Minor in climate change science and policy introduced

Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” In lieu of ignoring the results of climate change that have led to recent natural disasters, DePaul University’s assistant professor of journalism Jill Hopke is encouraging her Environmental Communication students to begin to think differently.

Hopke encourages her Environmental Communication students to remain positive despite all of the conspiracy theorists who dismiss global warming and climate change as propaganda.

With recent natural disasters, like hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the implications of climate change should be resonating with individuals on our planet more than ever before. 

The new minor aims to increase awareness of climate change along with student employability. (Ally Zacek/The DePaulia)

Hopke won’t save the planet overnight, or by herself, but the inauguration of a new Climate Change Science and Policy minor at DePaul next quarter is a major step forward and a testament to the university’s devotion to promoting environmental preservation. She feels it is essential for her students to understand how people develop certain beliefs, so that they can be better prepared to respond intelligently and effectively.

“When we make decisions, we look to our social network; to our family, our friends, those whom we have strong ties with, to see what they believe so they can help us come to our own beliefs,” Hopke said. “So as we see from social science research, it’s not simple. We need to understand how people come to their beliefs, and tailor our messaging specifically to them.”

“Really using the power of stories, narratives, and visuals to communicate our climate change,” she says, during a presentation she gave last Tuesday on campus in Lincoln Park.

While Hopke is excited DePaul was on board with a Climate Change minor, she also wants to take advantage of this opportunity to educate students about such an important topic.

“I would say there is a lot of interest amongst students, as well as a lot of uncertainty about what’s happening on a national and international level,” Hopke said. “I’ve spoken to students who want to know what individuals can do. Students are concerned, and they seem to want to know how this is going to impact them and future generations.”

The opportunity that students will have to think critically about climate change is important, echoed Mark Potosnak, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Studies. But he also believes this new minor will prove to be practical for students during their careers.

“In addition to giving students an important personal knowledge of this issue, I also think it’s very vocational,” Potosnak said. “Again, imagine you’re an accounting student who knows about climate change. They’re going to step in somewhere and be able to do accounting in terms of dollars and cents, but also in terms of kilograms and carbon dioxide.”

According to Michael Tortorich, an academic advisor at DePaul, students study what they are passionate about.

“The main message at our office is that your major doesn’t matter,” Tortorich said. “People are constantly changing throughout their lives. A huge portion of the students that we see are undeclared, and students who still have no idea what they want to do in their life. As far as something that’s important to you, and getting into something career wise that’s important to you should be the goal,” says Tortorich.

Meanwhile, there appears to already be a positive reaction on campus among students who heard about this brand new minor. Sophomore Megan Smith, who studies Biology, thinks it’s a tremendous addition for DePaul.

“I just think it’s cool because it’s something that is a very major issue, and the fact that you got a new resource for a whole bunch of young people to learn about it is great, because I mean, they’re the ones that are going to make the change,” Smith said.

Hopke’s Climate Change Communication class is going to be offered for the first time this winter quarter at the Lincoln Park campus. The class is listed as JOUR 311 and COMM 363, and it will take place on Mondays and Wednesday afternoons. In addition to Hopke’s class which is an elective, Climate Change Science and Policy minors will be required to take Global Climate Change (ENV 230), Climate Change Policy (PPS 260), Oceanography (GEO 220/PHY220), and Weather and Climate (GEO 225/PHY 225).