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Academics and Climate Action Living Laboratory

Where the classroom and real world converge, a dynamic sustainability ecosystem is flourishing at Virginia Tech. This environment offers students exceptional opportunities to gain practical knowledge and hands-on experience to address one of the world’s most pressing challenges: climate change and to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Currently, more than 900 courses and 67 departments at Virginia Tech incorporate sustainability concepts. There are also over 50 climate action-related Pathways courses, a multitude of which include immersive experiences on the Blacksburg campus. A multitude of these courses also include labs to help students put knowledge into practice.

Climate Action Living Laboratory

Virginia Tech is bolstering its climate action curriculum, delivering on a pledge to more deeply integrate 2020 Climate Action Commitment efforts into the university’s educational mission and engage more students in hands-on learning opportunities around sustainability.

Over 50 academic and operational leaders came together at a Sept. 17 retreat to discuss this charge and brainstorm pathways to bring the new Climate Action Living Laboratory (also referred to as “CALL”) to fruition through institutional and resource planning.

Building bridges between academics and operations and among faculty, staff, and ultimately students, the Climate Action Living Laboratory will deliver a formalized structure for coordinating climate action teaching, research, and outreach.

The Climate Action Living Laboratory seeks to elevate and coordinate  climate-related teaching, research, and outreach at Virginia Tech.

Climate action-related curriculum — in clean energy, social equity, innovative financing, and more — will be enhanced through new experiential learning opportunities on the Blacksburg campus and beyond. Implementation of the Climate Action Commitment will also be boosted through faculty and student expertise gained through hands-on discovery.

A major opportunity for the living laboratory is integrating physical Climate Action Commitment projects initiated by the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities, Student Affairs, University Libraries, and other units, into instruction and research.

The next steps in developing the Climate Action Living Laboratory include establishing an institutional home; integrating the lab with university initiatives like Climate Action Commitment implementation and Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS); solidifying program leadership; and devising strategies to enhance coordination among and visibility of existing sustainability-related academic programs.

The Climate Action Living Laboratory plans to incorporate ARECs and other Virginia Tech campuses in implementation efforts. Further coordination activities include the development of dashboards to measure progress and additional mechanisms to coordinate academic activities, including research proposals.

While a great deal of work is already underway, the CALL retreat group identified opportunities for further growth or curricular enhancement in the future. Ideas generated included:

  • Leveraging more partnerships with the Office of Sustainability for students to put classroom learning into action;
  • Finding new ways to learn about other faculty members' work;
  • Keeping Pathways Minors funded;
  • Conducting an external review of departmental curricula to see how to interweave climate topics;
  • Creating experiential (QEP) centralized opportunities tied to the Climate Action Commitment;
  • Exploring a Climate Leadership masters degree;
  • Exploring a highly cross-disciplinary climate action class;
  • Hosting regular climate summits;
  • Creating a database that could be updated annually with relevant climate action and sustainability courses;
  • Establishing new classes and workshops on how personal behaviors can impact the environment;
  • Launching a new summer climate action fellowship or service-learning program;
  • Leveraging Fishburn Forest (Price Mountain) as a carbon learning resource; and
  • Deploying funding for research/instruction to engage with the local/regional community.

Faculty and staff interested in getting engaged with the living laboratory can contact Jack Leff, Climate Action Fellow. 

Sustainability Academic Programs

Refer to the list below for a sampling of sustainability-related academic programs and courses at Virginia Tech. Additional programs and information will be added on an ongoing basis.

Pathways Minors are thematic, cross-disciplinary programs that allow students to examine important topics from a variety of perspectives while completing general education requirements along the way. The majority of Pathways Minors incorporate sustainability, climate change, and social justice topics within their coursework.

The mission of the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech is to advance interdisciplinary scholarship and education to address critical global changes impacting the environment and society.

Climate Action Research Examples

Research is at the heart of Virginia Tech's mission and vision. Robust research agendas are critical to the advancement of new knowledge and understanding that can help us tackle the climate crisis. There is currently a significant amount of climate-related research at Virginia Tech with major opportunities for further research and discovery in sustainability across the university.

  • Facilitating local solutions to global climate challenges
  • Environmental and climate justice movements
  • Climate communication research
  • Place-based climate adaptation workshops across the U.S.
  • Role of higher education in discouraging/rewarding climate action
  • Designing citizen campaigns/education to engage in conservation/sustainability
  • How to promote a culture of sustainability among young people
  • Pathways/barriers to achieve justice in energy transitions from fossil fuels
  • Research on disasters and communities coming together to respond
  • Work with community partners (e.g. Blacksburg Vulnerability Assessment)
  • Economics and environmental impact of land-use change in tropical countries
  • Development of circular economy systems