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Institute awarded $2.3 million from National Science Foundation to implement and study program empowering Latino and Indigenous youth to seek solutions to climate impacts

November 6, 2022 arms holding globe

UNC researchers, collaborators in NC and WA receive funding to engage diverse youth in exploring climate impacts and solutions in their communities.

The Center for Public Engagement with Science in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment (UNC IE) was awarded $2.3 million by the National Science Foundation for a new program focused on cultivating resilience to climate impacts, such as flooding and extreme heat by educating and equipping young scientists.

“Climate change is a major threat facing communities around the world and helping youth build their capacity to respond and feel supported in working towards solutions is critical,” says Kathleen Gray, lead principal investigator of the project. Gray leads the Center for Public Engagement with Science and is a research associate professor in UNC IE.

The five-year program, Youth Engaging in the Science of Resilience: Sensing the Environment and Envisioning Solutions (YES Resilience: SEE Solutions), will be implemented in informal learning settings, such as museums and community centers. Working with Latino and Indigenous youth, the program team will guide their exploration of local climate issues and will facilitate dialogue about potential solutions as well as youth-led resilience projects. Researchers will collect data to understand how programming influences participants’ knowledge, skills and interest in community action.

In the program, participants will look at climate data and maps for their region to understand how climate is impacting their communities. They also will have the opportunity to collect data in their community using personal devices that track weather and air quality trends. They will assess their community’s vulnerability to extreme weather and think about measures they can take to protect themselves and their families from climate impacts. Finally, the youth will have the chance to act in their communities by spearheading resilience-focused action projects.

“YES Resilience: SEE Solutions is another great example of the tremendous work that Kathleen Gray and the Center for Public Engagement with Science do to advance climate education,” says Mike Piehler, director of the UNC Institute for the Environment and chief sustainability officer at Carolina. “This national collaboration is a model to engage youth around meeting climate change challenges in informal education settings.”

This program builds on a recently completed pilot study, Youth Engaging in the Science of Resilience, led by Gray and Dana Haine, K-12 science education manager at UNC IE, and is conducted in partnership with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. The new award advances collaboration by adding partners from NC State University’s Juntos 4-H Program, the University of Washington’s Interdisciplinary Center for Exposures, Diseases, Genomics and Environment (UW-EDGE), and their community partner, Duwamish River Community Coalition (DRCC).

“We are committed to providing young people access to educational opportunities that enhance their knowledge and expand their vision of their role in improving our communities,” says Diana Urieta, senior director of the Juntos 4-H Program and Extension Specialist. “This partnership will bring our students into a field of study that needs their perspectives and experience.”

The curriculum developed during the pilot study will serve as a foundation for the new program. It was designed for use in science centers and museums to expose youth to STEM content and careers and to the topic of resilience through the lens of environmental health. The program will create new opportunities for place-based science learning while demonstrating how research universities can partner with community organizations to facilitate youth learning about resilience to climate impacts.

The program will engage informal educators in NC and WA and at least 250 Latino and Indigenous youth, with the intention of supporting the youth in sharing what they learn with their families and communities through local action projects.

Over five years, the team will focus on three objectives: building the capacity of community organizations to implement resilience-focused programming, developing youth participants’ environmental health literacy, and examining how university and community partnerships facilitate informal STEM learning among diverse youth.

“With climate resilience, we talk about bouncing forward, not just bouncing back,” Gray says. “We acknowledge that we are in a challenging situation and ending up somewhere better will require working with others. Our focus on diverse youth is key because they haven’t always been given the opportunity to participate in STEM spaces—but they have a lot to offer.”

“Ultimately, we want youth to feel like they are part of the solution,” says Sarah Yelton, co-principal investigator and citizen science program manager in the Center for Public Engagement with Science. “By empowering them with the knowledge and skills to investigate environmental problems of personal importance and communicate about what they find, they will be better prepared to help their home communities take action for resilience.

YES Resilience: SEE Solutions is funded by a grant (# DRL-2215420) from the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program. NSF AISL funds research and practice, with continued focus on investigating a range of informal STEM learning experiences and environments that make lifelong learning a reality.


Media contacts:

Emily Williams, Director of Communications, UNC Institute for the Environment, (919) 962-0965,

Nicole Errett, Director, Community Engagement Core, University of Washington Center for Exposures, Diseases, Genomic and Environment, (516) 637-2514,

Paulina Lopez, Executive Director, Duwamish River Community Coalition, (206) 251-2038,