PECS: A Program Worth Emulating

Joanne Curcio of the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Imitation may indeed be the sincerest form of flattery for the Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars (PECS) group whose goal is to encourage communication and scholarly exchange among doctoral candidates and faculty working on a broad range of energy and climate change related questions. Over the course of the 2015-2016 academic year, thirteen talented and engaged Princeton Day School (PDS) high school students eagerly followed in the footsteps of their PECS counterparts in a program with a similar aim.

These two outwardly disparate groups met in the evening, in the PDS Library, on seven occasions for informal dinner and research discussions addressing the energy challenges of the 21st century. “The topics were chosen to progress in a somewhat systematic way from explaining the problem of climate change/global warming from climate modeling and geological perspectives, the impacts of this change (sea level rise, heat waves, etc.), and different policy and clean energy options which might provide a solution,” said AOS Graduate Student Jane Baldwin, a member of PECS.

Levi Golston (CEE), Wei Peng (WWS-STEP) and Jane Baldwin (AOS)

According to Baldwin, the collaboration originated when Liz Cutler, an English teacher and sustainability coordinator at PDS, approached their group about creating “a mirror” of the PECS group at her school, composed of high school students who would be selected to take part in the collaboration based on their academics, interest in the environment, enthusiasm, leadership, and cooperative skills.  After agreeing to join the collaboration, Baldwin agreed to be the point person for the PECS community and ensured the meetings were attended by three graduate students so that doctoral students and high schoolers could break off into small groups for discussion.

Each discussion began with a thirty to sixty minute presentation by a graduate student or a pair of students on a climate change-related topic followed by details related to their research. An open discussion between the graduate students and the high schoolers, a few of whom were on the fence about environment/energy related studies in their future, ensued for the remaining hour.

Joining Baldwin as discussions leaders were PECS students from a broad range of disciplines: Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Electrical Engineering (ELE), Geosciences (GEO), Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE), and the Woodrow Wilson School (WWS). The Ph.D. students, according to Baldwin, were quite impressed by the PDS students’ questions and enjoyed the opportunity to hone their general audience science communication skills. More importantly, the collaboration seems to have had a significant impact on the PDS students. “At least a few who were not considering environment/energy related studies said they now intended to study those topics in college and pursue related careers,” Baldwin said. “I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to encourage tomorrow’s environmental leaders, and I am glad that the collaboration will be continuing next year.”

Beyond the promise of the program going forward next year, it is also worth noting that this year’s PDS Energy and Climate Scholars had the opportunity to visit GFDL in early March and to hear presentations by GFDL Scientists Tim Marchok, Vince Saba, an AOS visiting research collaborator, and AOS Research Glaciologist Olga Sergienko, and to tour the Lab.

Since its beginnings in 2008, PECS has been aiming to enhance the research experience of its members by encouraging them to transcend the boundaries of their fields and by fostering a sense of common intellectual adventure. The Energy and Climate Scholars program at PDS hopes to emulate that success in the years ahead.