AI’s Take on Student Input into Institutional Commitments

I asked Google for an image of “climate action plans of universities and colleges.” Below is a screenshot of what I got:

Screenshot of results from Google image search of "climate action plans of universities and colleges"

I went on and asked the same search engine (I am fully aware of the charge that Google is illegally using its dominant position in searches) to define “climate action plan,” and, as has now become usual, I got a short AI description:

AI on Climate action plans

Generative AI is experimental. Info quality may vary.

A climate action plan is a strategic framework for measuring, planning, and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and related climatic impacts. Climate action plans generally include:

  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets
  • Actions the state can take to help meet those goals
  • Resilience strategies
  • Clean energy targets
  • Economic and social goals

Here are some examples of climate action plans: 

  • California Department of Water Resources

The Department’s plan is divided into three phases to address mitigation, adaptation, and consistency in the analysis of climate change.

  • National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP)

The plan outlines a long-term program and strategies for climate change adaptation.

  • S. Department of the Treasury

The plan emphasizes that U.S. leadership is required to significantly enhance global action and achieve the necessary policy outcomes on climate change.

  • S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The plan aims to improve HHS responses to the climate crisis.

  • HUD’s New Climate Action Plan

The plan provides billions of dollars in flexible funding to help communities recover from and build resilience to climate hazards and natural disasters.

33 states have Climate Action Plans.

I will include excerpts from the climate action plans of two universities below: Boston University, a private research university, and Indiana University, a federated state university:

Boston University

With input from the campus community, the Task Force drafted a Climate Action Plan, which was approved by the Board of Trustees.

The plan set an ambitious but realistic strategy that places BU in a leadership role locally and nationally, and provides the greatest opportunities for sustained environmental benefits. The plan emphasizes reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions to become carbon neutral by 2040, a decade earlier than the City of Boston’s target to help the City meet its target.

Here is the Table of Contents from BU’s Climate Action Plan:

Executive Summary Pg. 3
I. Introduction Pg. 5
II. How Resilient Is the BU Campus? Pg. 8
III. What Do We Emit and Why? Pg. 10
IV. Recommendations for Reducing Scope 1 and 2 Emissions Pg. 13
V. Recommendations for Increasing Resilience Pg. 16
VI. Beyond Scope 1 and 2 Emissions Pg. 20
VII. Curriculum and Research Pg. 23
VIII. How Much Do These Recommendations Cost? Pg. 25
IX. How Do We Move Forward Systematically? Pg. 26
X. A Vision of Campus for the Future Pg. 27
XI. Conclusion Pg. 28
Appendix 1: BU Good and BU Better Scenarios Pg. 29
Appendix 2: Costs of Climate Action Pg. 30

Indiana University

Executive Summary

Indiana University (IU) was established in 1820 as one of just 52 degree granting colleges in the United States Today, the University comprises seven campuses across the State of Indiana, including two core campuses and fve regional campuses, each with unique degree offerings, geographies, contexts, and climates, providing a rich variety of educational experiences tailored to the diverse needs and aspirations of its students.

Strategic Alignment

The Indiana University Climate Action Plan (CAP) aligns closely with the University’s strategic plan, IU 2030: The Indiana University Strategic Plan. The strategic plan is built on three key pillars: student success and opportunity, transformative research, and service to the state. As the CAP was being developed, the strategic plan was undergoing a similar and parallel process, leading to a strong intersection between these two important efforts. The CAP serves as a complement of the strategic plan, supporting each of its core pillars. In turn, these pillars reinforce the CAP’s objectives and help ensure a comprehensive and cohesive approach to sustainability across the institution

What is a student’s role in these efforts?

Generative AI is experimental. Info quality may vary.

Campus as a Lab (CAL) is a teaching and organizational tool that allows students to use their campus as a lab. Students can contribute to sustainability projects that can advancea school’s Climate Action Plan. These projects must have measurable outcomes that help the university reach its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040.

Here are some examples of student contributions to CAL projects: 

  • Arizona State University students blog about “life overlooked” or non-charismatic species.
  • Students in Dr. Jed Macosko’s “Physics and Chemistry of the Environment” course worked on “Project Nightlight”. This project studied the campus’ contribution to light pollution.
  • Students in the Sustain IU internship program used applied behavioral science to encourage sustainable behavior.
  • University of Michigan students develop and test projects at the intersection of sustainability and social justice.

Other schools that use CAL projects include: 

  • University of Calgary
  • UChicago

In the next two weeks, I will gather additional examples of student input, including within the more familiar territory of my school. The previous blog summarized CUNY’s efforts in drafting the outlines of its strategic plan. That plan basically circumvented long-range goals by avoiding general assessments and replacing them with immediate objectives, to be decided on a yearly basis. Brooklyn College is just now starting its efforts to update its strategic plan. Since students are coming to us to get ready for their independent lives, the school’s long-term objectives should mirror those of its students.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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5 Responses to AI’s Take on Student Input into Institutional Commitments

  1. VingGa Kong says:

    Hi Professor,

    I really liked the fact that you included climate action plans that you were able to gather from AI. Though AI might not always be accurate, I believe that it’s important to notice what other schools or other organizations are able to do to help climate change. Not only can people start to incorporate those, they could also come up with new ideas to help combat climate change. Additionally, I really like the inclusion of what other schools are doing because it goes to show what all schools are able to incorporate and start to help climate change.

    Thank you,

  2. climatechangefork says:

    Your response was original and great. You started a conversation. I showed it already to a related course and I will discuss it with your class in our next meeting.

  3. Carina Alessandro says:

    Interestingly, I found that the AI may have made an error in its search– it did say “info quality may vary,” so I’ll give it that. When it listed other schools that use CAL projects without further explanation I decided to look them up. I didn’t find much on the University of Calgary because google found it hard to distinguish CAL from the first three letters of the school, but when I searched for UChicago I found a CAL program, but it wasn’t a Campus as a Lab program, but an amalgam of the phrase that AI didn’t have the human comprehension to distinguish. In their website, it says, “The Education Lab partnered with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to pilot the Coaching with CAL program, which offers high-dosage tutoring to students through education technology platforms […] Computer-assisted learning (CAL) platforms offer a promising alternative to one-on-one tutoring because they are designed to help students progress at their own pace while still receiving feedback and advice.” Therefore it put together the lab mentioned and another similar acronym and decided it must apply to this. This does give some value in doing things the old fashioned way.

  4. Niamh Zanghi says:

    I am interested in Boston University’s strategy. BU is an extremely well-known institution in the US, and I admire the fact that they recognize this by saying they have a leadership role locally and nationally, before analyzing their carbon emissions and doing similar climate-research, as shown in their table of contents. I also am interested in how these two universities– BU and Indiana University– have longer, more in-depth climate strategies compared to government organizations, some of which only have one sentence to defend their climate strategy. I would love to see Brooklyn College implement similar climate strategies as BU, such as analyzing its resiliency and how to move forward.

  5. Martina Garcia Vasquez says:

    I like this blog because it was explaining how educational institutions are creating plans to eradicate and reduce climate change. I personally think that if I was part if those groups I would encourage the minimization of the use of single-use plastics, which contribute to pollution and harm the environment. Another contribution that I would create a disaster plan that would develop adaptation methods, such as flood barriers and robust infrastructure, to get ready for the effects of climate change. The University of Indiana illustrates, “Students can contribute to sustainability projects that can advanced school’s Climate Action Plan.” Which makes me think that in Brooklyn college we should definitely start better strategies that could provide the same results to our campus and to our students.

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