USO project to help students in the climate crisis

Many young people, including students, are deeply concerned about climate change and want to take action. Lecturers from various faculties will help them with this. With a grant from the Utrecht Education Incentive Fund, they will start a three-year interfaculty innovation project after the summer.

Profielfoto Andrik Becht
Andrik Becht

Project leader Andrik Becht, assistant professor in the Youth and Family department, felt he had no choice, he explains. He couldn't ignore the call from the Utrecht Education Incentive Fund. "The theme was: Education and the Climate Emergency. Willemijn Schot from Education Advice & Training tipped me off because I research climate anxiety among young people and the development of 'eco-identity' - the extent to which young people strongly connect with an environmentally friendly lifestyle."

"We know that many young people are genuinely worried about climate change. Our students are part of that age group. Through another project, I knew Jeroen Oomen, who told me that as an assistant professor in Geosciences, he receives emails from concerned students. They learn about tipping points and melting ice caps and ask for education that takes the emotional and psychological issues related to climate seriously. Students also ask how they can make a professional impact. That brought us together as teachers to ask: how can you help students gain resilience and action perspectives?"

Student empowerment

Such a USO project is teamwork. Andrik, Larike Bronkhorst (Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences), Flora Roberts, Stefan Werning, Eggo Müller (Humanities), and Jeroen Oomen (Geosciences) wrote a project proposal together. It was approved. The name: 'Crisis to Resilience: Student Empowerment in the Climate Emergency and Beyond'. Andrik Becht: "I think it’s great that the university creates space for these kinds of initiatives."

We will develop learning spaces where students learn what they can do with this theme and their emotions.

Conversation

What is plan of the lecturers? "We will develop three learning modules, learning spaces where students learn what they can do with this theme and their emotions. In the first module, we use the Polak Game, a great reflection tool that can contribute to community building. Students determine their position on two axes. One axis indicates the extent to which you think you have an influence on the climate problem and the other how optimistic or pessimistic you see the future when you think about climate change. This creates four quadrants, or groups. A great basis for a conversation or joint action!"

Making the Kalverstraat sustainable

Vergroen de Kalverstraat

The inspiration for the second module comes from Green Media Studies, an initiative of the Faculty of Humanities. Andrik: "Here, we will green classical board games, like Monopoly. Instead of buying houses and hotels, you can also change the game rules so that the game focuses on 'degrowth'. For example, you can win if you green the Kalverstraat. At Green Media Studies, they saw that students feel empowered by this: it helps to envision a sustainable future. Instead of the idea that 'nothing changes, Shell will always be the biggest,' the future opens up when you have control. That makes you resilient. It answers the students' call of ‘how can we do something?’."

Community gardening

Courettes kweken

In the third learning space, the focus shifts from imagination to practical application, and students will get their hands dirty in the soil. Andrik: "We have, among other things, received a budget for soil and plants!" Students will work in a vegetable garden or food forest – the locations are yet to be determined. "When you write a paper, you create a piece of text. That's important, but quite abstract. But when you garden, you plant something, take care of it, and you'll see it grow!" Participation in these communal garden projects on and around the UU campus serves multiple purposes, including promoting the mental health and resilience of students.

The project starts after the summer, supported by advice from the Centre for Academic Teaching and Learning. Andrik Becht: "We are already working on integrating the ideas into our own courses. In the longer term, we will develop a toolkit for teachers who want to work on student resilience, whether on the theme of climate or more broadly."