Large-scale issues like global warming can seem overwhelming and unsolvable, but a new course, Science 299, seeks to tackle this perception head-on.
The two-term course, titled “science citizenship,” is a new science-based leadership class. It will focus on solving global issues requiring scientific problem solving by incorporating knowledge from various disciplines. This will include exploring societal, ethical, and logistical considerations surrounding the issue as well as learning effective communication skills.
The course will be taught by professor Torah Kachur, who is also a CBC science columnist and radio host.
“What we’re going to do is explore major topics that the world faces where science has a role in solving,” Kachur said. “Big issues that require more than a scientific experimental solution, they require conversations, social and psychological assessments, all that kind of stuff.”
Some of the issues Kachur thinks students could focus on include global warming, water waste, textile waste, and fast fashion. Kachur will lead students in discussing these problems not only in terms of scientific innovations but incorporating elements of policy development.
The lectures will also cover communication and leadership skills and will feature guest speakers from the student’s chosen fields. Amongst other things, students will learn how to conduct interviews on scientific topics and write effectively for a general audience.
Science 299 will not have assignments or exams. Instead, it will consist of a single weekly lecture, short presentations throughout the year, and a final oral presentation and written report. Students will form groups of two or three, select a global issue, and work together throughout the course on a 20-to-30-page report describing the issue and a timeline with concrete steps to begin solving it.
“This is kind of just a pressure cooker of what they will experience in the real world trying to solve these problems,” Kachur said.
The course was designed as a science-based leadership class for students from any faculty and will offer three interdisciplinary credits. The faculty of science will accept the credits as a science option, and while all faculties have also agreed to accept these interdisciplinary credits, they might be honoured differently.
Kachur also believes Science 299 is important for the university’s emerging leadership programs, such as the Peter Lougheed Leadership College, since it promotes interdisciplinary learning.
“These leaders will go out into the world where they will have to solve complex issues… and you have to be able to navigate other disciplines,” she said. “You can’t have a leadership program only in one faculty, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Currently, it’s possible the class won’t be offered this year due to low enrolment. Regardless, Kachur believes students should think about their scientific communication and leadership skills to face the future.
“One of the issues we have right now is that science is poorly understood at the basic level,” Kachur said. “So part of the course is discussing how to communicate in the era of, dare I say it, fake news…and denialism.”
Update (August 30, 5:18 p.m.): following publication of this article, professor Torah Kachur confirmed that Science 299 will not be cancelled.