The United Kingdom will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on October 31-November 12. The climate talks will bring together heads of state, climate experts, and campaigners to agree on coordinated action to tackle climate change.
COP26 goals include securing global net-zero by mid-century and keeping 1.5 degrees within reach; accelerating the phase-out of coal, curtailing deforestation, speeding up the switch to electric vehicles, encouraging investment in renewables, adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, protecting, and restoring ecosystems; as well as building defenses and warning systems.
In addition, there has to be resilient infrastructure, and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods, and even lives, finance, finalization of the rules that make the Paris Agreement operational, and action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society.
How Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are tackling Climate Change
In 2011, Dr. Beverly Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Inc. and Dr. Robert D. Bullard, a Distinguished Professor at Texas Southern University, launched the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Climate Change Consortium.
According to the Deep South Center website, the consortium was set up to develop HBCU student leaders, scientists, and advocates, especially in vulnerable communities in the southern United States where the majority of HBCUs are located. In collaboration with Texas Southern University, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Inc. hosted the Eighth Annual HBCU Climate Change Conference in the fall of 2020.
The conference brought together HBCU faculty and students, researchers, climate and environmental justice professionals, and coastal community residents impacted by toxic facilities and severe weather events related to climate change. The conference addressed climate justice, adaptation, community resilience, global climate issues, and other topics, including transportation, energy sources, carbon emissions, green jobs/green economy, and community economic development. In this US Black Engineer magazine, we look at educational programs, initiatives, research at 15 ABET-accredited HBCUs.
Alabama A&M University
In November 2020, Inside AAMU celebrated an Alabama A&M University researcher whose work had generated enormous interest. Zachary N. Senwo, Ph.D., wrote an article recognizing the dire impact of climate change. The professor of soil microbial biochemistry, environmental science, and toxicology told Inside AAMU that his article received interest from “scientists of similar interests globally” and will enable scientific partnerships and collaboration.
According to AAMU, more than 90% of their Bachelor of Science in Forestry graduates have found jobs in their field of study, including careers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service and other opportunities in forest fire protection, silviculture (the growing and cultivation of trees), fish and wildlife services, forest ecology, education and outreach, consultancy, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The program is the only professionally accredited forestry program at a historically Black college and university (HBCU). (https://aamu.edu/academics/undergraduate-studies/bachelor-science-forestry.html)
In 1998, the Center for Environmental Equity and Justice (CEEJ) was established in the School of the Environment (SOE) at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU). CEEJ is in SOE’s Frederick S. Humphries Science Research Center. According to FAMU, the center was created in response to a 1987 study that addressed toxic waste sites in low-income communities. Since 1998, CEEJ has educated people about the environmental effects of programs, policies, and activities. Former President Emeritus Frederick Stephen Humphries earned a bachelor’s degree in physical chemistry from FAMU, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1957. He was born in Apalachicola of the Gulf of Mexico. (http://www.famu.edu/index.cfm?environmentalscience&CEEJ) “Our years of active research engagements through funds from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has kept us in the forefront of training new generations of students in ecosystem characterization, ecological processes, forecasting and modeling, and human dimensions,” writes Victor Ibeanusi, Ph.D., dean of the School of the Environment. “We offer BS and BA in Environmental Studies; BS, MS, and Ph.D. in Environmental Science in Environmental Policy and Risk Management; Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecology; Biomolecular Sciences; and Environmental Chemistry. For more information on the school’s role in the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus, visit (http://www.famu.edu/index.cfm?environmentalscience&SOEHome)
Hampton’s Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences’ marine-focused undergraduate program is ranked among the top.
“Our department prepares students to pursue diverse career paths in marine biology, oceanography, environmental law, environmental protection and consulting,” the website states.
Dr. Benjamin E. Cuker, who won a Mentoring for Professional Diversity in Fisheries and Natural Resources Award from the Equal Opportunity Section of the American Fisheries Society, created the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography Multicultural Program for more than 20 years ago. His research includes turbid lakes and estuarine ecology.
The Bachelor’s degree in Marine and Environmental Science is designed to integrate concepts across General Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. As a requirement for graduation, students must complete a senior research thesis working with a faculty advisor. Upon graduation, majors are qualified to enter areas of oceanography, marine science, and environmental science. Dr. Deidre Gibson, the Department of Marine and Environmental Science chair, is a biological oceanographer with research interests centered on ecology, reproductive biology, and oyster restoration. While at Hampton, she has served as principal investigator on several National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants that continue to train the next generation of African American marine scientists. (https://science.hamptonu.edu/mes/)
Recognizing that the nation’s infrastructure is eroding, Howard University states on its website that civil engineers are being called to address the grand challenges of restoring, protecting, and improving the nation’s infrastructure with sustainable green design. According to Howard, the university has a record of producing entrepreneurs, educators, and professionals with global awareness. Recently, researchers at Howard University were awarded grants through the Department of Energy’s Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) partnership program, aiming to build a pipeline between Department of Energy (DOE) sites and MSIs.
Several centers at Howard University help prepare graduates for environmental careers. Since 1998, the Transportation Research Center in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department has led urban transportation research in Washington, DC. Efforts in the Environmental and Water Resources Engineering group foster research on stormwater monitoring, hazardous waste treatment, and water quality. The Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT) is dedicated to elucidating the relationship between nanomaterials and potential environmental exposure, biological effects, and ecological consequences. CEINT is a collaboration between various institutions, including Duke, Carnegie Mellon, and Howard universities, and was created in 2008 with funding from the National Science Foundation and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. Visit the College of Engineering and Architecture for more information (https://cea.howard.edu/academics/departments/civil-and-environmental-engineering/about-cee)
Morgan State University
To assist residents in need of energy efficiency upgrades, volunteers from Morgan State University students, staff, and University President David Wilson teamed up with representatives from GRID Alternatives, the U.S. Department of Energy, the City of Baltimore, Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Civic Works, AmeriCorps members, and other community organizations to bring clean energy to select homes. According to Morgan State’s website, this project committed an investment of $200,000 from the City of Baltimore to advance solar installations for up to 40 homes located within the Morgan Community Mile.
The Morgan Community Mile is a university-community partnership where residents, businesses, public officials, and other stakeholders come together with Morgan’s faculty, students, and staff to make the Northeast Baltimore community a better place. Students within the School of Engineering can participate in hands-on experiential learning opportunities involving implementing BGE green initiatives on campus. Examples of GREEN related programs leading to degrees at Morgan State University include Actuarial Science, Architecture & Environmental Design, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Civil Engineering, Electrical, and Computer Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Transportation Systems, History, Geography, and Museum Studies, Information Systems, Mathematics, Physics, and Engineering Physics. (https://www.morgan.edu/office_of_the_provost/academic_units/office_of_assessment/energy_savings_team_/initiatives_.html)
Norfolk State University
In January 2020, Norfolk State University was a recipient of a River Star Business Award, presented at the annual River Star Businesses Recognition Luncheon. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam attended NSU President Javaune Adams-Gaston and other members of the NSU team. The River Star award recognizes homeowners, schools, youth organizations, and businesses for environmental projects that help improve conditions in and around the Elizabeth River. The award was achieved through the efforts of Norfolk State’s Department of Facilities Management administrators and staff, who gathered data to demonstrate the many ways NSU serves as a good steward of the Elizabeth River and our environment.
Over the past several years, Norfolk State has achieved LEED certification for its campus buildings. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is a third-party green building certification program and the globally recognized standard for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings and neighborhoods. NSU’s focus on environmental stewardship is one effort related to a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute intended to improve student outcomes by connecting the campus and NSU students to community-focused research. In December 2020, Norfolk State University became one of 11 historically Black colleges and universities benefitting from Dominion Energy’s six-year “HBCU Promise.” The program will support endowments, capital projects, operating expenses, and educational programs in clean energy at HBCUs in Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Visit NSU for more information (https://www.nsu.edu/)
North Carolina A&T State University
For Earth Day 2019, ten thousand K-12 students visited North Carolina A&T) State University during its 10th annual Energy Day. The event showcased the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s exhibit, allowing the students to explore sustainability, energy efficiency, transportation, renewable energy, and science in a hands-on environment.
Michael S. Regan, a North Carolina A&T earth and environmental science graduate who fittingly was sworn in as the 16th Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2021, was then secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
During his tenure, Regan advanced environmental justice and promoted engagement with historically underserved and marginalized communities. In 2020, Regan secured an agreement with Duke Energy for the most extensive coal ash contamination cleanup in United States history. His department also addressed toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that one company was dumping into the Cape Fear River upstream of a significant source of drinking water. On December 17, 2020, Regan was nominated to serve as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, the first Black man and the second person of color to lead the agency. Regan is responsible for helping to advance the Biden administration’s commitment to combating climate change, promoting green energy, and addressing the effects of environmental racism.
For US Climate Action Week 2021, Career Communications Group, publisher of Black Engineer magazine, held its “Preparing Our Communities to Address the Climate Crisis, Science Leads the Way” debate. Incidentally, a North Carolina A&T alumnus moderated the session.
Anthony Kinslow II, the CEO and founder of Gemini Energy Solutions earned a bachelor’s in civil and environmental engineering from the HBCU and his Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Stanford. Inspired by “An Inconvenient Truth,” a documentary about former Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate people about global warming, Anthony says he has spent more than a decade trying to make a meaningful impact. At Gemini, Anthony engages minority communities in energy efficiency. Gemini also supports efforts to meet climate change goals and increase economic resiliency through energy efficiency.
Last December 9, the College of Engineering at North Carolina A&T received a multi-million investment from Dominion Energy Foundation to increase student workforce readiness in the power and energy sectors. The company set up a $10 million scholarship fund to support Black and other minority students across Dominion Energy’s service area. Parts of the funding will go toward the naming of an energy and sustainability laboratory housed in the Engineering Research and Innovation Complex, set to open in fall 2021.
Biomass and bioenergy research are essential areas of focus for the Biological Engineering Program at A&T. For undergraduates interested in biofuels or bioproducts, check out the site to learn more. For graduate students, the Ph.D. in Energy and Environmental Systems also provides opportunities for experience in Bioenergy research.
Prairie View A&M University
In 2019, Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) researchers in environmentally sustainable energy technologies won a $5 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF selected the Center for Energy and Environmental Sustainability (CEES), established in 2010, as a recognized center in the Texas A&M University System. CEES focuses on biofuels, energy and environment, and wind energy. “This was a competitive NSF grant proposal,” said Pamela Holland Obiomon, Ph.D., in a statement.
“The faculty spent a lot of time and effort writing the proposal to secure the $5 million, all while teaching and advising students. The team’s hard work and academic excellence paid off,” added the dean of the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering. The award will position PVAMU’s research in renewable energy as a resource, enhance environmental sustainability, and transform PVAMU’s capacity to engage a diverse STEM workforce. The grant will allow researchers to broaden the scope of PVAMU’s Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) program. “The global energy landscape is changing over the next decade,” Obiomon explained. “The Roy G. Perry College of Engineering is excited to have a state-of-the-art energy center which will prepare our faculty and students to be leaders in reshaping the global energy systems.” (https://www.pvamu.edu/cees/)
Southern University and A&M College
Diola Bagayoko, Southern University (SU) System, distinguished professor of physics and dean of the DMR Spikes Honors College, has received several grants from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. This project is a part of the Consortium for Materials and Energies Security (CMaES) led by Florida A&M University. SU is amongst six other historically Black colleges and universities and two national laboratories as consortium members. The two laboratories include Lawrence Livermore National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab.
The other universities involved include Prairie View A&M University, Tuskegee University, Tennessee State University, Benedict College, Morehouse College, and Allen University. Two key priority areas of the consortium are the training of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and the performance of frontier research on materials and energy. The Southern University-Baton Rouge project made a breakthrough in predicting, computationally, electronic, and related properties of numerous semiconductors, some of which have applications in the solar energy industry. Southern University is the first HBCU to partner with a multi-agency collaboration among industry, universities, and government partners, led by the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defense, Education, NASA, and the National Science Foundation. (https://www.subr.edu/)
Tennessee State University
In 2014, Dr. Dalia Abbas, a professor from the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Sciences at Tennessee State University (TSU), co-authored “Science, Education and Outreach Roadmap for Natural Resources,” which outlined “grand challenges” facing the U.S. in sustainability, water, climate change, agriculture, energy, and education. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsored the report through a grant to Oregon State University, which then partnered with higher education organizations’ research, policy, and advocacy organization.
In 2015, TSU joined a Department of Energy initiative to improve the resilience and security of cyber networks, which serve as the backbone of the infrastructure that delivers energy to the nation. They are energy delivery systems for the electric power, oil, and gas industries. Dr. S. Keith Hargrove, dean of the College of Engineering, called the partnership a “strategic initiative” to educate a more diverse workforce. “The Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium will respond to the Department of Energy’s demand for detection, analysis, monitoring, and risk assessment technologies to protect energy delivery systems,” Hargrove said. “It also will further enhance TSU’s capacity in cybersecurity.” The TSU College of Engineering offers degrees in engineering, technology, and computer science. (https://www.tnstate.edu/engineering/)
The Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program (TUCEP) maintains the leadership of Booker T. Washington and the first Integrated Research/Extension by Dr. George Washington Carver. According to TUCEP, the program seeks to bring new approaches to problems in Alabama. Although outreach work is carried on throughout Alabama, TUCEP is focused on some of the poorest counties in the United States with a primarily agricultural landscape. The focus of outreach and educational services consists of six program areas: Global Food Security, Natural Resource Conservation, Environmental Sustainability, and Climate Change, Community Resource Development, Family, Home, and Youth, Nutrition, and Wellness, and Food Systems and Food Safety. Services are delivered by conducting training activities, small group meetings, educational workshops, camps, and site demonstrations that use curriculum-based information. Conferences such as the Farmers Conference, the Booker T. Washington Economic Development Summit (BTW Summit), and the Professional Agricultural Workers Conference are held every year to support these educational programs. (https://www.tuskegee.edu/programs-courses/colleges-schools/caens/cooperative-extension-program)
University of the District of Columbia
In April 2017, the University of the District of Columbia’s College of Agriculture Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) held the opening ceremony for its aquaponics system. Stakeholders and community members participated in demonstrating the aquaponics system and listened to remarks by Dr. Sabine O’Hara, dean of CAUSES and director of the university’s Land grant programs. Aquaponics helps students learn about fish and plant life. In an aquaponics system, fish and plants grow together. The systems convert waste produced by the fish into fertilizer for plants, which filter water that enters the fish habitat. The new system coincided with CAUSES’ mission of creating economic self-sufficiency through green jobs and community ownership. Sustainability Courses at UDC include:
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Introduction to Renewable Energy
Fuel Cell Fundamentals and Technologies
Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal Energy Systems
School of Business and Public Administration
Principles of Transportation
Introduction to Sustainable Entrepreneurship
College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences
Introduction to Environmental Science and Sustainability
College of Arts and Sciences
Introduction to Urban Planning
(The Politics of) The Green Economy
Sustainable Community Development
University of Maryland Eastern Shore
In April 2020, Dr. Jurgen Schwarz, chairman of UMES’ Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Sciences, and Dr. Sadanand Dhekney, associate professor of plant breeding and biotechnology, won an Innovation Seed Grant awarded by the Maryland Energy Innovation Institute. Dhekney and Schwarz, along with a biology professor at Hood College, and Atlantic Biomass Conversions, partnered with the renewable energy sector to study the potential for converting industrial hemp into bioethanol. Hemp’s biomass characteristics yield a higher conversion of fermentable sugars — a promising indication it could be a reliable source of biofuel. Producers stand to earn income from growing hemp commercially from s parts of the plant that are otherwise considered a waste by-product of processing. Developing technology that identifies hemp cultivars with high biomass production and efficient conversion into biofuel could lead to more significant investment from producers, processors, and the renewable energy sector, resulting in a new sector of jobs in Maryland, researchers believe. In 2011, UMES became a leader in solar energy with a grid of 7,800 collection panels occupying 17 acres on a former cornfield, making it the largest concentration of photovoltaic modules on one site in Maryland, according to SunEdison. This company built and operated the facility. (https://www.umes.edu/home/)
Virginia State University
In July 2020, Virginia State University held a Zoom call on solar energy applications for backyard aquaponics systems. The informational webinar explored solar energy conversion technologies, system load analysis methods, and shared resources for information. Virginia State University’s Sustainable and Urban Agriculture Program provides a comprehensive educational program for Virginians to adopt sustainable and urban agriculture practices. The program addresses production, harvesting, marketing, and the distribution of vegetables and small fruits within sustainability and within an urban or suburban environment. The program provides educational programming in community and institutional gardening, urban farming, container gardening, and backyard gardening, and livestock rearing. Participants receive training on high tunnel (hoop house) production, low tunnel production, container gardening, raised bed and rooftop gardening, indoor gardening, and the use of hydroponics and aquaponics systems. Outreach efforts include workshops, field days, on-farm demonstrations, and hands-on training. The long-term outcome of the program is to increase the adoption of sustainable urban agriculture practices in the Commonwealth of Virginia, leading to enhanced environmental, economic, and social sustainability. (Source: https://www.ext.vsu.edu/urban-agriculture)