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GCS 2016 Student Project: Changing the Campus Culture to Address Climate Change

2016 GCS class
Top row L-R: Jason Binks, Nicole Cox, Lauren Zuromski, Liz Ivkovich, Sarah Brey, Jennifer Lair, Carlos Alarco, Carissa Beckwith, Nipun Gunawarden, Ruedigar Matthes, Julia Howe, Cassandra Gallegos; front row L-R: Crystal Painter, Meaghan McKasy, Jesse Pechmann, Vanessa Bailey

In 2016, the graduate students* of Global Changes and Society chose to look at how people know and understand climate change. The students in this interdisciplinary course found that all of their disciplines were connected in more ways than immediately apparent. The class decided that the overarching takeaways from the course were found in four areas: information, behavior, awareness, and experience. Using this framework, the GCS project was structured into these four areas.

Human behaviors are driven by experiences and the information they internalize. The way individuals experience situations and places is affected by what they are aware of, individual behavior (and the behavior of others), and available information.


By collecting information about the student body, it is possible to more effectively understand how people experience campus and that information can serve as a useful guide for to find effective ways to increase awareness of climate change issues. The GCS class read a report from the Yale Center for Climate Change Communication titled “Climate Change in the American Mind” in which a nation-wide survey was conducted. Some students decided to create a similar survey to gauge knowledge on campus.

836 people took the survey and there were some stark differences when compared to the national data. Two in three (67%) Americans responded that global warming is happening while 94% of University of Utah students answered in the affirmative. About half of Americans (53%) selected that if global warming is happening, it is mostly human caused, while 69% of university respondents believed it is caused mostly by humans. Over half of Americans (57%) reported that they were at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, while those on campus 81% were at least “somewhat worried.” Three quarters of respondents believed the University could be doing more to address global warming and it was found that academic journals and formal education were considered the most reliable sources for information on global warming. 60% of students responded that sustainability is a major campus issue and 40% are unfamiliar with the Sustainability Office but would like to learn more. While only 40% participated in a past campus sustainability program, 76% reported that they were very or somewhat likely to participate in the future.

Across the board, University of Utah respondents appeared to accept the reality of global warming more than the national average, meaning that campus showed potential to be a great platform to appeal to environmentally minded individuals. Also, the university students displayed trust in educators and wanted to be more involved with sustainability initiatives, there just appeared to be a disconnect with knowledge of campus activities. Analysis and a potential paper for this project is ongoing.

*Departments / Students

Atmospheric Sciences:  Crystal Painter, Lauren Zuromski; City & Metropolitan Planning: Jason Binks; Dance: Liz Ivkovich; Communication: Meaghan McKasy; Environmental Humanities: Carissa Beckwith, Sarah Brey, Nicole Cox,  Jennifer Lair,  Ruedigar Matthes; Geography: Vanessa Bailey; Geology & Geophysics, Julie Howe; Law: Cassandra Gallegos; Mechanical Engineering: Nipun Gunawardena; Professional Master of Science & Technology: Jesse Pechmann; Professional student: Carlos Alarco


  • Akerlof, K., Maibach, E. W., Fitzgerald, D., Cedeno, A. Y., & Neuman, A. (2012). Do people personally experience “global warming,” and if so how, and does it matter? Global Environmental Change.
  • Wilcox, H. N. (2009). Embodied ways of knowing, pedagogies, and social justice: Inclusive science and beyond. NWSA Journal 21(2): 104 - 120.


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