by Matt Carroll
September 6, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa – Some think of summer as a quiet time on a college campus, but a diverse group of students spent their break hard at work on a common problem – climate change.

Students and recent graduates from Penn State and universities across the country gathered this summer at the University Park campus as part of the 2016 Summer Scholars Program, hosted by the Network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRiM).

The Summer Scholars program brings together students with diverse backgrounds – from environmental studies to statistics to philosophy – and pairs them with SCRiM researchers for nine weeks of full-time work on independent research projects.

As their backgrounds would suggest, the 21 students explored climate change from a number of perspectives, including studying possible social impacts on the people threatened most by rising sea levels, and developing tools to help decision makers faced with complex issues.

“When you think of climate change, you usually think of science and hard facts behind it,” said Zabrenna Griffiths, an undergraduate at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University who participated in the program. “I really like the approach SCRiM takes. It’s interdisciplinary, so you have an ethical side, a statistical side and a science side.”

SCRiM, a National Science Foundation-supported research network centered at Penn State, seeks to find sustainable, scientifically sound, technologically feasible, economically efficient and ethically defensible climate risk management strategies.

“I think climate change is a very interdisciplinary problem,” said Rachana Ghimire, an undergraduate student at Washington and Lee University and summer scholar. “Since it’s that type of problem, it requires that type of solution, and I think that’s what makes SCRiM so unique.”

Ghimire worked this summer under the supervision of Martin Vezer, a postdoctoral scholar with SCRiM, analyzing flood maps and social vulnerability in a section of New Orleans. Ghimire said she gained valuable insight working with her mentor and alongside students from varying backgrounds.

“In my program this year, we have geology majors, we have biology majors, we have ecology majors, we have economics majors and we have philosophy majors,” she said. “We have all these people from all these disciplines being drawn to climate change and looking for different solutions.”

Nina Preston, another summer scholar, studied potential risk of sea level rise for people in low lying areas of Bangladesh. Before coming to Penn State, Preston didn’t know much about how ice dynamics influence sea level rise globally. Moving forward, she said, it will be an important part of her work.

“Really like the diversity that we’ve found here, and the specializations,” Preston said. “Everyone is so talented in different ways. I’m not good at model building, but we have a group of students right next door who are specialists in math and statistics. They have held my hand through this, and helped me flesh out my work.”

See details on this year’s research projects on the SCRiM Summer Scholars 2016 webpage.