Fueled by a passion to tackle climate change, Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students are continuing efforts to integrate the 2020 Climate Action Commitment into the university’s educational mission and engage more students in sustainability-focused experiential learning opportunities through an initiative known as the Climate Action Living Laboratory.

Highlighted in the Climate Action Commitment’s goals, the Climate Action Living Laboratory (CALL) tasks the university with turning its campuses into living laboratories for climate research. Members of the laboratory's experimental research group include faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students who are fostering experiential learning, cutting-edge climate research, and advancing the Climate Action Commitment implementation.

The laboratory was created to build a bridge between operational, administrative, and academic employees to increase the scale of the university’s sustainability-focused research, provide even better learning opportunities for students, and access resources potentially otherwise unavailable. This cooperative, community of practice model has the opportunity to set Virginia Tech apart.

“To address such a pressing global challenge as climate change, a collaborative, all-hands approach is required to transform Virginia Tech and its surrounding communities,” said Assistant Vice President for Sustainability and Chief Sustainability Officer Mary-Ann Ibeziako. “The teamwork already underway across the university is phenomenal. Everyone realizes that the issues and challenges we're facing today cannot be solved by one entity. I look forward to what will be accomplished with the CALL.”

The laboratory began with a workshop led by Professor Emeritus John Randolph in 2021 and has grown into a network of over 100 members. Over the last two years, members have made significant strides in implementing the Climate Action Commitment across campus.

“We are extremely fortunate at Virginia Tech to have a facilities team and other operational units that are deeply committed to meeting our ambitious Climate Action Commitment and to partner with students and faculty to meaningfully integrate educational and research opportunities into the great things they are doing,” said Todd Schenk, associate professor of urban affairs and planning and a founding member of the laboratory. “The Climate Action Living Laboratory provides a unique opportunity to concurrently engage in cutting edge, hands-on education and research while advancing efforts to fulfill our Climate Action Commitment.”

Honors College Collegiate Assistant Professor Rachael Budowle is one of several faculty members integrating the laboratory into their curriculum. This fall, she tasked her students with a semester-long project to help develop the laboratory. “I’m thrilled that we can partner students through the Honor Service Learning course with Virginia Tech employees as expert mentors,” said Budowle. “It seems very fitting to engage students in experiential learning to develop the Climate Action Living Laboratory framework itself, wherein they will create best practices for future faculty to teach and conduct research and students to learn while supporting staff to address our pressing climate action goals.”

Supported by Budowle’s VT Engage Faculty Fellowship, the fall 2023 and spring 2024 semesters of the course will allow for research around this novel “meta-approach” to developing university climate action and sustainability living laboratories. Students will engage in projects including external benchmarking and internal priority alignment; communications planning; executing a Climate Action Living Laboratory showcase and platform for faculty and staff to connect across teaching, research, service and operational needs; and seeking feedback from key partner constituencies.

“As the CALL continues to develop, the group invites members of the university community passionate about sustainability to join us in helping further integrate the Climate Action Commitment into Virginia Tech’s educational mission,” said Climate Action Fellow and laboratory lead Jack Leff.

University community members interested in joining the Climate Action Living Laboratory may fill out the group’s interest form.

Written by Jack Leff

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