The Fate of Water: Teaching Students Climate Change in the Classroom and in the Field

Photo of Todd Laporte
Todd La Porte: ‘Much like in climate change policy, if we can identify shared values, we can ultimately find common ground.’ Photo by Creative Services

Originally published on February 5, 2021

I chose to study water sources, because I found the idea to be somewhat novel,” said Todd La Porte. “It’s been interesting to see how all of these different aspects of climate change interact with one another and how the various effects reverberate through society.”

Schar School Associate Professor La Porte is addressing climate change through the lens of community. To do that, La Porte is studying climate change adaption policy inside and outside of the classroom—and he’s taking his undergraduate and graduate students with him to discover the effects of climate change from those directly affected by it.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, La Porte has a natural affinity for the Chesapeake Bay, not far from the Schar School campuses. “We’re studying how climate change is affecting people around bays, estuaries, and wetlands,” he said. “We want to understand what happens to people who are displaced” by the effects of climate change.

La Porte plans to work with students to create an “atlas” of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. “The idea is to map rising water levels and create a common frame of reference from inside these communities,” he said.

“The climate atlas is a way to reach people,” said La Porte. “We spend too much time looking at data that other people collect. It’s not wrong, but it misses a big part of these issues.”

He hopes to send students into the field to gather firsthand information from community members experiencing these changes.

In the classroom, La Porte is a conversation facilitator and an expert at diffusing the tense situations that sometimes arise. “People sometimes misunderstand the assumptions of their classmates,” he said. “Much like in climate change policy, if we can identify shared values, we can ultimately find common ground.” (La Porte recently recorded a sample class, Staying Alive in the Climate Crisis: Climate Politics and Policy.)

Students seem to enjoy his classroom demeanor.

“Dr. La Porte is extremely approachable,” said Leslie Malher, a Master’s in International Commerce and Policy student from Paris, France. “He emphasizes our ideas in conjunction with the readings, and very few professors are able to facilitate discussion the way he does.”

“Teaching energizes me,” said La Porte. “My job is to get the ball rolling, but it is extremely gratifying when students want to express their own ideas and discuss these issues in my classroom.”

Schar School fact: The school will provide $1 million in scholarship funds to students entering in the academic year 2020-21.