Jump-starting a year of focused climate action, Drexel University was invited to join the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), an alliance of more than 20 leading research universities working to accelerate the development of local climate solutions and build community resilience. UC3 is a distinguished program administered by Second Nature, an organization whose signature program Climate Leadership Network includes hundreds of American colleges and universities — as well as Drexel — committed to taking action on climate.
As an R1 research university, a national leader in civic engagement and anchor mission work, and a university with a growing portfolio of sustainability- and climate action-focused courses, projects, and relationships, Drexel’s values align heavily with those established by the network. The University’s climate collaborations began in earnest in 2010, when Drexel became part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-funded Consortium for Climate Risks in the Urban Northeast (CCRUN). In 2016, the University became the North American Hub of the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN), a consortium of over 1000 researchers, academics, government leaders and urban decision-makers collaborating globally on the unique challenges that climate change pose for cities. Through its inclusion in the UC3 coalition, Drexel’s network will be further expanded, allowing it to share resources, relationships and strategies with other member institutions of higher education in America, Canada and Mexico to more comprehensively tackle the climate crisis.
“Membership in UC3 recognizes the dedication of all of the faculty, staff, and administrators who have worked tirelessly over the past year to align the University’s teaching, research, and engagement activities around solving this existential crisis,” said Franco Montalto, PhD, professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering and director of the North American Hub of the UCCRN. Montalto was appointed Drexel’s research liaison to the UC3, and has been a thought leader and major driving force behind both “Climate Year,” a yearlong concentration on climate and sustainability at the University and the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the University’s effort to become a member of UC3. He’ll be joined in managing the work with UC3 by Drexel’s Senior Vice Provost of University and Community Partnerships Lucy Kerman, the Office of Research and Innovation’s Senior Associate Hugh Johnson and the Office of University & Community Partnerships’ Director of Communications and Special Projects Jen Britton as the executive, operations, and communications liaisons, respectively.
One of Drexel’s first commitments as a new UC3 member is to co-produce a climate research agenda for the region through a participatory convening of regional stakeholders. In collaboration with Philadelphia’s new Chief Resilience Officer, Saleem Chapman, and the Philadelphia Water Department’s Climate Change Adaptation Program Manager Julia Rockwell, Drexel is planning three interrelated activities to be kicked off in late spring 2021 with a public listening session. The purpose of the listening session is to create a forum through which regional stakeholders can identify topical areas in which they believe focused research is needed. The goal is to elicit diverse perspectives regarding relationships between climate change and social inequality, economic development, housing, transportation and other issues. Working groups — consisting of community stakeholders, local government representatives and the academic community — will delve deeper into these areas during a series of focused meetings, planned for summer 2021. Through their deliberations, the working groups will elaborate key cross-cutting issues and knowledge gaps, drafting a research and action agenda to address them. This research and action agenda will be presented publicly in a second public meeting, likely to be undertaken in September, as part of the launch of the Environmental Collaboratory.
Acceptance into UC3 is the latest development in the University’s dedication to sustainability, environmental justice and climate action. Last spring, a cross-functional team of faculty, professional staff and students created a Climate and Sustainability Working Group to focus its teaching, research, operations and community engagement activities around these issues, convened in response to students’ desire to see Drexel take up a more robust role as an environmental problem-solver. The Working Group has been crafting a comprehensive University-wide approach to addressing both the climate crisis specifically and sustainability issues more generally, as well as supporting colleges, schools and administrative offices in integrating sustainability values into their operations. This includes everything from bolstering climate-related research and teaching opportunities to using Drexel’s position and resources to contribute to special events for students to minimizing and monitoring the University’s impact on the environment, including self-reporting through the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) tool utilized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), of which Drexel is a member.
Acceptance to the UC3 organization was one of the goals of Climate Year. In 2021, Drexel will be strengthening its position as a climate problem-solver by supporting and evaluating ongoing climate work and developing new opportunities within its academic mission, institutional investment and civic impact.
As another component of Climate Year, the Academy of Natural Sciences will continue to use its platform as a major cultural and scientific institution to bring attention to the urgent climate crisis. Signature programming includes its Environmental Justice Week held in January; Earth Week Celebration held in April; ongoing Academy Conversations and the Gideon Mendel: Drowning World exhibit, opening on May 1, a unique photographic exploration of the impact of flooding on communities around the world due to climate events. The Academy will also promote climate-related resources and share ideas and tips on incorporating sustainability into everyday practices throughout the year.
“With over two centuries of science exploration and environmental research, the Academy is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in climate and sustainability efforts,” said Scott Cooper, PhD, president and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences. “We are using our museum as a platform to engage communities and inspire action that leads to a more healthy, sustainable, equitable planet.”
Drexel students, faculty, professional staff and alumni looking to get involved with Climate Year can search for opportunities here to incorporate sustainability practices into their personal, professional and educational experiences. The Climate & Sustainability Working Group would like to both amplify and catalog the course offerings, programs, and events that Drexel’s departments and divisions are coordinating, and you can let them know about what’s happening in your department, office, or student organization by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Dragons can also email email@example.com with additional questions and request to be added to the Climate and Sustainability email list to receive updates about upcoming programs and opportunities and to contribute to a climate-conscious Drexel community.