The National Science Foundation has awarded Carnegie Museum of Natural History a $1,254,205 grant to develop the Climate and Rural Systems Partnership (CRSP), a learning network that connects and empowers Western Pennsylvania educators, scientists, and community leaders to address climate change issues with rural audiences. The award, which funds the project for four years, recognizes the museum’s commitment to engaging and studying the Anthropocene, the current epoch in which human activity profoundly influences planetary systems.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History will partner with the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out-of-School Environments (UPCLOSE) and the Mercer County Conservation District to create hubs at Munnell Run Farm in Mercer County and Powdermill Nature Reserve, the museum’s own environmental research center, in Westmoreland County. The hubs will coordinate professional development workshops, collaborative design sessions, and community gatherings for diverse groups of local stakeholders. Participants will examine and adapt existing environmental research data, biological collections, and climate change educational tools into salient, usable resources for engagement and learning.
“I am thrilled that the museum and its partners will bring this program to the Laurel Highlands and Mercer County,” said Laurie Giarratani, Director of Education at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “In general, museums often struggle to serve rural audiences, and natural history content is highly relevant to these communities. The idea for this project came from a series of conversations with organizations doing environmental work outside of Allegheny County. The people we spoke with described the importance of conservation to valued activities like hunting and fishing. They pointed to livelihoods, like farming, as deeply connected to the natural world. Climate-related threats like flooding, erosion, and crop damage are urgent issues that impact these aspects of everyday life.”
In addition to Giarratani, senior CRSP personnel include Nicole Heller, Curator of the Anthropocene at Carnegie Museum of Natural History; Jay Russell, District Manager at the Mercer County Conservation District; Kevin Crowley, Director of the University of Pittsburgh’s UPCLOSE; and Mary Ann Steiner, researcher at UPCLOSE.
“This is an important opportunity to engage about changing climate with our conservation partners, which includes a broad spectrum of the rural population in Northwest PA and Eastern Ohio,” said Jay Russell. “It’s a priority to better educate the public and find solutions to the problems that affect our communities. I can’t wait to see where this project will take all of us.”
“The potential outcomes of this project are enticing,” said Mary Ann Steiner. “Our work will result in a model, that could be shared nationally, of how to support networks of rural organizations doing climate change education that is deeply rooted in local concerns, based on local resources, and responsive to local interests.”
CRSP builds on a networking model that was developed through a prior NSF award for the Climate & Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP). As the museum formed a network of organizations working on climate change education in urban settings, the project began to explore how solutions to climate change extend beyond Pittsburgh to neighboring towns and rural communities that share rivers, geologic history, economic ties to resource extraction, and cycles of development and decline that drive social dynamics across the region.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History has embraced the Anthropocene as one of its major strategic themes, using the concept as the basis for a stream of multidisciplinary research and the subject as a major topic for visitor engagement through exhibitions and programming. The museum appointed Nicole Heller as the world’s first curator of the Anthropocene in 2018.
“Our goal at the museum under the flagship of the Anthropocene is to catalyze scientific and socially-based conversations about urgent issues that affect our communities,” said Nicole Heller. “This NSF grant and the significant funding it provides is a testament to the relevance and timeliness of the museum’s leadership in this area. I am hopeful that through the development of this research-practice network we will achieve mutual learning to inspire changes in the museum and in our communities.”
The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that promotes the progress of science by funding scientific research and education. Funds from federal agencies like the National Science Foundation support initiatives, exhibitions, educational programs, and research at all four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and further Carnegie Museums’ mission of making arts, sciences, and humanities accessible to all.