Iowa State University is launching a new major in climate science

Students at Iowa State University will have the opportunity to study climatology this coming school year.

This fall, the university launched a new major focused on climate science. The unique curriculum aims to prepare students to solve climate-related challenges.

Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences Christy Franz said she is excited to introduce the new major to students. Although scientists have been talking about climate change for decades, Franz said it has become a pressing issue for students in recent years.

“The current generation recognizes the legitimacy of science and respects it as well as the rest of us,” Franz said. “And they really want to do something about it because it’s their future.” So they want to be part of the solution.

“I want to help be a voice for the world that is struggling right now.”

Daniel Mussell, incoming freshman

She said the field of study will prepare students for a wide variety of careers, from sustainable design planners to climate advisors for private industries such as insurance.

The bachelor’s degree will allow students to choose from six areas of focus: advanced climate science, data visualization, design and planning for sustainability, policy and human behavior, science communication, and agriculture and natural resources. But all paths will give students the knowledge to strategize against climate change, Franz said.

That’s what drew ISU junior Owen Halverson to the major. He plans to study advanced climate science, building on the framework of many of the meteorology courses he has already taken. Halverson said he sees the degree as a means of dealing with increasing severe weather conditions.

“This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, problem facing the world right now,” he said. “And that’s how I see myself being able to be helpful to everyone else in the future.”

The coursework will consist of many hours within the university’s Earth Sciences faculty, but will go a step further and integrate courses in economics and communications.

Associate Professor Lindsey Modlin — who was assigned to teach climate science courses — said an interdisciplinary view of climate change is vital to preparing students to tackle the problem.

“This is more than a single discipline problem,” Modlin said. “It’s something that affects all aspects of life. So students will have the ability to think about things as a system and as a whole, rather than just an individual component.”

“They really want to do something about it because it’s their future. So they want to be part of the solution.”

Christy Franz, chair of the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences

Incoming freshman Daniel Mussel said majoring in climate science was part of what made him choose the university. He said he’s excited not only to immerse himself in climate science, but also to have the opportunity to take communication courses that will help him translate that science to others.

“Bridging the gap between the social and more hard sciences and combining them into a science that everyone can understand when it’s explained that way,” Mussel said.

A 2021 survey of 16- to 25-year-olds from around the world found that the majority of young people are extremely worried about changing climate conditions. Nearly 60 percent of respondents reported feeling “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change.

Muzel said he believes it’s something people should worry about and plan for. He said he hopes to start working on that road in August.

“I want to help be a voice to the world that is struggling right now,” Mussel said.

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