Western Mass Youth Climate Summit

Shaina here –

All around the world we are seeing youth rising up and getting involved in advocating for a stable climate. They are organizing, striking, building community, and educating themselves on the science and the policy considerations that we need to achieve these goals. In Western Massachusetts there are a variety of youth led organizations, and there are community partnerships supporting them. One of these in the Western Mass Youth Climate Summit (WMYCS) which is co-organized each year by Mass Audubon Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hitchcock Center for the Environment. This event brings together teams of students from regional middle and high schools, as well as home school students, for a series of workshops to learn about climate topics and to design action plans for their schools and communities. The action plans are then implemented over the following year. The conference planning is in part led by youth and supported by students from local colleges. To make it accessible there is no cost for attendees,  meals are provided, and each team is given travel stipends. I have been lucky enough to be able to lead workshops at the summit over the past two years and to see these passionate students in action.

Day 1

The first day took place at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in mid November. The venue itself is an inspirational setting as it is a completely green building with rain water collection that is used to water the native plant species growing on site, composting toilets, a solar roof, and more. This day was filled with workshops and summit attendees could choose whichever interested their team most during any given timeslot. The workshops offered included food for the climate, decreasing food waste, energy efficiency, cooler communities, citizen science, climate games, song writing, and a tour of the living building. There was also a keynote address on youth activism, a live music performance, and an entirely vegan, climate-friendly lunch provided by a local business.

Workshops are encouraged to be interactive and to provide a takeaway that students can reference while considering their action plans during the month leading up to the second day of the summit. My workshop was on Food for the Climate, as requested by the student team who planned what workshops they wanted to see offered. It focused on how agricultural emissions fit into the larger picture of overall emissions, types of greenhouse gases generated and what causes them, how land use change factors in, and more. To save paper my takeaway was posted online as a resource links page with copies of the slides and links to the sources for all images in the slides.

Day 2

The second day took place the next month, in mid December, at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. The students started the day watching a video on the youth climate delegation attending COP25, the UN Climate Summit taking place the same week. They also took workshops on climate communication and sustainable farming. A portion of the day was spent with each student team strategizing about their climate action plan and then presenting the plans to everyone. Many of the team’s presentations focused on common themes relating to the workshop topics. These included things like increasing energy efficiency in their schools, instituting carpool programs, reducing the amount of meat served in the cafeterias, and reducing waste. It will be exciting to see what they are able to accomplish over the next year.

I’m grateful that a program like this exists in my community. It is a great opportunity for students to learn about climate change and create community centered, youth driven action plans to tackle the issues affecting them. I really appreciate that the design of the event is always done with youth input so that the topics they are most interested in are the ones they get to learn about. As we head into an uncertain climate future it is more important than ever that everyone be involved in planning the transition and advocating for their communities, especially the youth who are inheriting a mess then had no part in creating.

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The Benefits of Community College: Personal Stories and Examples

Adriane, Rose, Shaina, and Jen here-

Here in the United States, community colleges are two-year institutions that cater to students in or just out of high school and people who are returning to college for a degree. In some areas, local high schools partner with community colleges for students to participate in special technical classes to expand their skill sets. This can include mechanical courses, film and editing, and much more. In short, community colleges are higher-education institutions that can provide workforce training and which offer several classes that are considered ‘core courses’ at four-year institutes and universities. Core classes include such topics as history, math, art, and science, with electives and options within each of these topics. Students who attend community colleges often transfer to a four-year university to complete their undergraduate degree, which takes another 2+ years depending on their degree. In some states, community colleges have agreements with universities that allow students a guaranteed transfer if the student meets certain requirements. 

Community college provides a fantastic option for students who finish high school and don’t quite know what their career path will be, for working folks who need flexibility in choosing courses and schedules, and for others in the community who might just want to take a course or two on something they are interested or passionate about. The very attractive aspect of community college is that class sizes are often smaller, the professors and teachers have more time to dedicate to students, several classes are available as online courses, and the on-campus classes may have several different times to fit the schedules of working students and adults. And bonus, similar to large four-year universities, many community colleges offer athletic and recreational teams for you to join! 

Regardless of all the pros to community colleges, there is still a perceived stigma surrounding them. 

The purpose of this post is to share some of our experiences with community college to break down the stigmas and negative perceptions surrounding community colleges by highlighting our own experiences in community college. We argue that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the structured training, guidance, and mentorship we received at our respective community colleges. 

TL;DR: Benefits of Attending a Community College

  • Attain a higher GPA after high school
  • Increase knowledge in certain subjects that were not taught sufficiently by a high school
  • Increase self-esteem in an academic setting
  • Build a support network of professors, teachers, and other students
  • Flexible schedule
  • Ability to take as few or as many (with limits) courses as you feel necessary
  • Opportunity to explore different career paths and options through diverse course offerings
  • Determine if a career is right for you
  • Affordable compared to a 4-year institution
  • Local students can live at home and save money on living expenses that would be incurred at a 4-year university
  • Take courses while simultaneously attending a 4-year university and have those credits transfer
  • Federal and state grants often cover the full cost of tuition (in and out of state)
  • Most professors also teach at a 4-year university or have in the past, and can offer advice to students pursuing a BS/BA degree and higher
  • Some professors may have worked in industry or in a non-academic position, and can offer advice to students pursuing these career paths
  • Some states offer a guaranteed admission program from community college to 4-year universities 
  • Some community colleges have exchange programs, offering students international experiences 
  • Because so many adults go back to school, the range of ages and life experiences in a classroom is very enriching and diverse

Adriane 

I started in community college the fall after I graduated from high school. I knew after graduating that my grades were not competitive enough for a 4-year college, and that I would likely do terrible on the GRE exams. My high school education was also not the best. I didn’t learn algebra as well I should have, and I was often bullied and had low self-esteem, which fed into doing poorly in my high school classes. I would often skip high school to go to the movies with my friend, or went riding my horse by myself (both were likely bad ideas). So attending my local community college was the best option for me. In addition, I also did not know what I wanted to do for a career. I thought that perhaps I wanted to be an artist (graphic art and design), or go into the medical field (even though medical stuff grosses me out), or even be a machinist like my dad (which would have been a really fun career, to be honest). 

Around the time I graduated high school, my mom was going through a divorce and was raising my little sister. I got a job in a retail store, and helped my mom with my sister, getting her on and off the bus everyday, and I was also able to help pay bills and help with groceries. Attending community college was great because I was able to work, help out around my home, and still take courses. My local community college, called J Sargeant Reynolds in Richmond, Virginia, had very flexible class schedules which worked great with my work and home schedule.

It was also at J Sarge that I found the career that I am currently in. I had to take science electives, so I took Geology. I figured I always loved rocks and fossils, so why not? During the first semester, our instructor took us to a local creek, where we collected fossils from ~15 million years ago! I was totally hooked. So I took another geology course, and it was during this course that I knew I wanted to become a geologist. Community colleges in Virginia have a guaranteed acceptance program with several state 4-year universities: if your GPA is high enough after graduating with an associate’s degree from a community college, you are guaranteed admission into a 4-year university. My grades were above a 3.5 at the time I graduated, so I was automatically accepted into James Madison University. Most of my credits transferred, so I was able to finish my geology bachelor’s degree in 3 years. 

Rose

I started at Green River Community College after graduating high school. I was primarily homeschooled through high school, but took a few electives at my local public high school (choir, Shakespeare, a cooking class). One of these classes was an education class. I loved kids but wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a classroom teacher, so my teacher at the high school suggested I start at the community college first. Our local CC has a well-respected education program, so if I did decide to go on to get a teaching degree I shouldn’t have any problems transferring and would be well-prepared. If I decided I didn’t want to pursue a teaching degree, I would have an associate’s degree in education, which would allow me to work as a paraeducator. Other advantages of this option were that I could live at home and save money. Because tuition was lower here than other colleges, I was also able to get Pell grants and state need grants that covered my full tuition.

I loved my classes because there were always a variety of people in them. There were students like me straight out of high school, high schoolers in the Running Start program, people coming back to school after many years to finish college or find a new career, and folks from the community who were just interested and taking the class for fun. My CC also had a large and well-known international exchange program. Students from many East Asian and European countries came for a year to study abroad in the US. For example, my chemistry lab partner one quarter was from China and my class partner was from Belgium! My lab partner in geology was Dutch, and while he didn’t go on to get a degree in geology we both decided it was our favorite class ever and still keep in touch via social media today.

Shaina

I started attending Manchester Community College the fall after graduating from high school. Growing up I knew I wanted to be an astronomer, but unfortunately my high school had very few options for math and science courses and most of the ones they did have were taught by sports coaches and not particularly beneficial so I ended up taking the excellent history and social science classes offered instead. This, combined with my prevalence for skipping school, meant that I was not prepared to apply to a four year institution after graduating, especially in the field I wanted to study. 

I ended up signing up for community college almost on a whim and was instantly thrilled with the options for classes I could take— I was able to take astronomy, could finally start learning math for real, and even had a wide variety of fun and useful classes like photography, women’s health, and even Philosophy of Lord of the Rings! I made a ton of friends, got straight A’s, and built the foundation for transitioning to a four year school. When the time came to apply to schools during my second year I had a great support network of professors who wrote me letters and helped me get into the astrophysics program I had dreamed of. I never could have done it without my experience at MCC to help set me on the right path.

Jen

Unlike Rose and Adriane, I didn’t start out at a community college. I went to a 4-year university straight from high school, I grew up in an area with a lot of state universities and picked one close to home. My high school had close ties with our local community college, the College of DuPage (COD). I had friends that would take classes there when they had moved passed what my high school offered or to get more technical training. There was a program where students could be at our high school for half the day and the other half would be spent at COD in a special program. 

I attended community college through a summer course – calculus. I was trying to stay ahead of my studies, to remain on track to graduate on time but couldn’t afford (time and money) to go to a summer class at my 4-year institution while working. The class was something wild like 3 hours every day starting at 7 am. The class size was incredibly intimate, maybe 25 students in the room for a month long course. At my 4-year institution all general courses were over 100 students during the lectures. The smaller course setting enabled me to meet new people, feel comfortable asking questions, and really foster a strong relationship with my peers and the material. I struggled with precalculus my first year of undergraduate — when I excelled at it in high school. This was incredibly frustrating and really made me feel like I would fail calculus. Community college helped me realize where I learn best — small settings where I feel comfortable. 

Not long ago, my mom returned to college by starting a program at COD. She had been a stay at home mom for almost 20 years and needed to get back into the workforce. She took courses over several years to become a medical biller and coder. 

If you are interested in going back to school, taking courses, or beginning at a community college, click the link below to find a community college near you in the continental U.S.: Community College Finder

Inclusivity and Sustainability in Conference Food

Shaina here –

The boxes were provided food at a conference that didn’t have ingredient labels so I couldn’t risk eating it.

Many conferences have meals built in for attendees and whether it be daily lunches or a special event dinner organizers need to take inclusivity and sustainability into account when choosing the food. There are several religious, ethical, and medical food needs that are common and taking these into account would be a great place to start if conferences want to provide accessible food.  This article focuses on the types of food served and how accommodations are managed by organizers. There are additional needs around the serving of food that are not addressed here, but links for more information are provided at the end.

A lot of networking opportunities at conferences tend to center around food. Events such as ‘networking lunches’ and ‘happy hours’ are geared toward giving people opportunities to meet others in the field. These events tend to attract a lot of attendees with the promise of food. However there are many people who end up being left out of events like this due to a lack of accessibility in the food options. For many of us it can be yet another time when we don’t feel included or comfortable attending. Often when we don’t show up no one notices we aren’t there, or they don’t know why we didn’t attend. When we do show up we are left awkwardly navigating everyone trying to help us find things we can have (that don’t exist) or feeling hungry while everyone around us is eating. 

The few conferences that do attempt to address this tend to take the path of promising to provide food accommodations if dietary needs are expressed in advance. This is a nice gesture, but in my personal experience it rarely works out in practice. Over the last four years, despite being asked for my dietary needs many times, only one conference ever actually met them. We can do so much better. A better alternative would be to ensure that all food at the conference was as accessible as possible to begin with. In addition to providing food that all attendees will be able to eat it is long past time that conferences center sustainability in the food offerings. 

When accessible food isn’t provided it is a burden on people who need it. 

How much, just in food, I need to pack for a conference even when the difference days they are providing food.
How I need to carry my backpack with my normal stuff and a full separate bag just with the food I need for the day.

Those of us who need food accommodations are often left struggling to find food and missing large portions of the conference in order to go in search of locations we can eat at. At one conference I was asked for my dietary needs in advance but then not provided any food during the daily lunches that were included in my registration fee. The closest restaurant I could eat at was 40 minutes away. I cried from exhaustion and low blood sugar when I found out how far I needed to go to get food after a long day of sessions. I regretted signing up for the conference at all. I also missed all of the evening sessions and networking events. At another conference I could find no food anywhere near the conference. I ended up spending a huge amount of time going back and forth to my hotel room to heat up frozen dinners since they were the only thing I could find at a local grocery store. I can’t stay any place that doesn’t have a fridge and microwave due to all of my dietary needs and an almost total inability to eat out at restaurants. This often costs more money and puts me further from the conference venue.

Talking about how your conference is more accessible because you provide accommodations is performative if those accommodations don’t actually exist.

In my experience I am most likely to be asked in advance for dietary needs at conferences that are small and that have inclusivity and accessibility as stated aims of the conference. In one instance the organizers of a conference I attended were speaking at a second conference I attended. Their talk was about inclusivity and they mentioned in their slides that they provide food accommodations. Except that they had not provided me accommodations when I had attended their conference just a month earlier, despite having asked in advance. I ended up having a low blood sugar event and having to leave the conference during the networking lunch to go buy a bag of chips at a gas station to avoid passing out. It didn’t feel great to see them bragging about their accommodations on Twitter (and getting tons of accolades as well).

In addition students and early career scientists attending conferences are often on an extremely limited budget and already struggling to pay travel and attendance fees. To have to pay for food on top of it- especially if they already had to pay built in conference attendance fees to cover meals that they won’t be able to eat- is a large financial burden.

Sustainability needs to be considered in conference food offerings.

The scientific consensus is clear that plant based diets are one key component in confronting the climate crisis. All food should be plant based and for accessibility all food should be 100% plant based. However plant based diets are not the only consideration. With 30% of all food being wasted food waste must be considered as well. Compost bins should be available and throwing things out should be discouraged. If possible avoid disposable plates and non-compostable containers. When possible food should be sourced locally from independent businesses or food co-ops to minimize emissions from transport and support local businesses.

Demand side mitigation potential from diets. It is from the IPCC SRCCL report.

How can conferences do better?

Strive to make your food as universally accessible as possible.

If you ask for attendees dietary needs you need to actually accommodate them or to reach out in advance to let people know you cannot provide accommodations that meet *all* of their needs. Please try to just provide accessible food from the start to minimize the need for accommodations. Think of it as universal design for food.

Strive to have all food be accessible from the start by having all food served be kosher, halal, vegan, and free of the most common allergens (such as milk, eggs, gluten, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, and shellfish). Having an entirely vegan menu to begin with solves a lot of problems from the start since it already means the food will be accessible to folks who are allergic to eggs, fish, shellfish, dairy, it means many religious dietary needs will already be covered, and it is more climate friendly. Vegetarian food options do not solve nearly as many problems as vegan meals do since they are still inaccessible to people with many of the needs listed.

If you do need to provide food that is likely inaccessible for many attendees and have to go with just trying to provide accommodations then ensure that the food for the accommodations is easy to find and efficiently distributed. It is no fun to wait in long food lines when you know there likely isn’t anything for you at the end of them and that your meal might be stored somewhere else.

Help attendees prepare in advance by being transparent about what will be offered. 

If the conference provides meals have a complete list of what will be offered, including ingredients, available on the website in advance so that people can prepare. It is not sufficient to say ‘lunch provided’. Conferences should already have a page with accessibility information covering topics like closed captioning, wheelchair accessibility, restrooms, etc. Food accessibility information should be included on this page.

Provide ingredient labels on all food provided. 

During food serving times make sure there are clear labels and ingredient lists that people can check for themselves. This makes a huge difference to folks who need it. At one conference I attended they had asked for dietary needs in advance but when the food was served during the networking lunch no one knew the ingredients in any of the pre-packed lunches. There was one that sounded like I could potentially have it from the food title, but without the ingredients someone like me with an autoimmune disorder can’t risk it.

Minimize the greenhouse gas footprint of the food, reduce food waste, and disposable items.

Take steps to minimize the use of disposable containers, eliminate food waste, and ensure sustainability. Track the emissions reductions and waste reductions you are able to make so that you can help other conference organizers make the same changes.

This is not a definitive list.

In addition to the suggestions here regarding type of food served there are other considerations discussed in the links below, such as the configuration of how food is served (please no buffets) and considerations for the serving of alcohol (less alcohol or no alcohol is preferred).

Providing universally accessible food to the most attainable extent possible can go a long way to making attendees at your conference feel more comfortable and included. As we strive to make conferences more accessible for all attendees ensuring that everyone has access to food is one step that I would love to see more conferences take.

Success stories

I can count on one hand the number of times I have been provided with food at conferences, workshops, or seminars over the last 5 years. It is hard to describe how strange it feels to actually be given food. I feel so included when it happens. It is hard for me to understand that most people experience this normally. One time was when I taught at the Western Mass Youth Climate Summit. They had food that was all vegan and several choices (not only did I have food, I had options!!!) for gluten free options. Here is a photo of that lunch. The food was provided by a local business owned and operated by people of color. I used the same business (Pulse Cafe) when I got food for an event I was hosting. I made sure all options were vegan, gluten free, and kosher. The main allergen we needed to warn people of was a peanut sauce that was in separate containers. I had folks come up to me after the event to say it was the first time they had ever attended an event on campus they could eat at. It was one of the only events for me as well, and it only happened because I insisted on it and personally handled all of the coordination around food.
In our department beginning of the semester party food accessibility has been an ongoing issue. I have attended around 10 start of semester parties and despite requesting food accommodations each time I have only been provided with food once and I had to do the order on my own and pick it up myself. The graduate program director has seen my struggle and starting last semester we began collecting info on who in the department needed accommodations. It turned out to be over a dozen people, most of whom had been just quietly not participating in events with food. Providing food everyone can have from the start can go such a long way to making people feel welcome and included. Often when the majority of people are happily eating something like pizza those of us who are left out just go unnoticed and it feels hurtful. There are easy ways we can help change this if we just put in the effort.

Here are some resources for further reading on creating accessible conferences.

Climate Science Day on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC

Shaina here-

Have you ever wished there were more scientists involved with politics or politicians who were more informed about science? I certainly have. So when an opportunity to travel to Capitol Hill to get training on how to meet with legislators about climate science- and to actually meet with their offices- presented itself I jumped on it. Policy proposals that impact science are happening around us all the time and the best way for scientists to help ensure that policies are backed by science and support the scientific process is for us to get involved. There are many different programs through various scientific societies that provide training to student scientists and early career researchers on how to communicate their work to policy makers. The specific program I participated in is called Climate Science Day and is coordinated by 12 different scientific societies. The training took place at American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in March 2019 and my participation was sponsored by the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The objective is to provide a non-partisan way for us to meet with congressional staff, begin building relationships with offices, and learn about some of the work that is currently being done on the Hill.

In total thirty five early career scientists participated and we were broken into teams of three based on geographic region. My teammates were Logan Brenner from Columbia University and Heather Sussman from SUNY-Albany, and our team leader was Lexi Shultz the Vice President of Public Affairs at AGU. Together we met with 7 congressional offices from Massachusetts and New York. To prepare us for the meetings we had a webinar and informational packet to go through in advance of the trip. These materials covered how Congress is structured, what the differences are between the Senate and the House of Representatives and how that impacts the work each side does, what the important committees relating to climate change are, and how to effectively communicate during meetings. They also emphasized the unified ask of “support, communicate, and use in policy discussions and decisions the scientific community’s consensus on climate science.” When we arrived in DC we had one day to attend a training at AAAS, meet our teammates, and prepare our materials for the next day’s congressional visits.

We had a limited time to prepare for our meetings. We all arrived the day before the meetings were to take place and attended a training at AAAS where we learned how to conduct a congressional visit, heard from a panel of staffers, and met our teammates and team leaders. To have a successful meeting you need to be knowledgeable about who you are talking to. Meetings rarely happen with the legislators themselves, instead they are usually with congressional staffers. The staffers are usually people with scientific backgrounds and occasionally they are themselves early career scientists interning as fellows sponsored by various professional organizations to learn more about the connections between science and policy. They are also very important to getting things done on Capitol Hill and are instrumental in carrying out the work that happens in the offices. Their time is extremely valuable and it is important to speak to them as though they are highly knowledgeable about these topics- because they are!- and to express your gratitude for their time. My three favorite staffers we met with were all fellows and had backgrounds in teaching, solar development, and marine biology!

The most valuable part of the training was the breakout sessions with our teams to decide what our specific asks were from each office and who would lead each meeting. Having a specific ask is very important as this is the action step you are hoping to convince your representative to take. The ask varies based on what you think your member of Congress is likely to want to do and what actions they have taken in the past. For members who are less engaged on climate issues asks should revolve around getting them to commit to becoming more involved. For us one of the offices we met with was of a Rep Katko (R-NY-24). We noticed in looking through the committees he was on that he was the only member of the New York delegation not on a specific environmental committee. We chose our ask for that office to be for him to join that committee. In the meeting at that office we spoke to his staffer about environmental issues that are a concern in his district, how climate change can exacerbate them, and how his work in joining this committee could benefit his constituents. For congressional members who are already active on climate issues we first thanked them for being leaders on such a pressing issue and then asked of them to go a bit farther, for instance by giving a floor speech on recent climate publications put out by government scientists such as the Fourth National Climate Assessment, or co-sponsoring a piece of upcoming environmental legislation. For members in our own local districts, we included in our asks invitations for them to come visit our research labs and perhaps do a public event with us to bring light to scientific work on global issues happening in their local districts and policy work they are doing to advance solutions.

Shaina (center right) and other CDI fellows outside of Senator Markey’s office.

On the day of the meetings we donned our business attire and convened on Capitol Hill. Logan and Heather each led two of the four meetings with the NY offices and I led the three meetings with MA offices. First up was Rep. Clark of MA’s 5th congressional district. It went very well and was the perfect meeting to ease us into the day. We met with a staffer who was a fellow with a background in education. She was eager to hear about our work and said Rep. Clark would likely be happy to complete our ask of giving a floor speech. One of the highlights of our day was meeting with Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY-6) who we requested join SEEC, the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, chaired by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY-20) which is one of the most active and effective congressional committees on environmental matters. Later in the day we met with Rep. Tonko’s office and they mentioned that they had just received a call from Rep. Meng asking to join his committee! This was a huge win for us as it meant that Rep. Meng had already acted on our ask just an hour or so after meeting with her office. Another highlight of the day was meeting with the Legislative Assistant for Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY-13). He was very interested in connections between social justice and climate change and how to improve the health and wellbeing of the people in his community, while providing them with good jobs, and working to combat climate change all at once. We ended the day at MA Senator Markey’s office where we met with two staffers who were fellows just out of graduate school- one was a marine biologist and the other worked on solar development and sustainability. We had a great conversation on scientists and scientific data that are being used to craft legislation for the Green New Deal.

The two days on Capitol Hill were a whirlwind of meeting new people and learning how scientists and policy makers can work together to make substantive change. If you want to get involved in communicating with your legislators, check with the scientific societies you are a member of to see if they have trainings coming up. You can also reach out on your own to your local legislators and offer your expertise and knowledge for policy work they are currently doing. In addition if you ever find yourself in Washington DC you can also ask for a meeting yourself if you would like to share your science and find ways your work and expertise can benefit their offices. With so much work needed in developing concrete actions that will help implement a global transition to a climate friendly world we will need everyone getting involved and offering to help in any way they can. You have so much to offer, so get out there and start making it happen!