It was a summer of firsts for Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research director and scientist Michael Notaro and the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Summer Collegiate Experience (SCE) program. Wanting to expand into weather and climate science, the SCE program added Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) 100: Weather and Climate to its curriculum, which Notaro was offered the opportunity to teach for the first time.
The SCE program is a six-week, on-campus program for incoming first-generation college attending-students, largely from underrepresented populations. The curriculum is designed to advance students’ skills in writing, critical thinking, and cultural awareness while they adjust to the university’s academic and social environment.
Twenty-two SCE students signed up for AOS 100 where they learned about meteorology, climatology, and Earth’s changing climate. Classes were two hours a day, Monday through Thursday.
In addition to lectures, AOS 100 offered students many hands-on learning opportunities and explorations into a variety of physical science careers. “I think that really helped to draw their interest,” Notaro said. “They all came from different backgrounds, so I wanted to be able to reach them and make it locally interesting to them.”
Students went on a Lake Mendota boat trip, toured the Cave of the Mounds, watched videos on the 3D globe in the AOSS building, drove a terra rover around Camp Randall, and played games such as jeopardy and station-based activities that taught about the water cycle. Students rounded out the experience through visits with UW physical science faculty.
Through AOS 100, Notaro fulfilled his long-time goal of teaching a class at UW and appreciated the opportunity to work with underrepresented students. “I wanted to show the students that these sciences can be interesting and that they can pursue degrees that may have seemed difficult before,” Notaro said.
He pointed to a study published in Nature Geoscience that shows how there has been no progress on racial and gender diversity in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences in the last 40 years. “When I see that, it’s really depressing to me,” Notaro said. “For many years, both women and minority students have felt they’re not welcome in the STEM fields, and I don’t want that that to continue. I want to see change.”
Along with teaching, Notaro has been working to bridge the diversity gap and encourage students to explore careers in physical sciences through projects funded by a National Science Foundation grant that has so far offered internship opportunities to Beloit Memorial High School students at the Welty Environmental Center and a STEM summer camp for autistic students.