Penn State professor Erin Kitt-Lewis has teamed up with College of Medicine student Natasha Sood to create a course through the Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing focused on teaching students about climate change and its health impacts through storytelling.
The class titled Climate Change and Storytelling, NURS 497D, strives to teach students how to tell the stories of the real effects of climate change through artistic means – including videos, plays, graphic novels and news.
To create a connection between students who may not have seen the effects of climate change first hand and the course content, Kitt-Lewis said she tries to instill a level of empathy in her students. – while showing them that the effects are already there because “there really isn’t a place” that isn’t affected by climate change.
“Our goal is to really look at the science and get them thinking about things like severe weather,” Kitt-Lewis said. “There is no place in the United States that has not been affected by the weather problem.”
Professor and director of the Arts and Design Research Incubator at Penn State, Bill Doan, said he was working with other nursing staff to set up a course like this.
When recommended to help on the theater side of teaching “climate change and storytelling,” he said he immediately jumped on board as a co-teacher.
Although it is a 400-level nursing course, students of any major are welcome to enroll, according to course instructors, who said diversity in the classroom is beneficial.
“To me, it’s the best that Penn State and a university can be,” Doan said. “When you have different voices in the room, different perspectives, that cross-disciplinary perspective — I get excited because I think that’s what a college education should be.”
The course is part of Penn State’s Think Tank Project, which, according to the organization’s website, “offers students the opportunity to embody the true essence of the phrase ‘we are…’ by investigating them. themselves and their identity at Penn State through engagements in the arts.”
Cheri Jehu, Project Reflection coordinator at Penn State, said she is currently creating five cross-curricular courses involving the performing arts.
As someone who facilitates the approval process, Jehu said that when the idea of ”Climate Change and Storytelling” came to his attention, “It blew my mind. [her] a way.”
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Since the course focuses on climate change, students are also exposed to current artists who are using their voices and activism in their personal communities, according to Jehu.
“We work with the artists and instructors to create unique engagements specific to these classes,” Jehu said. “The artists will enter [‘Climate Change and Storytelling’ classes] to talk about their role as artists in climate change activism.
Classroom education on climate change and drama culminates in a final project in which students create and share their own stories about health and climate change.
Anthony Jefferson, a student in the class who hopes to become a real estate developer, said he hopes the class will help him “create new structures that are positive or beneficial to the environment.”
Jefferson (Senior Integrative Arts) said he thinks “climate change and storytelling” is a “gateway class for understanding the complexities of the environment.”
Jefferson said storytelling is a core tenet of the class. On the first day of class, Kitt-Lewis asked students to introduce themselves by telling their life stories and how the class might relate to where they want to go.
The course appealed to Isaac Brackbill because he needed general education credits and was interested in the topics of the class. He heard about the class from his mother, who is a professor in the biology department at Penn State.
To Brackbill (a sophomore in psychology), Kitt-Lewis and Doan seem “really nice” and know both climate change and storytelling.
Even before the course, Brackbill said he had always been interested in climate change and sustainability.
“In the end, that’s what matters.”
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