University introduces climate change major

lincoln park campus
DePaul University's new climate change science and policy minor explores topics including sustainable development, environmental economics and remote sensing. (DePaul University / Jeff Carrion)
Considering the current conversation surrounding climate change, Earth Day couldn't be more relevant this year. But come April 22, you might find yourself wondering, what sustainability policies are in play? What are the real energy and environmental implications? And what in the world is remote sensing, anyway?

DePaul University's new climate change science and policy minor will help students answer all these questions and more. Designed for undergraduates who want to be conversant in climate change. The study provides a targeted set of natural and social science courses, which are applicable in a variety of professional sectors - from business and research to public service and nonprofit.

"It's everybody's future," says Mark Potosnak, associate professor and chair in the department of environmental science and studies. "You can't think of a more important topic - and it connects to everything. Whether you're talking about biodiversity, ecosystem restoration or air pollution, these are all tied together in understanding climate change."

The College of Science and Health began offering the minor to students in the fall of 2017. A cross-disciplinary initiative, Potosnak first proposed the study in collaboration with Hugh Bartling, a professor of public policy, three years ago.

"This is a subject where science and policy go hand-in-hand," Potosnak says. "You cannot make good policy without knowing the science well, and you can't produce good scientific research without understanding what the policy implications are."

Students must complete six courses to achieve the minor. Of these, three required core courses are climate change, climate change policy and either oceanography or weather and climate. The remaining three courses must be a combination of natural and social sciences, with topics including sustainable development, environmental economics and remote sensing - the analysis of earth through air or space-borne sensors.

This fall, the program will offer a new climate change communication course as a potential elective for the minor. Taught by Jill Hopke, an assistant professor of journalism, the course analyzes how journalists, strategic communicators, scientists and policy analysts can effectively portray climate and energy topics to a diverse public audience.

"Climate change can often feel very distant and abstract," Hopke says. "This course covers best practices for promoting and facilitating public dialogue on climate change policy and global energy systems."

Not only will the minor answer your questions about climate change, it will also help students understand why the topic is so misunderstood in the first place.

"The class fits well with the new minor in climate change science and policy," Hopke says. "A great element is being able to bring together communication and journalism students with environmental science and studies students, as well as other majors, and have that synergy of conversations across disciplines."