Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Glimpse into Climate Change Through the Eyes of Teenagers

Southern Colorado and New Mexico students create engaging films during science education workshop at CU Boulder

An LOCC team films an interview with a CIRES researcher about water in the West.
From left to right: Jacoby Sanchez (Des Moines, NM), Jeff Lukas (CIRES scientist), Erik Morales (Anthony, NM), Catherine Sullivan (Colorado Film School), Elliasar Soto (Monte Vista, CO), Josiaha Martinez (Trinidad, CO).
- Katie Weeman/CIRES

At the end of June, 15 middle and high school students from across southern Colorado and New Mexico journeyed to the University of Colorado Boulder to explore—in film—the effects of environmental change on their lives and in their communities. Through an immersive, CIRES-hosted science-education experience, these Upward Bound Math Science students took a deeper look at climate change topics, and used their new knowledge to create short, educational movies.

The Lens on Climate Change (LOCC) program, funded by the National Science Foundation's Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST), targets students who may be the first in their families who are college-bound. The workshop asked them to think harder about the effects of climate change on their everyday lives. CIRES and Colorado Film School mentors worked closely with the students throughout the week, as they explored critical environmental issues through creative brainstorming, research, and film-making.

Students split themselves into teams based on common interests. One team formed from a group of outdoors enthusiasts: all four team members shared a love for outdoor recreation like hiking, camping, and fishing. They also shared some key observations about local water sources in their individual communities, which span southern Colorado and New Mexico.

“I used to go fishing all the time, but things have changed over the past decade—there isn’t enough water to sustain the fish we used to catch,” said Erik Morales, a student from Gadsden High School in Anthony, New Mexico. Morales traveled over 600 miles to participate in the program.

The LOCC team fishes along Boulder Creek.

The LOCC team fishes along Boulder Creek.

Patrick Chandler

Supported by two graduate students—CIRES’ Patrick Chandler (CU Boulder Environmental Science) and Catherine Sullivan (Colorado Film School)—the students put their observations under the spotlight to investigate the role of climate change on water resources and outdoor recreation in the West. They worked together to create a concept map and script for their film. The students interviewed CIRES scientist Jeff Lukas, a researcher in CIRES’ Western Water Assessment program. They also toured Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Bellvue Watson Fish Hatchery to learn about sustainable fishing practices.

"The students quickly found a topic that they all truly cared about and were not afraid to bring their emotion and vulnerability into the film,” said Chandler, a graduate researcher working with CIRES Fellow and CSTPR director Max Boykoff. “Although it would be admirable to see a group of any age do so, it was especially meaningful for a group of high school boys to come together and create something with open hearts and minds in order to produce the best film they could."

To celebrate the students' accomplishments, the LOCC team held a public film screening on Saturday, June 30. About 40 people, including mentors, students, and members of the community, watched the films the students had created. Topics ranged from water quality in Flint, Michigan to drought in the West. View the videos here.

“LOCC is about giving middle and high school kids the tools to investigate climate change effects in their community and start dialogues about those effects,” said Erin Leckey, program manager of LOCC. “We hope that through making their films that kids learn to be change makers and build resilience for their communities. The empowerment is as important as STEM skills they gain.”

The workshop was the first of three LOCC programs happening this summer. For the next sessions, the CIRES Education & Outreach team will travel to both the Coldharbour Institute in Gunnison, Colorado, and to Arecibo, Puerto Rico to educate and inspire local students.

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