Geosciences Across the Curriculum

InTeGrate Hurricane ModuleBy Julia Munemo

It’s a Wednesday morning, and you’ve just learned a Category 2-3 hurricane is predicted to make landfall in your town on Sunday. The mayor is gathering statements from various stakeholders about how to plan for it. You’re the head of a local Red Cross chapter, or the president of a college, or a scientist from the state department of environmental conservation. What would you recommend to the mayor and why?

The scenario is part of a new undergraduate teaching module called Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes, developed by a team of college professors led by Williams geoscientist Lisa Gilbert. The module is just one of approximately 30 being designed as part of a project called Interdisciplinary Teaching About Earth for a Sustainable Future, or InTeGrate, which seeks to infuse undergraduate courses in any discipline, at any college, with geosciences.

Funded with a five-year, $10 million National Science Foundation Grant and led by Cathryn Manduca ’80, director of the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College, InTeGrate supports teaching geosciences in the context of societal issues. Faculty can download and teach entire courses or pick and choose modules that make sense for their curricula.

“People disagree about climate change and its implications,” Manduca says. “But most people agree that if we’re going to live on this planet we need a workforce that understands the earth to help us solve the resource and environmental challenges we face. We also need a citizenry that understands what it means to live sustainably.”

Examples of other InTeGrate modules include Carbon, Climate, and Energy Resources; Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources; and Living on the Edge: Building Resilient Societies on Active Plate Margins. Each one is developed by a team of faculty members from different types of institutions across the country and then reviewed by experts.

“Each team member teaches with the materials before they’re published,” says Manduca, who majored in geology at Williams and earned her Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology. “The same materials can be used at Williams and at Berkshire Community College; they can be adapted in different ways for different kinds of teaching environments.”

Gilbert says the hurricanes module is based on the idea that “hurricanes are inevitable and that future decision makers will have to deal with them, since 44 percent of the world population lives within 100 miles of the coast.”

It also brings to the fore societal concerns at the heart of a scientific question. “It can be easy for scientists to say, ‘The solution to hurricane risk is to move everyone out of Louisiana,’” Gilbert says. “Of course, if you go to Louisiana you see it’s not that simple. This module gets students to think about policy, history, and culture, giving them tools to assess and address interdisciplinary problems.”

Gilbert is now at work on a module about earth systems thinking. She jumped at the chance to join the InTeGrate team because of her experience integrating geosciences into an interdisciplinary curriculum at Williams-Mystic, where she’s taught since 2002.

InTeGrate modules offer a completely new way to teach, she says, adding, “It’s revolutionizing the way geosciences are taught across the country.”

To learn more about InTeGrate and explore the materials, visit the project’s website.