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Climate Change in the Classroom – UNC Professor’s Second Fulbright Provides International Collaboration on Critical Issue

June 7, 2022

Meteorology Professor Cindy Shellito, Ph.D., was recently named a Fulbright U.S. Scholar, a highly prestigious and competitive award that will take her across the Pacific Ocean to Vietnam for five months starting in January 2023. This is Shellito’s second Fulbright award. In 2015, she traveled to Ecuador where she researched climate change in the Andes. Climate change will continue to be the focus in Vietnam, though instead of solely collecting data, Shellito will be tapping into her passion for teaching and exploring the most effective ways to integrate the topic into the classroom.  

“We are in a period of rapid, global environmental change,” Shellito said. “I love scientific research, but we have reached a point in Earth history when finding ways to mitigate and adapt to changes has become critical.” 

While in Vietnam, Shellito will connect with fellow professors. Faculty instructors within the University of Dalat’s Department of Chemistry and the Environment, located in the southern portion of the country, will work collaboratively with Shellito to develop an engaging university curriculum focused on weather and the climate. 

“To teach about climate change, we have to work across cultures to support each other in a global community,” Shellito said. “It gives us better insights and perspectives on what’s going on.” 

Shellito chose to travel to Vietnam for multiple reasons. Vietnam is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. Though many think of colder regions when it comes to the effects of climate change, Shellito says being in a tropical location puts Vietnam at high risk for more frequent disruptive climate and weather events.  

“A small shift in temperature or rainfall can change whether or not a tropical forest can exist in a certain place,” Shellito said. “For example, in Costa Rica, there’s a place called Monteverde Cloud Forest. It sits on the top of the mountains and as the winds come up, they form clouds that feed the trees with water all of the time. If you have a shift in temperature, there’s a shift in where the clouds form. The clouds could form up higher and not reach the sides of the mountain taking water away from those trees.” 

Along with exploring new regional shifts in a climate vastly different than Colorado’s, Shellito says there’s a big opportunity for development of new curriculum at the University of Dalat. 

“There is a huge push in Vietnam to transform higher education in the country,” Shellito said. “Traditionally in Vietnam, teaching techniques have been more of a top-down format or lecture style. At UNC, faculty use a lot more interactive techniques that involve our students in solving problems and having engaging discussions. That’s what they’re working toward.” 

Shellito will be part of that transformation effort. One of her project goals is to mentor and teach a workshop series for University of Dalat instructors, primarily in the science departments, on developing new teaching strategies. 

“I believe that university faculty play an important role in facilitating connections between those who do the science and those who need to use the science to make community decisions,” Shellito said. “So, through mentoring and teaching, I want to help better prepare students for life in the 21st century.” 

UNC students will also be able to benefit from the collaboration. During the five months in Vietnam, Shellito will be holding virtual science and cultural exchanges between students in Dalat and UNC students.  

“The idea is to meet via Zoom and have the students discuss what they’ve noticed with climate change in Vietnam versus what students in Colorado have noticed and we’ll discuss any solutions,” Shellito said. 

While there are kinks to work out, like what time to schedule the meetings with a 13-hour time difference, Shellito’s goal is to establish a long-term collaboration to open international communication and cultural exchange. In that, Shellito also plans to teach a short undergraduate course in meteorology and climatology at the University of Dalat and hold community seminars.  

Previous Travels

Shellito

Shellito in Ecuador for her first Fulbright Award in 2015.

Shellito with UNC students

Shellito in Ecuador with UNC students in 2017.

Shellito

In 2018, Shellito was selected to join an international group of 80 female scientists on a three-week expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula.

The expedition departed from Ushuaia, Argentina and was part of a global initiative called Homeward Bound. The project aimed to elevate the status of women in science and empower them to take a leadership role in issues related to climate change and sustainability. 

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It's quite an endeavor, but Shellito says after researching climate change for the past 25 years, this is how she can make the greatest impact moving forward.  

“Our institutions of higher education must find new ways to prepare students to solve the complex challenges posed by several, simultaneous existential threats,” Shellito said. “I hope this Fulbright award will be the beginning of a fruitful ongoing collaboration that includes work to better understand regional impacts of climate change and the most effective ways of integrating climate change into curricula.” 

Shellito will share her experience in Vietnam with students, colleagues, friends and family through her blog which she first started during her time in Ecuador. Shellito will be on sabbatical until May 2023.

- written by Sydney Kern

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