. Stay tuned for a version that works online.

Henry & Alan figured out that CC produced a stack of paper far taller than any building in the western hemisphere! That is a lot of printing! How much would a single student save if they decided to reduce their own printing significantly (e.g. reading all materials on a screen)? They determined that it would take ~35,000 trees to sequester the associated C emissions!

Finally, Bella & Coby figured out that in just 3 blocks your reuseable mug “pays for itself” in terms of its C and water footprint if you bring it with you instead of using individual paper to-go cups (4 cups of coffee per week). Inspired in part by Dr. Weslynne Ashton’s presentation earlier in the block (99% of a cup of coffee’s total footprint occurs at the consumption stage – not the production or transport of that coffee) – Coby and Bella conducted an online survey to find out their peer’s coffee consumption patterns and how often they use reuseable cups. If the CC class of 2021 is representative of the student population it seems that even that this small proposed change could significantly reduce our consumption of disposable cups, reducing our C, N, and water footprints.

EV211 Block1 2018 Syllabus