KPU instructors and students collaborate on new climate education project

The initiative aims to get more people at KPU talking about climate-related challenges and solutions

Ellen Pond (left) and Tracy Sherlock (right) collaborate with a student (name unknown). (submitted)

Ellen Pond (left) and Tracy Sherlock (right) are collaborating with Ashley Pocrinch (bottom) to teach students about climate change. (submitted)

Two instructors at Kwantlen Polytechnic University have launched the Climate+ Challenge to educate more students and instructors about the climate crisis.

The project includes a number of instructors from a variety of departments implementing the climate emergency into their course material. Some of the departments involved include creative writing, journalism, history, and environmental protection.

Currently, seven courses are part of the project this semester, with more on the way in 2022. 

Ellen Pond, policy studies and urban ecosystems instructor at KPU, came up with the project idea last spring as part of KPU’s commitment to post-pandemic initiatives

“What I thought was, ‘we’re a polytechnic university, let’s all get involved with climate change,'” says Pond. “The more we think about it, engage with it, plan for it, the better off we are.” 

“In my classroom, I’m going to teach about climate change and talk about [it]. I’m going to want my students to be involved in understanding what’s going on and knowing that they are part of the solution.”  

The project’s name refers to the importance of equity and building on the concept of gender-based analysis plus, a government initiative on promoting diversity and inclusion across public services. 

“Similarly, responding to the climate emergency necessitates that we use an equity and decolonization lens. There is clear and increasing evidence that the impacts of climate change are felt first and most deeply by marginalized communities, even though those communities are not responsible for the majority of carbon emissions,” Pond wrote in an email to The Runner

Pond reached out to various instructors at KPU to see who would be interested or who had already taught climate change in their classes before. Journalism instructor Tracy Sherlock was one of them and is now the co-coordinator of the project. 

Sherlock says the inspiration behind the Climate+ Challenge is to get more people passionate and involved about climate change.

As the project expands this semester, Sherlock says she hopes KPU students and staff will learn and bounce new ideas involving climate change off of each other from looking at their website. 

Sherlock says she and others involved in the project will highlight student work that has been done in one of many courses offered in the Climate+ Challenge to give students a chance to show recognition for their work. 

“But also, for other instructors to look and say, ‘oh, hey, I could adapt this assignment that I did in this class to focus on climate change, and get my students learning and thinking about this as well,'” says Sherlock. “It’s good for the students, and it’s also good for the instructors to see examples.”

Students in her class have to do an assignment based on climate change this semester and watch a video of KPU Elder-in-residence and member of the Kwantlen First Nation Lekeyten speaking about the impacts of climate change. 

She says the feedback has been good so far.  

“Only one student so far has gotten that far ahead in the class, but her comments were, ‘I think every student at KPU should watch this, and thank you so much for sharing it,” says Sherlock.

In the future, she says she hopes the project will spark new areas of development within the university, such as implementing specific courses and a degree on climate change. 

“I hope it becomes a sustainable project that is ongoing and lasts forever,” says Sherlock. “It would be useful for many fields.” 

KPU’s business department is also in the works to be added to the project. 

Another one of the courses offered this semester in part of the Climate+ Challenge is Global Environmental History, a second-year course taught by KPU history chair and instructor Jack Hayes. 

Hayes has been an instructor at the university since 2013 and designs all the history classes involving environmental aspects. 

“It’s a brilliant idea,” he says. “The Climate+ Challenge project really fits in very well with a number of courses that I teach.”

His research focuses on late imperial and modern Chinese environmental history, resource development and ethnic relations in Western China, and environmental policy development in East Asia. Hayes’ research also focuses on environmental history and studies in fire dynamics.

“History is only one aspect of the data, the science, the material, the experience that goes into a topic like this,” says Hayes. “I’m super impressed with the ideas around the project and how we’re trying to get both the faculty and students with the website.”

When teaching history courses about the environment, Hayes says students sometimes have expressed climate anxiety, adding that he hopes the psychology instructors will be interested in taking part in the Climate+ Challenge and addressing how to alleviate stress about climate change. 

“The idea of climate psychology is critical,” says Hayes. “I see other students in my classes when they write their papers and do different kinds of projects that I asked them to do, ask questions [and] they absolutely bring up climate anxiety in this process.” 

“I’m hopeful that things like the Climate+ project and other things don’t just get people involved, but give them a sense of agency, a sense of positivity. It’s a challenge, but we can all make some differences if we put the effort with this sort of thing more.” 

Since July, fourth-year journalism student Ashley Pocrnich has been in charge of developing the project’s website, responding to emails, and interviewing KPU staff or environmental experts to publish on the site. 

“I’m really excited. I feel like it’s what we need right now,” says Pocrnich.

“There are people I know who are experiencing climate anxiety that could benefit from it. So it’s really cool to be a part of this and see what’s going on,” she adds. “I’ve already learned a ton that I didn’t know before.” 

Pocrnich says she hopes KPU students and staff will learn that there are a variety of different angles people can look at the climate crisis and help create solutions. 

“The more we talk about it, the more we can come up with different solutions or ideas off of each other,” she says. 

“[Climate change] is really urgent and something that is going to affect all of us, probably in the near future. There are areas where we are making progress and exerting more focus on climate change, but there are also areas that we can be doing better.” 

Pocrnich says hopefully, in the future, the project will add another member to the team whose job would be to gather climate change material and conduct research to make it easily accessible for students and staff to learn more information about climate change. 

As the Climate+ Challenge project continues this semester and expands into the spring, Pond, Sherlock, and Pocrnich encourage students and staff to check out their website for more information about expert interviews and student work. To become involved with the project, reach to Pocrnich through the contact us page on the Climate+ website. 

“There’s always going to be a climate change angle that they can take,” says Pocrinch, “And we’re here to make things a bit easier for them.”


Correction: an earlier version of this article contained an erroneous quote that referred to Ellen Pond as Dr. Pond.