Before graduating, biology majors at Hobart and William Smith are required to complete a senior seminar. Professor of Biology Beth Newell recently asked her senior students to reflect on climate change as part of their seminar, casting a critical eye on the many ramifications of the phenomenon.
“As we read scientific articles about climate change and ways plants and animals are already being affected, the students kept saying, “Why don’t more people know about these things? We need to tell more people about the impacts of climate change,'” explains Newell, who cited her students’ enthusiasm as the impetus for the assignment. “These short articles are one way the students decided to share what they had learned. “
Newell says that the essays prove helpful in nurturing a deeper understanding of climate change in those who have a difficult time putting the occurrence into a more global scale – as something that occurs over decades and centuries. “To bring the study of climate change down to a level more easily grasped, each student picked a particular species or biological system to study,” explains Newell.
Amanda Schenk ’12 focused on grape pathogens, building on what she’d learned while working at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, and Joan Hilton ’12 chose to concentrate on the Emperor penguin, which she had become enamored with during an internship at an aquarium. Allison Andrews ’12, who has a deep interest in public health, wrote on food poisoning, while Megan Metzger ’12 picked her favorite fruit – the apple – to examine.
Daniel Kolinski ’12, a double major in biology and environmental studies, chose to write about the effect of climate change on wine.
“The Finger Lakes region has become world renowned for its Riesling wines and we live in a truly beautiful and unique region of the country,” says Koliniski. “Because New York has become the third largest producer of wine in the country, I was curious what effects changes in the climate might have on New York’s wine industry.”
Megan Zogby ’12 elected to write about malaria. “I am interested in entering the health field and wanted to see what the potential risks that climate change may have on our society’s and world’s health in the future,” explained Zogby.
For Zogby, the assignment also sparked a much bigger undertaking. “This assignment really allowed me to establish what an impact climate change is having on our society’s health,” Zogby says. “It further increased my interest in the subject, and I am currently working on an independent study in which I am studying the impact of climate change on other diseases such as asthma and dengue fever in the United States.”
In addition to specific knowledge on climate change, Newell believes the assignment served the deeper purpose of exposing students to the challenges of writing about science for the general public. “After writing a full research paper on their topic, the students had to select out the most salient points and express them in a way that both capture the attention of the read and the essence of the science,” explains Newell. “They found that it wasn’t easy!”
To read each of the student essays on climate change, visit http://www.hws.edu/academics/biology/climatechange.aspx.