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Iowa State University launches a new climate science major

A photo of Iowa State University's campus.
Christopher Gannon/Christopher Gannon
Courtesy of Iowa State University Facebook
State universities will see an increase in tuition for the upcoming school year.

Students at Iowa State University will have the opportunity to study climate science in the upcoming school year.

The university is launching a new major focusing on climate science this fall. The one-of-a-kind study program aims to prepare students to solve climate-based challenges.

Chair of geological and atmospheric sciences Kristie Franz said she’s excited to introduce the new major to students. Although scientists have been talking about climate change for decades, Franz said it’s become an urgent issue to students in recent years.

“The current generation is recognizing the legitimacy of the science and observing it as well, just along with the rest of us,” Franz said. “And they really want to do something about it because it's their future. So, they want to be a part of the solution.

“I want to help be a voice for the world that is struggling right now."
Daniel Musel, incoming freshman

She said the area of study will prepare students for a wide variety of careers – from sustainable design planners to climate advisors for private industries, like insurance.

The bachelor of science degree will allow students to choose from six areas of focus: advanced climate science, data visualization, design and planning for sustainability, policy and human behavior, science communication and agriculture and natural resources. But, all pathways will give students the knowledge to strategize against climate change, said Franz.

That’s what attracted ISU junior Owen Halverson to the major. He plans on studying advanced climate science, building off the framework of many of the meteorology courses he’s already taken. Halverson said he sees the degree as a means to address increased severe weather patterns.

“This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest problem facing the world right now,” he said. “And this is the way I see that I can be helpful to everyone else in the future.”

The coursework will consist of many classes within the university’s earth science department, but will go a step further and integrate economic and communications courses.

Associate professor Lindsay Maudlin – who was brought on to teach climate science courses – said an interdisciplinary look at climate change is vital to preparing students to tackle the issue.

“It’s more than just a one discipline kind of problem,” Maudlin said. “It's something that impacts all aspects of life. So, students will have the ability to think about things as a system and as a whole instead of just an individual component.”

"They really want to do something about it because it's their future. So, they want to be a part of the solution."
Kristie Franz, chair of the geological and atmospheric sciences department

Incoming freshman Daniel Musel said the climate science major is part of what drove him to choose the university. He said he’s excited to not only dive into climate science, but also to have the opportunity to take communications courses that will help him translate that science to others.

“Bridging the gap between the social and more of the hard sciences and combining them into science that anyone can understand when it's explained in this way,” Musel said.

A 2021 survey of those between the ages of 16 and 25 from all over the world found that the majority of young people are incredibly worried about changing weather patterns. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed reported feeling “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change.

Musel said he believes it’s something that people need to worry about and plan for. He said he hopes, come August, he can begin working down that path.

“I want to help be a voice for the world that is struggling right now,” Musel said.

Kendall was Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA until Jan. 20, 2023.