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UNIV102 - Let's talk about climate change

Imagine learning about the many facets of climate change from experts in business, infectious diseases, and puppeteering.

This diversity of experience is the reality for Duke undergraduates in this fall’s University Course, “UNIV102: Let’s Talk About Climate Change.” Let’s Talk About Climate Change was created by Dr. Emily Bernhardt, James B. Duke Professor of Biogeochemistry and Chair, Department of Biology, and Dr. Norman Wirzba, Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Christian Theology and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

“The Provost recruited me and philosopher and theologian Norman Wirzba to develop the second university course, UNIV 102, on climate change,” said Bernhardt,” We accepted that challenge because we are both enthusiastic about the opportunity to broaden the conversations across campus about climate change so that faculty and students from all disciplines are empowered and engaged to think about how their lives and work could help shape our climate future.”

Unlike the traditional class model, UNIV102 students have weekly discussions with experts, followed by a shared meal and small group discussion with teaching assistants. To round out the course, A large public event about environmental justice is hosted for students and community members as a signature component. All of these activities are designed to engage students critically with the subject matter in a way they haven’t before.

Through this blended model of interdisciplinary pedagogy, Bernhardt and Wirzba hope to bring awareness to climate change in every field of study.

“Climate change is telling us that “we,” meaning the members of the world’s dominant cultures, need to rethink, reimagine, and redesign how we will relate to each other, fellow creatures, and the earth. I can’t imagine more important work to do than join with colleagues and students to address the many climate realities shaping our world now and into the future,” said Wirzba.


Throughout the semester, students get the opportunity to learn about climate change from numerous angles. Each week, a different Climate Change Faculty Fellow will lead the class – driving the discussion through the lens of their discipline.

“My favorite part so far of the course would be the speakers because it’s one thing to have a lecture or a class that just gives you information from professor to student, but it’s another thing to have this kind of discussion between professors, talking between each other and having this kind of discourse,” said Marco Castillo, a Trinity sophomore.

After a lecture consisting of in-depth faculty conversations, students head to Zweli’s Café for dinner. Whether they stay inside or relocate outside to enjoy the last vestiges of sunlight, one thing remains constant. Everywhere you go, there is a stream of casual conversation punctuated by the occasional burst of laughter. It doesn’t feel like students simply convening over a meal, but rather friends coming together to discuss what they’ve learned.

Later, they branch off into their smaller breakout groups to continue the discussion.  

“I’ve loved the breakout sessions; I feel very close with my small group, and I just feel like the format of the small group breakout discussions after the conversations has been very conducive to interdisciplinary learning,” said Ali Thursland, a Trinity senior studying Computer Science.  

“We need each other to challenge basic assumptions and goals. We need the inspiration that comes from being with people who think and live differently than we do,” Wirzba said, “If you try to face climate change alone, you will likely find yourself in a state of despair.”   

Let’s Talk About Climate Change has 150 students enrolled, ranging from first years to seniors. Regardless of their year, students have had good things to say about the course.  

“I felt like the University course was the best mode for me to get a good grasp on climate change as a whole while also recognizing that I didn’t need any prerequisites coming into this class,” said Thursland, “It’s like an open conversation every week, and I really do look forward to it.”    

“I, for one, very much enjoy this kind of model of having that discourse between people of the profession and having that interactivity between the students and professors,” Castillo said.   


If you are a Duke student interested in taking a University course in the spring, shopping carts open on Monday, October 23rd. Consider enrolling in Communicating and Addressing the Lived Experience of Race and Racism (UNIV101) and Let’s Talk About Digital You: A Technical and Ethical Exploration of a Data-Centric World (UNIV103).   

UNIV101: Communicating and Addressing the Lived Experience of Race and Racism  
Recent events have led to increased attention surrounding the idea that biologically determined “race” among human populations does not exist. This attention also confirms that race is among many socially constructed categories of human hierarchy and differential valuation with long-standing, well-established, and reliably patterned legislative, political, legal, economic, and material implications. This course exploits this range of perspectives by employing educational engagement at the intersection of lived experience, expert instruction, and scholarly research. Consequently, we will utilize many learning modalities and multiple types of expertise to provide learners with accurate knowledge, effective communication strategies, authentic relationship building, and collaborative racial equity planning, all towards the end of gaining profound insight into the lived experience of race as well as the most culturally appropriate and ethically justifiable equity strategies designed to dismantle racism.  

UNIV103: Let’s Talk About Digital You: A Technical and Ethical Exploration of a Data-Centric World 
Unlock the fascinating world of digital identity, technology, and ethics in our course, “Let’s Talk about Digital You: technical and ethical aspects of a data-centric world.” In today’s digital age, where technology intertwines with every facet of our lives, understanding the complexities and implications of these technologies is essential. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast, a future business leader, or a concerned global citizen, this course is your gateway to exploring the cutting-edge technology that shapes our world. 


If you want to participate in Let’s Talk About Climate Change, University Courses will host a public lecture called “Let’s Talk about Environmental Justice” featuring Dr. Kyle Powys Whyte on Monday, November 6th, from 5:30 – 6:30 pm at Duke’s Griffith Film Theater. Dr. Whyte’s lecture will focus on the moral and political issues between climate policy and the Indigenous peoples.  
Dr. Kyle Whyte Let's Talk about Environmental Justice

This event is open to students, faculty, and community members, free of charge. For more details, visit