Climate Institute and Partners Reflect on EPA Education Grant Successes

Gonzaga students working in local classrooms.
Jordan Kremer '25 (second from left) enjoyed working in area classrooms.

January 03, 2024
Gonzaga University News Service

In summer 2022, Gonzaga’s Institute for Climate, Water and the Environment landed a unique grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The $100,000 Environmental Education grant was designed to help the institute -- then known as the Center for Climate, Society and the Environment – expand its outreach efforts through its Climate Literacy Fellows program and workshops for local teachers. It also had a component in which the Climate Institute shared the money with local groups dedicated to teaching Spokane-area students about climate change. The West Valley Outdoor Learning Center, Spokane Riverkeeper, The Lands Council, Inland Northwest Land Conservancy and Dishman Hills Conservancy each received $5,000 from the EPA grant to help with their respective educational work.

“Thanks to the leadership of Karli Honebein, program coordinator of the Climate Literacy Project, the Gonzaga Climate Institute has quickly established itself as a regional leader in climate education,” said professor Brian G. Henning, director of the Climate Institute. 

“Gonzaga is helping meet the needs of young people who are desperate to understand more about the causes of and solutions to the climate crisis.” - Brian G. Henning

Having recently completed the year-long grant work, several of the people involved shared how the EPA Environmental Education grant impacted their groups, and in the case of Gonzaga students hired as Climate Literacy Fellows, how it enhanced their education.

Community Connections and Real World Experiences for GU Students

For Grace Fletcher, a senior environmental studies major from Sammamish, Wash., who worked as a Climate Fellow, the experience of going into schools and teaching about the climate to both teachers and students not only gave a boost to her own interest in environmental issues, but opened her eyes to how open people are to learning.

“People are more receptive to climate work than I initially thought,” Fletcher said. “At the beginning of this job, I expected a lot of pushback towards climate education from teachers, schools, communities and even students. But the experience has been relatively smooth, and the students and teachers really love learning about these issues.”

It was particularly rewarding, she added, to find that students retained what they were taught in the climate lessons, even when there were several weeks between her visits to their classroom. Working as a Climate Fellow taught Fletcher that “one of the most important parts of working in the climate field” is connecting with others to share resources and inspiration and compound the potential positive educational impact groups can have working together.

An added bonus for Fletcher, she said, was how the grant got her out into the Spokane community, creating the kind of partnerships that absolutely are necessary to tackle issues caused by climate change. “I think oftentimes we’re in a bit of a bubble on campus or in the Logan neighborhood, as we only interact with other college students or people we have obvious things in common with, but this program allows us to make connections with the greater Spokane community, and meaningful ones at that,” Fletcher said. 

“[The grant] truly helps us understand the difficulties and successes other parts of Spokane face and accomplish, and it genuinely helps us become more well-rounded, empathetic and understanding individuals.”- Grace Fletcher

Jordan Kremer, a junior environmental studies major from Encinitas, Calif., also worked as a Climate Fellow during the EPA grant’s time frame, and she found it exciting to see students in Spokane Public Schools make connections and learn how climate science builds on science education they’d learned in earlier grades.

“In middle school classrooms, where students have already learned the fundamentals of life and physical science, it’s a really cool thing to be able to talk with them about those principles through the lens of climate change,” Kremer said.

The importance of being able to communicate some of the complex ideas she’s learned in her Gonzaga classes to audiences without a similar background came into vivid focus the more she worked with students.

“As important as scientific research is, there is little benefit to it if findings are not accessible to the general population,” Kremer said. “Being able to communicate with middle and elementary school students at the very least brings awareness of the issue to critical players, and can inspire their career trajectories!”

It might have done just that for Kremer herself.

“Being able to use my knowledge and passion to make a tangible impact like we see at the Climate Institute has not only benefitted my education, but also my entire attitude surrounding the issue,” Kremer said.

“Being a student and an educator simultaneously in the field you are interested in is a really cool opportunity that not many undergraduates have.” - Jordan Kremer

Powerful Partnerships

For the organizations partnering with Gonzaga’s Climate Institute through the Environmental Education grant, the $5,000 awards allowed them to push themselves into new areas or enhance work they’d started but needed a boost.

Ruth Gifford, executive director of the Dishman Hills Conservancy, noted that the grant allowed the organization to take nearly 500 students from high-poverty areas in the school district on outdoor field trips in the Dishman Hills. Surveys shared by the students after their experiences will help guide the conservancy’s future plans, she added.

“We were able to hear from the students what they learned and what they liked,” Gifford said. “This helps us make changes to our program and keep those things the students especially liked and were impactful.”

Todd Dunfield was the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy’s community conservation program manager at the time of the grant (he’s now public lands protection specialist). The $5,000 helped his organization engage with schools “located in and around our ambassadorial nature preserve along the banks of the Little Spokane River,” connect with new educational partners such as the Mead Outdoor School and The Community School, and “elevate the amazing salmon recovery efforts of our conservation partners at the Spokane Tribe of Indians.”

“Inland Northwest Lands Conservancy has taken away from this grant opportunity the importance of partnering with the community at all levels to inspire current donors as well as the next generation of conservationists currently being educated at our local schools."           - Todd Dunfield

Justyce Brant, restoration coordinator for the Lands Council, said that partnerships with organizations like GU’s Climate Institute are vital for the organization’s ongoing education efforts.

“As a small environmental non-profit, the grants we receive strongly influence the direction of our work,” Bryant said. “The Lands Council’s environmental education program is over 15 years old, and because of the Climate Institute, we were able to add climate literacy to our lesson options and educate students on the rapidly changing climate that they are growing up in.

“We believe that through this knowledge and by providing examples of hope and options to address climate change, we are empowering the next generation of climate stewards.”

Learn more about Gonzaga's institute for Climate, Water and the Environment!