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UMass Lowell Professor's Work on Climate Change Honored

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02/16/2015
Lowell Sun
By Hiroko Sato

LOWELL -- If you are wishing to change someone's point of view, David Lustick would recommend against you criticizing that person for the idea.

You might teach children what to think. When dealing with adult learners, though, that's a big no-no.

"You approach them with great respect for what they are currently thinking" no matter what the subject matter is, says Lustick, professor of mathematics and science education at UMass Lowell.

Fourteen months after using such knowledge in adult learning to lead a $2.2 million public education campaign on global climate change, Lustick was recognized by the Obama administration as a "champion of change."

Lustick and seven other "champions" from around the country attended the White House event on Feb. 9.

"It was a tremendous and humbling experience," Lustick said. "It was a validation to the work of our team on both Cool Science and ScienceToGo.org."

The Washington event featured eight honorees who are "doing extraordinary work to enhance climate education and literacy in classrooms and communities across the country," according to the White House. Those recognized ranged from a University of Vermont student who helps plan a youth climate summit to the conservation interpreter for Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

"I met a tremendous number of people, all of whom are doing amazing work in their communities," Lustick said about the ceremony.
 
He said he began focusing on education on climate change after UMass Lowell held a Carbon Smarts national conference in 2009. The White House recognition validates that what he and his colleagues do is important, he said.

Lustick is one of the five principal investigators of the Science to Go project, which is designed to help people learn about climate change through digital media, including the website, social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and texting.

With the help of the $2.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the three-year project started posting ads inside the MBTA subway trains and on the platforms in late 2013, featuring the pictures of Ozzie the ostrich as the campaign mascot.

On the ads were such facts as what percentage of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change. The humorous bird was intended as "an invitation" to ScienceToGo.org to find out answers and for further learning on the subject, said Lustick, who came up with the idea to use the T system to reach diverse groups of audience.

The project provided interactive ways for people to learn, such as texting questions for scientists. When teaching adults, the important thing is to engage them in learning, Lustick said.

"We try to open up the space to talk about these ideas (that are new to them) so that they can learn by challenging the ideas, listening to people talk and expressing their views," he said.

Rather than asking people to go to a place, such as a museum, to get information, the campaign aimed to "bring learning opportunities where they are," Lustick said.

The campaign wrapped up in December. The website had about 2,000 hits per month, and there are many other "analytics" collected that the Museum of Science in Boston is currently analyzing, according to Lustick. The project also included some events, such as a "Green Halloween" event.

Surveys with some T riders and other anecdotal evidence suggest the campaign was a success, he said.

Lustick is also principal investigator for Cool Science, an art contest for K-12 students from around the state. Participants would depict aspects of the science behind climate change through visual art, and winners' works are displayed on and inside the Lowell Regional Transit Authority buses. For this year's competition, 500 students participated and 24 were selected as winners.

The four other principal investigators for the Science to Go project are: Jill Lohmeier, associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at UMass Lowell; Robert Chen, professor of environmental, earth and ocean sciences at UMass Boston; David Rabkin, director of current science and technology at Museum of Science; and Rick Wilson of Texas State University.