During the 2016 Fall Semester, the Foundation was privileged to work with Dr. Michael Fenster at Randolph-Macon College (RMC) in Ashland, VA. Dr. Fenster is the Director of Environmental Studies Program and professor of various environmental studies courses aimed at preparing students to meet and solve challenging environmental problems of the 21st century. As part of RMC’s effort to give students experience in real-world partnerships, the Foundation agreed to submit a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the incoming freshman class (EVST 105: Introduction to Environmental Problem Solving) aimed at educating the public on the impact of climate change on coastal environments in Virginia.
The students were asked to explain how climate change impacts natural coastal systems (physical and ecological) using the best science available and evaluate how land-use and the human element collaborate and adapt to climate change along the coast. They were also asked to consider the best strategies for confronting these changes considering the widely varying differences in Virginia’s coastal areas relating to population, politics, socioeconomics, etc. In effect, the students agreed to examine how well Virginian’s are doing at dealing with the impacts of climate change and how resilient they may be in the future.
At the end of the semester, the students presented orally their written reports to the Foundation. The reports were divided by six distinct geographic areas identified by the students, and each area was investigated by a group of three or four students. In addition to describing each geographic area in detail, the students described the factors affecting sea level rise and related those factors to their specific areas. The final product put together by the class combined all of the reports in a way that responded to the Foundation’s original RFP.
During the 2017 Spring Semester, the Foundation again joined with Dr. Fenster in submitting a RFP to RMC students – this time to the students taking the capstone environmental studies course (EVST 305/405: Environmental Problem Solving II & III). This second RFP took over where the first RFP left off in that the juniors and seniors taking the course were expected to take charge in deciding how to analyze the problem and do the work. In this case, the work involved transcending the information EVST 105 students provided in the prior semester and synthesizing it into a story with understandable scientific facts.
The students prepared (with proper vetting for content and approach) a list of questions to be presented to stakeholders in the six geographic areas, then recorded those interactions. The recordings were edited to create six separate stories, then combined to create a single video product in response to the Foundation’s RFP. The final video product described how Virginians are affected by and react to the changes taking place on the Virginia shorelines due to climate change.