Interaction with learners

Kristina G. Douglass to join Columbia Climate School as first faculty hire

Kristina G. Douglass is driven by questions. The archaeologist and anthropologist said she often feels like a fish out of water because she will come up with project ideas but lack the skills to produce a solution. This allows him to adopt collaborative approaches in his work and to assemble teams with diverse skills to investigate complex questions.

His question-driven approach is a perfect fit for Columbia Climate School’s interdisciplinary teaching that tackles one of the greatest environmental issues of our time, global warming. “What the climate school is designed to do is create a space where people can focus on the big challenges, the big questions, and then have the support and the flexibility to bring together the right kinds of teams. to answer it,” Douglass said.

First announced in July 2020, the Columbia Climate School is the nation’s first climate-focused graduate program. The program was created with the aim of equipping students with the skills and knowledge to become future climate leaders. The school supports innovative research and encourages exploration of the human dimensions of our warming planet.

“The school, at least initially, will be somewhat unconventional in structure, building capacity from a hub of existing world-class research centers and programs,” said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger, in an announcement on the climate school. The training center combines courses in several disciplines such as science, law, business, politics, engineering and more.

The questions that researchers ask about climate change are complex and cover a wide range of areas. “For example, how can we facilitate the resilience of coastal fishing communities experiencing the impacts of climate change? Douglass said. The question concerns oceanography, fisheries science, anthropology, health, nutrition, and the list goes on. The Climate School’s interdisciplinary approach is key to giving students a holistic climate education.

Classes are currently taught by faculty from Columbia departments, but Douglass will be the first educator hired by the Climate School. The archaeologist and anthropologist will start as the first associate professor of climate in July.

Human-environment interactions

Douglass graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in Classical Archeology and completed her M.A. and Ph.D. honors in anthropology at Yale. She is a 2021 Andrew Carnegie Fellow and was an educator at Penn State University as Joyce and Doug Sherwin Early Career Professor at the Rock Ethics Institute and Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African Studies.

Douglass’ research focuses on human-environment interactions in Madagascar. She has led the Morombe Archaeological Project (MAP) in the Velondriake Marine Protected Area in southwestern Madagascar since its inception in 2011. MAP aims to recreate the historical ecology of the region by compiling information on climate change of the region, human-environment dynamics, settlement history, migration and extinction of fauna. The project is a collaboration between a team of scientists and members of the local community representing five ancestral clans.

The central question of Douglass’ work is how people transmit knowledge gained from the environment through time. “I’ve always thought that humans are unique in their ability to share information and pass that information across generations,” Douglass said. “That’s what helped our species evolve to occupy any habitat on the planet.”

Her understanding of how the past informs our solutions to current problems is what led her to become an archaeologist. Her drive to bring these deeper lessons and insights to contemporary issues is what she hopes to bring to her new role at The Climate School.

His experience also showed him the need to foster community-centered scientific research to bridge the gap between scientific processes and the public. “If we’re going to tackle something like the climate crisis, we need people to be involved,” Douglass said. “We need the concerns expressed by people and the challenges stakeholders face to be at the forefront of what we do.”

The Climate School plays an important role in inspiring engagement and awareness on a larger scale. Douglass hopes the school can be an inclusive and welcoming center for the community.

Douglass is looking forward to taking on this new role and learning from his new colleagues and students. “My lifelong goal is to be a learner,” Douglass said. “To do this in a vibrant city facing intense challenges from the climate crisis, what better place to think about how to connect stakeholders with science and address issues of inequality. ?”