New Core Impact Course Explores Climate Change

Article by Liam Chalk, photos by Josaphat Ngoga

Sophomores will be required to take STEM & Social Impact: Climate Change, the new Impact course in the Core curriculum, for the first time this spring. Students will explore climate change and how their positions as scientists and engineers can impact climate and society.

The new Core Impact course seeks to fulfill Mudd’s mission statement, which envisions students gaining “a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society.”

“The Core Impact course is a pretty good reflection of the goals of Harvey Mudd in the sense that they want you to understand both the theoretical and practical aspects of a problem,” said junior Cole Nagata, who took the pilot course last year.

The Impact course is the last addition to the new Core curriculum called “Four Courses with Optional Electivity” that Mudd faculty voted to adopt in May 2020. Other changes included dropping Electricity and Magnetism, as well as Differential Equations. Chemistry in the Modern World I and II will be condensed into one class, and the chemistry and biology labs will be scheduled to align with their corresponding courses.

The “Four Courses with Optional Electivity” curriculum aims to “increase joy of learning, reflection, mastery, and retention by allowing students to take a four-course load in the first four semesters, while still being on track to graduate in four years,” according to Mudd’s announcement.

Last spring, professors piloted two versions of the Impact course that students could take as electives. Core 179A and Core 179B both studied the science and social impact of climate change but had different course structures.

Core 179A was taught by Prof. Hamilton, Prof. Steinberg, Prof. Saeta, and Prof. Hawkins. Tuesday sessions were lecture-based, while most Thursdays had small group discussions. Different sections had different topics, titled Climate Policy and Governance; Geoengineering the Climate; Indigenous Knowledge, Eco-feminism and Western Science; and the Future of Nuclear Power. Last spring’s Core 179A course also discussed intersectional issues such as race- and gender-based prejudice. The course explored the disproportional impact of climate change on different identity groups including low-income communities who live close to polluted areas.

Core 179B was taught by Prof. Donnelly and Prof. Sullivan, who strived to “understand the roots and possible remedies for climate change from a variety of intersecting perspectives.” The class balanced studying the science of climate change with its humanity and social science implications. Assignments were centered around in-class group work and papers to reflect on the course material. The class culminated in a final project and presentation, where groups of three students gave 15-minute presentations on their research diving deeper into a topic at the intersection of science and society.

The new Core 179 course to be taught this spring will be very similar to the Core 179A pilot course. The curriculum is being adjusted based on feedback saying students enjoyed smaller section discussions and preferred consolidated large assignments instead of a greater number of smaller assignments. The professors are also working on improving the management of group work, especially for the final project.

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