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Turn Your Passion for Climate Change Into a Career at CU Denver

April 19, 2024

Do you want to make an impact on climate change? Do you want to find a career that connects your passions with a job after graduation?

CU Denver continues to expand the fields that study and search for climate change solutions to extend well beyond environmental studies. Students can now use their passion for climate change to develop careers in urban planning, wildfire prevention, and sustainable business careers—just like their CU Denver professors have done themselves.

Researching climate change is about more than just lectures and tests. Students get hands-on experience in labs that are answering some of our greatest challenges. They are growing new generations of pest-resistant trees in laboratories, 3D printing forest stabilization materials, raising bees on a downtown roof, and so much more.

As a multifaceted challenge, climate change research requires a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach, which CU Denver offers with programs that address a wide range of climate change issues.

Here are just a few:

Meet a Few of the Experts

Deserai Crow, PhD, Professor,
School of Public Affairs, Director of the PhD Public Affairs Program,
Interim Co-Director, Center for Community Safety and Resilience

Working To: Understand natural disaster recovery and risk mitigation in local communities. 

How: Crow’s work assesses environmental policy and disaster or crisis policies, including stakeholder participation and influence, information sources used, and policy outcomes in developing policies. Her research often focuses on natural disaster recovery and risk mitigation in local communities. Her natural hazards work includes a study of community wildfire recovery decision-making after Colorado’s Marshall Fire in 2021, as well as flood recovery and policy learning in the aftermath of the 2013 floods in the state. Her current National Science Foundation-funded project looks at environmental justice outcomes associated with oil and gas decision-making in Colorado’s local governments.

“Colorado is a special place to live and raise a family, so I’ve spent most of my career trying to understand the risks that we face as a state and how our governments are grappling with these challenges. I hope that my work helps decision-makers so that we can have more resilient communities.” —Deserai Crow

Priyanka deSouza, PhD, Assistant Professor
College of Architecture and Planning, Urban and Regional Planning Department

Working To: Make cities around the world more resilient to the impacts of air pollution and climate change.

How: She is the co-principal investigator on a NASA Environmental Justice grant, which will allow her and others to monitor air pollution and heat at bus stops around Denver. This is in partnership with the United States Geological Survey to examine how air pollution and heat impacts bus ridership in neighborhoods and how that may correspond to different socioeconomic statuses. She is also setting up a mobile laboratory at CU Denver to monitor air pollution and other exposures at a fine spatial scale.

“I hope my research will make our cities more healthy and more just.” —Priyanka deSouza

Katharine Kelsey, PhD, Assistant Professor
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Geography & Environmental Sciences

Working To: Understand how climate change, particularly sea level rise, will impact coastal ecosystems in Alaska. In addition, she is investigating the role of snow in ecosystem processes, including how snow protects plants and soil from very low temperatures in the mountains in winter. 

How: She is the lead principal investigator for a National Science Foundation-funded project that explores how climate change will affect coastal ecosystems in Alaska. This project is starting its third and final field season in May. She, and her multi-institutional collaborative team, have several presentations planned this spring.

“As scientists working in the realm of climate change, we still have so much to learn from one another, and from our partners in land management, and interdisciplinary projects allow us to do that.” —Katharine Kelsey

Carrie Makarewicz, PhD, Associate Professor & Department Chair
College of Architecture and Planning, Urban and Regional Planning Department

Working To: Understand how public investments, development, and public policies impact human development through their effects on household income, accessible and safe neighborhoods, housing affordability, individual health and well-being, access to regional opportunities, and environmental quality. 

How: She is conducting a housing study that is related to the governor’s new proposal to direct local governments to adopt denser housing to provide more affordable housing and to address climate change. She is also a co-director of CU Denver’s new Community Collaborative Research Center, a community-engaged center that partners with Cultivando to study the health impacts of air pollution, GreenLatinos and NREL to promote a just transition to electric vehicles, Valverde Neighborhood Association to conduct a research-to-action tree planting project to reduce the urban heat island, and the Mountain West Climate-Health Engagement Hub.

Michael Moore, PhD, Assistant Professor, Biology Research Faculty
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Integrated Biology

Working To: Uncover how species’ physiological and behavioral traits determine their vulnerabilities to climate change and other environmental threats.

How: As the earth warms, plants and animals are being forced to either adjust to climates they’ve never experienced before or to migrate to entirely new habitats. If we’re going to be able to design conservation strategies that save some of our most imperiled species, it is essential that scientists characterize the factors that help them avoid extinction. Moore’s lab is working to uncover how species’ physiological and behavioral traits that determine their vulnerabilities to climate change and other environmental threats.

“If we’re going to understand how to best protect and manage the Earth’s biodiversity over the coming decades, we absolutely need to understand which traits are going to make species vulnerable to climate change and why.” —Michael Moore

Ivan J. Ramirez, PhD, Clinical Teaching Track Assistant Professor
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences, and launched the Civic Engagement and Climate Justice (CECJ) Think Lab

Working To: Understand how communities interact with climate and how those interactions influence the health and social vulnerability of populations and places.

How: His current research examines multi-disease risks in Latin America and Colorado, which are often driven by social inequities and compounded by environmental changes. Ramírez is part of the first-ever cohort of public scholars (Climate Change and Society theme) in the new Elevate the Discipline program at the American Association of Geographers (AAG) and serves as a climate-society expert for the U.S. National Section of the Pan American Institute of Geography and History (PAIGH). He is developing research focused on climate justice and recently launched the Civic Engagement and Climate Justice (CECJ) Think Lab, a critical forum for interdisciplinary undergraduate training.

“My passion for understanding climate and society is fueled by social injustices, locally and globally, and the need for inter- and multi-disciplinary thinking. I am also deeply inspired by the voices and actions of environmental justice communities.” —Ivan Ramirez

Marc Swackhamer, Professor and Department Chair 
College of Architecture and Planning, Architecture Department

Working To: Reimagine the use of invasive Colorado plant species as an abundant bio-based construction materials rather than just as a liability in need of eradication.

How: He teaches an Undergraduate Architecture Studio V on the topic of “INVASIVENESS,” which explores contested ecological boundaries in Colorado. While the projects do not claim to “fix” the inherent problems of invasive plant species, the goal is to call awareness to the human activities that have catalyzed decades of unchecked ecological damage.

Diana Tomback, PhD, Professor and Interim Chair
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Department of Integrated Biology

Working To: Restore the whitebark pine, a keystone species in North America.

How: She is an ecologist, academic, and the policy and outreach coordinator at the nonprofit Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation. Additionally, she was recently honored as a 2023 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the society that publishes the prestigious interdisciplinary journal Science. Tomback works in the fields of evolutionary ecology, avian ecology, conservation biology, and forest ecology, with a primary focus on the Clark’s nutcracker bird species and the ecology and restoration of whitebark pine. Whitebark pine, threatened by exotic disease, native insects, shifting fire regimes, and climate change, was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and listed as endangered in Canada. She also supported the recent reintroduction of wolves to Colorado by serving as a science advisor to the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project and other NGOs.

“The decline of whitebark pine was a clarion call to action.” —Diana Tomback

Christopher Weible, PhD, Professor; Co-Editor, Policy & Politics

Program Director, Master of Public Policy; Co-Director, Center for Policy and Democracy; and Visiting Professor at Luleå University of Technology, Sweden

School of Public Affairs

Working To: Understand policy conflicts in energy issues.

How: Dr. Weible’s research centers on policy process theories and methods, democracy, and environmental policy. His recent and current research includes studying policy conflicts in energy issues, including siting energy infrastructure and oil and gas development, the role of emotions in public discourse, institutional analyses of the content of public policy, and patterns and explanations of policy change.

“The challenge in mitigating and adapting to climate change must involve improving how we govern, making our politics more sustainable, and ensuring greater human dignity for all.” —Christopher Weible

And there’s more!

Moatassem Abdallah, PhD, Associate Professor
College of Engineering, Design and Computing, Department of Civil Engineering 

Working To: develop a system using AI that proactively predict daily electricity demands to determine the optimum times to charge and discharge EVs to minimize electricity peak demand.

Jaedo Park, PhD, Professor
College of Engineering, Design and Computing, Department of Electrical Engineering

Working To: make it possible for neighbors to share green generated electricity and bring resiliency to an aging electrical grid during extreme weather.

Manish Shirgaokar, PhD, AICP, Associate Professor
College of Architecture and Planning, Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Working To: understand the benefits of e-Bike rebate programs and how fare-free paratransit affects demand among disabled populations during extreme-weather days.

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