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Kanawha Project builds climate change literacy

An Ohio University program dedicated to increasing sustainability and ecological literacy across disciplines on campus is seeking a cohort of 15 faculty members and five undergraduate scholars to participate in its 2013-14 project.

Faculty members will receive a stipend of $300 to participate in the program, while students will earn about $8 an hour for about 10 hours a month.

The Kanawha Project will engage faculty members and students in a daylong workshop as well as once a month dialogues about this year's theme, climate change, over the course of spring semester. By the end of the semester, the project will have equipped participating faculty members from various disciplines such as communications, business and political science to incorporate climate change themes into their course syllabi.

In the past, 63 faculty members have been involved in the project, which from 2007-10 concentrated more broadly on sustainability topics, both globally and in the Athens, Ohio region, said Loraine McCosker, outreach coordinator, advisor and instructor in the Environmental Studies Program.

Although the scope of the project is broad, past projects as well as the upcoming one include a special emphasis on regional issues. The name "Kanawha" comes from the physiographic region surrounding Athens.

In the past, project participants have identified the environmental legacy of coal extraction as one of the challenges facing sustainability in Athens.

Since its inception in 2007, which was made possible by a university-awarded 1804 Fund grant, the project has grown from including just Athens campus faculty to regional faculty and students as well.

After the project's first year, its coordinators received a two-year grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, allowing for the inclusion of the regional faculty members. In 2010, the award of another 1804 grant expanded the program to include students in the "Place-Based Sustainability Discourse."

The students added energy and brought their fresh perspectives to the project, even helping faculty to revise their syllabi at its conclusion, said Nancy Manring, associate professor of political science and principal investigator of the project.

Just as the original Kanawha project was designed to increase faculty sustainability literacy, this year's project will aim to build fundamental understanding about the many dimensions of climate change, Manring said.

"Climate change is one of the major sustainability challenges, but in and of itself, it's also an extremely multi-faceted issue that spans the social sciences, natural sciences and the humanities" Manring said. "It involves visions of the world and how we think of ourselves in relation to the world."

Faculty participants learn to weave sustainability and climate change themes into their courses while contributing to the success of the Ohio University Climate Action Plan, which was formally adopted in 2012.

"If we don't have a stable climate, we can't have a stable economy, social systems or environments," McCosker said.