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Climate Change Boiling Over into More Academic Courses

Vietnamese students sitting at tables listening to UNC Professor Cindy Shellito.

August 1, 2023

The weather plays a huge role in every person’s life, even in very mundane ways. A morning routine consists of checking the forecast to dress accordingly, and a lull in conversation typically leads to comments about how hot/rainy/humid it has been lately. Recently, though, the topic of weather and the climate has been heating up, literally.

Above: Cindy Shellito delivering a workshop on teaching climate change across the disciplines at Nanyang Technological University in April. Photo courtesy: Yeong Jin-Yuan.

According to the New York Times, about 66.5 million people — 20 percent of the population of the contiguous United States — live in the areas expected to have dangerous levels of heat this summer.In Corpus Christi, Texas it’s forecasted to reach 118 degrees on Thursday, Aug. 3.

The effects of this extreme heat are bleeding into consumerism. The company Huy Fong Foods, which creates the popular hot sauce Sriracha, is experiencing a supply shortage. According to the Associated Press, this has been linked to climate change, pointing to weather shifts and extreme drought in Mexico and the U.S. where Huy Fong sources its chili peppers. As a result, Walmart is selling one 28 oz bottle of Sriracha for $35.50. 

“I used to say, ‘Oh it’s coming, it’s coming,’ well now it’s here. It’s happening. We’re experiencing a lot of extreme weather because of climate change,” Meteorology Professor Cindy Shellito, Ph.D., said. “We’re dealing with a global problem. In the past few weeks, we’ve had some of the hottest days ever recorded on earth.” 

Shellito has a master’s degree in Atmospheric Science from the University of California, Davis, a doctorate in Earth Science from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has been teaching in the University of Northern Colorado’s College of Natural and Health Sciences since 2005. During her career she has witnessed and researched how different areas across the world are dealing with the effects of temperature shifts.  

She just returned from a five-month trip to Vietnam on a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award, where she collaborated with fellow professors in University of Dalat’s Department of Chemistry and the Environment to develop university curriculum focused on weather and the climate. She also taught an eight-week course on introductory to meteorology and atmospheric science to 16 undergraduates enrolled in scientific majors. For them, adjusting to the latest weather trends is determinant to surviving in the southern portion of the country.   

“Agriculture is a big part of the economy there,” Shellito said. “A lot of the students have families who are farmers, and they’re trying to figure out how to adapt to changes in the timing of rainfall, a change in temperature... it’s been a big struggle. There has been some extreme flooding.” 

Nearly two weeks ago, a quarter million people were evacuated in southern China and Vietnam before a major typhoon roared ashore with fierce winds and rain.  

To assist in educating Vietnamese students about climate change and encouraging them to explore possible solutions, Shellito helped faculty realize they could make the topic relevant in their current courses. For example, she says some professors in Vietnam work with indigenous groups who grow coffee, and because of climate change, they must adjust how they run their business, which could become an opportunity to talk about sustainability in the classroom. 

Shellito saw this in practice at Nanyang Technological University, another university she visited in Singapore. Faculty there were working to adjust their liberal arts curriculum so that every student has to take a sustainability and climate change course. Seeing the benefits, Shellito hopes UNC can implement something like this in the future. 

“I feel like we’re doing a disservice to our students if we don’t help them understand what’s happening with climate change and what their role is in finding solutions, and how it’s going to impact their careers and their area of study,” Shellito said. 

UNC has already taken steps in this direction. The Monfort College of Business (MCB) created a new Entrepreneurship certificate available to all students regardless of their major that will provide them with an understanding of how to mitigate climate impact in the business environment through sustainable choices and renewable materials. 

“This better equips students with the necessary tools to achieve financial success, environmental and societal impact and sustainable innovation ventures,” said Isaac Wanasika, MCB department chair and professor of Management.

University of Dalat students touring the local government weather station.

Students in Shellito's meteorology course at the University of Dalat touring a local government weather station.

Shellito with University of Dalat faculty on her last day in Dalat.

Shellito with colleagues in the Department of Chemistry and Environment at the University of Dalat. Photo courtesy: Graham Baird, UNC

University of Dalat students sharing their drawings of global atmospheric circulation.

University of Dalat students in Shellito's class sharing their drawings of global atmospheric circulation.

Scenic view of the moutains around Dalat.

A view of the mountains around Dalat.

A scenic view of the Dalat's skyline.

A view of Dalat's skyline.

Cindy Shellito posing with her University of Dalat students on the last day of the course.

Shellito with her University of Dalat students celebrating their last day of a meteorology course.

To keep the momentum going, Shellito plans to host a workshop with fellow faculty in the fall to discuss ways climate change can be woven into UNC courses. After traveling across the Pacific Ocean and collaborating with people of different backgrounds who are facing unique environmental impacts, Shellito wants to focus on two things; people from all academic interests need to understand what is happening with climate change and people, especially students, need to learn how to collaborate cross-culturally as they work toward solutions.  

“There are opportunities to learn things from other cultures, and there are a lot of things we can do to adapt to the changes that we’re experiencing,” Shellito said. “It requires communication, and that’s the biggest thing students have to learn.

– written by Sydney Kern