Assisting Non-geoscience Students to Understand Environmental/Sustainability Issues through Scientific Writing Classes

Friday 3:00pm-4:00pm Student Union: Ballroom B
Poster Session Part of Friday Session


Byron Straw, University of Northern Colorado
At many colleges and universities, students wishing to graduate with a science degree are required to take a course in scientific writing. Traditionally, these classes required students to choose a topic in the first several weeks of the course and develop it throughout the semester; however, the topics were usually unrelated to any type of societal environmental or sustainability problem.

During spring and summer semesters of 2016, the University of Northern Colorado (UNCo) implemented a new pedagogy in its Scientific Writing course to encourage students to consider the importance of environmental issues facing society. Instructors and students still had the freedom to select topics of interest, but the requirements for selecting a topic slightly changed. During the first two weeks of class students completed assignments that challenged them to select a topic that would relate to their major and make a connection to some type of grand challenge facing society. Students retained the academic freedom to choose topics connected with their major, but they would need to add the environmental and/or sustainability component.

Throughout the semester, the students started to make connections between their field of study and environmental concerns they never thought possible. For example, a dietetics major after the first class meeting asked "how could my major have any connection to an environmental concern." After the second week of class, her title was developed, and she started to see a strong connection between her major and sustainable farming techniques. She then went on to write a ten-page scientific manuscript, and develop a poster which she presented passionately during our departmental "Poster Fest".

In addition to students being challenged to look into complex and forward-looking problems, they developed a stronger personal and professional voice that is important to their future. Many students realized they can make a difference!