“Groundbreaking” major may hit ISU’s catalog this fall


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A new climate science major is pending approval and may be available in fall 2022.

Katelyn Squiers

Iowa State’s Faculty Senate will vote on a recently proposed climate science major Tuesday. If fully approved, the major will be the first of its kind at a state Board of Regents university. 

A handful of universities offer similar programs, but many of them incorporate climate science as an available focus within a larger degree instead of centering climate science as the main area of study. 

“We may be doing something that is really going to be groundbreaking, and that’s pretty exciting to think that we could be among the first to really produce a degree program like this,” said Kristie Franz, professor and department chair of geological and atmospheric studies.

The major, offered through the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences (GEAT), would comprise 74 credits.

“The goal is to provide a core understanding of climate and how the Earth works with respect to climate, and then give students some additional training in other areas they might be interested in,” Franz said. 

The curriculum would require students to select a specific pathway within the major from six available options: policy and human behavior, agriculture and biodiversity, design and planning for sustainability, advanced climate science, data visualization and science communication. 

“We want to produce scientists who have a core understanding of the climate but are trained in a diversified way so that they can apply that science in different ways,” Franz said. 

GEAT proposed the new major after the geology faculty in the department discussed Iowa State’s potential for a climate science program at a curriculum retreat. 

“Iowa State is really uniquely gifted with all the right pieces to come together to create a climate science major,” said Lindsay Maudlin, assistant teaching professor. “We didn’t necessarily need a roadmap. We just needed to foster the connections between the various programs and existing departments.”

The Graether Family Fund for Climate Science Advancement equipped GEAT with the money used to develop the new program. Dr. John M. Graether of Marshalltown, Iowa, provided $2.2 million to establish the fund in 2021. 

With the endowment, GEAT hired a teaching faculty member to help teach some of the courses included in the major. The department also plans to use the funds to support internships and create scholarships. 

Owen Halverson, a junior studying interdisciplinary studies, plans to pursue the climate science major through the advanced climate science pathway.

“In a lot of majors and fields, climate change and climate science are being incorporated in small ways…so to have a dedicated major just makes sense to me,” Halverson said. 

Amanda Hauser, a freshman studying environmental science, is also lining up to take on the new major. Hauser is still exploring her career options but plans to use the climate science major to focus on glacial research and sustainability.

“I think there are going to be a lot of people coming in that are interested in [the climate science major],” Hauser said. “[Climate science] is more of a coastal thing, so I think having it in the Midwest will be pretty exciting for new students.” 

If the Faculty Senate votes to approve the proposal, it must be sent to the university president for review and to the Board of Regents for final approval, according to the Faculty Senate Constitution

The proposal’s final approval is not guaranteed, but the major has received “a lot of support” from the upper administration within the university, Maudlin said. 

Depending on how quickly the review process progresses, the climate science major could be available as early as fall 2022.