USF hosts worldwide climate teach-in

Environmental career representatives, professionals and activist groups congregated in Juniper Poplar Hall to educate students about opportunities in preservation-oriented fields. ORACLE PHOTO/ULIANA LEARNED

USF hosted its second annual worldwide climate teach-in on Wednesday in Juniper-Poplar Hall under the theme education and application.

 Tables with advocates from various organizations and students aiming to network and gain career guidance in environmental fields swamped the lobby for over six hours.

The teach-in is a worldwide educational event which focuses on possible solutions to the climate crisis and is hosted in colleges, museums or middle and secondary schools, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. This year, the project encouraged communities to host events on March 29 and sought to engage half a million students and teachers in dialogue, according to Bard Graduate Programs in Sustainability.

Though the worldwide teach-in has been an annual practice for the past three years, 2023 is only the second time the USF has opted to host it, according to Kobe Phillips, founder of the Judy Genshaft Honors College (JGHC) Community Garden.

“What we are doing is trying to teach students about how they can create a sustainable change, and then how they can actually apply their knowledge to careers and internships and opportunities they can do, both on campus and off,” Phillips said. 

The climate teach-in student committee had an estimated 250 student attendees. This was an uptick from the 100-150 attendees from last year. 

Notable groups in attendance included the USF Botanical Gardens, Florida State University’s Law program, the Outdoor Recreation initiative sponsored by USF Recreation and Wellness and the Florida Public Interest Research Group, all of which students could have one-on-one conversations with.

Jessica Lewis, program support specialist for the Tampa Bay Estuary, said she hoped to encourage interest among students.  

“I want to help with curiosity,” Lewis said. “So whether it’s talking about my career path… or helping people understand how fluid a career path can be and how you can really change almost anytime, it’s something I want to impress upon people.”

In addition to the career fair, a panel of professionals conducted forums in an adjoining room. A student art and research exhibit was held from 3-4:30 p.m. 

The student committee also planned a trivia meet and greet social from 5-7 p.m. so students could form connections with professionals in their desired career paths.

The event fostered networking and deepened students’ knowledge of niche subsectors of environmental science, according to Karlia Deforge, a freshman environmental science and policy major.

“There’s so many different branches,” Deforge said. “You have aspects like animal conversation, plant conservation, the ocean, the land, estuaries… there’s so many different things we can do. It’s opening up my eyes and helping me make connections with people.”

Lindy Davidson, associate dean of the Judy Genshaft Honors College, said as more students become environmentally conscious, there has been a higher demand for sustainability initiatives.

“I think everyone has the ability to improve, sustainably so, and USF is an institution that has a lot of opportunity around sustainability… but I think we also see more student interest in this area than we had even five years ago,” Davidson said.

“So as honors, one of the things that we have done is created more opportunities for students to take classes focused on what we’re calling sustainable futures.”

Lewis said the influx of education and resources for young people has created an even more polarized demographic than before, necessitating an improvement in widespread education.

“One of our major goals is to increase scientific literacy… helping people, especially those that are new to Florida, understand our environment,” Lewis said. “We want people to understand, ‘Why is water quality suffering? Why do we have, for instance, river seagrass acreage in Tampa Bay right now?’”

Throughout the afternoon and evening, the atmosphere swelled with the sentiment of sustainability and the promise of a brighter future, according to Lauren Roberts, assistant director of the Office of National Scholars.

“A lot of people say that individual action doesn’t matter, but it does. Start taking those small steps and then you keep growing and learning and you can accomplish so much,” Roberts said.

Phillips said he hopes the theme of education and application resonated with all student attendees.

“I think the climate teach-in will get students to see how many people are actively interested in making a change,” Phillips said. “Through that, they will be more inspired about a future in sustainability. And that we can start creating change right now.”