University of New Mexico-Taos Develops the Next Generation of Climate Change Scientists

Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Climate change presents real threats to U.S. agricultural production, forest resources, and rural economies. These threats have significant implications not just for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, but for all Americans. Addressing climate change is a priority for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

One project at the University of New Mexico-Taos (UNM-Taos) is cultivating the next generation of climate change researchers with the help of a $1 million Hispanic Serving Institutions Education (HSI) grant. With those funds, UNW-Taos created the Northern New Mexico Climate Change Corps (CCC) to educate students to respond to climate related challenges from fire to flooding.

Taos is located where the Rocky Mountains and the high deserts converge in a diverse, dynamic landscape. Many federal agencies - such as the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service – have offices in this area, which contains many public lands. UNM-Taos is in a prime location to collaborate with federal agencies in building an educational program in natural resource management. 

“Every natural resource management challenge currently faced in New Mexico – from dying trees, to wildfires, to reduced water for farming – can be linked to the stress of increased average temperatures, especially in winter,” said Dr. Brooke Zanetell, professor and project director, UNM-Taos. “Creating a program that increased the numbers of Hispanic graduates in natural resource jobs who were ready to face the challenges of climate change inspired the creation of the CCC.”

UNM-Taos collaborated with New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) to allow students to start their education in Taos and transfer to NMHU to complete a bachelor of science degree in forestry, geology, or biology. NMHU has an established reputation with the Forest Service and other federal agencies, assisting students with job placement, often before they graduate.

“Over a third of the undergrads in the program have gained employment with a federal natural resource management agency, and we are only in the second year of the grant,” said Zanetell.

The CCC, a spin on the original Civilian Conservation Corps founded by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, connects students with career opportunities such as seasonal employment or pathways positions with federal agencies. The program also offers paid summer internships as research assistants to scientists in federal agencies or to graduate students at NMHU doing thesis research related to climate change. 

“The HSI grants program recognizes that there is an abundance of bright, highly motivated students who can reach their full potential with extra mentoring, tutoring, and financial assistance,” said Zanetell. “It’s not easy to be the pioneering group of students creating a culture of educational and career success in a rural region that has been historically isolated. It is extremely rewarding to see how the program has empowered students to overcome a variety of challenges and reach their academic and career goals.”

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Related Information

U.S. States and Territories:
New Mexico