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College students examine different approaches to climate change and the move away from fossil fuels

Editor's note: The reporter is also an employee of Fort Lewis College.

Students at Fort Lewis College in Durango are taking a different approach to learning about climate change. And about ways to transition from using fossil fuels.

This story features commentary from Heidi Steltzer, Coordinator for the Environmental Science Degree Program and Professor of Biology at Fort Lewis College.

HEIDI STELTZER: This is my dream course. This is my dream course because it's the course, the only course I teach that's about the what couldn't be for science rather than more the fundamentals and the building blocks and making sure that you have the skills that you need.

SARAH FLOWER: Dr. Heidi Steltzer is a Professor of Environment and Sustainability and Biology at Fort Lewis College. This semester she's teaching a course on Science Values and Environmental Leadership, an upper division level class that takes a different, more solutions oriented approach to science. THIS INCLUDES EXAMINING THE ECOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXPLORING ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SYSTEMS THAT MOVE US AWAY FROM FOSSIL FUELS. For Steltzer, teaching about what could be to future environmental leaders is just as important, if more, than the basics of these subjects.

STELTZER: It's recognizing where and how much more learning comes from asking questions in where I can pop in fundamentals. But we're not dominated by fundamentals. There's still so much about the basic biology that we will cover but we'll cover it through story. We'll cover it through questions and what doesn't get covered. They'll learn it somewhere else.


SARAH: In the first week of class for the spring semester, roughly 20 students filled the classroom as small breakout groups were formed to discuss what the current role is for scientists and science in society today. Ashley Jorgenson is a Senior majoring in Environmental Sciences at the college. Jorgenson says scientists' biggest role is to make a difference, especially when it comes to fossil fuels.

We have the technology there to make changes, like my first thought was like energy sources. And like solar panels have so much potential. But they're not being implemented anywhere. And so I think that's on a policy level for sure. Because individuals can take action. And I think it's a mix of both.

SARAH: Jorgensen says she appreciates the more philosophical approach to science and recognizes her role as a future environmental leader to help make a difference. Jorgenson feels that learning how to make critical changes about fossil fuels on a policy level is our best hope. But for Steltzer, working and learning from the students is what helps her become a better professor and a scientist.

STELTZER: I learned as much if not more from students than anything I've ever taught them. And so when I hear that phrase teaching solutions, I think if we can grow out of the space of what we see as the norm and sort of our first thought about what teaching is, and recognize it's a community thing, because I have my biases, you have your biases, we all have those experiences that have influenced us, for better and for worse, and where and how do we step into a space or open to hearing? How would you solve something? tools do you want? What ideas matter? Who do you see is important? So we all have to be part of that teaching, learning growing, thinking space,

SARAH: This course's more theoretical approach is just of many in how education will play a crucial role in transitioning away from fossil fuels as they educate a new generation of environmental leaders.

This story is part of a collaboration between stations of the Rocky Mountain Community Radio coalition. Reports will highlight the transition from fossil fuels across the Mountain West. Listen throughoutthe winter and spring of 2022 for more stories from our partner stations, including KSUT.

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