How geosciences get young people excited about sustainability

A majority of young people between the ages of 14 and 30 value sustainability. This affects both their everyday lives and their future career choices. However, only five percent are actively involved, for example in voluntary projects. One reason for this can be a lack of role models and local hands-on activities. According to the current study youth and sustainability (2022) of the Bertelsmann Foundation, these provide a particularly strong motivation to get involved. This is exactly where they set Projects by zdi.NRW to: Role models in science and business are given the space to get in direct contact with young people. Events, for example as part of the Career and study orientation, offer opportunities to get actively involved locally.

We would like to present two zdi projects from the field of geosciences. Both show how geosciences can get young people interested in topics such as climate research, IT and environmental protection.

The project week "smart region" of the zdi center Coesfeld

A student from the Anne Frank Comprehensive School presents the herb rally project.
A student from the Anne Frank Comprehensive School presents the herb rally project. © zdi.NRW 2022

During the "smart region" project week, an entire village was made aware of the locally relevant environmental issues with a pop-up sustainability center. For this, grade twelve covered the Anne Frank Comprehensive School in Havixbeck-Billerbeck in various projects, where environmental protection can be actively pursued in their place. The students were supported by Institute for Geoinformatics the WWU Münster and the zdi center district of Coesfeld. The results are since the Opening of the pop-up center presented in August 2022 until the end of the year in the integration meeting and second hand shop in Billerbeck.

Geographic information systems (GIS) play a decisive role in the development of the results. They belong to the tools of the geosciences and are highly technical nowadays. With the combination of computer science and geography, the subject of geoinformatics can reach two target groups at the same time: “There are students who already have an interest in IT and maybe even have programming experience and who we are very close to environmental and sustainability topics with these projects can bring. It's the same the other way around: There are students in the project week who may be active in Fridays-for-Future or other campaigns in the environmental context, but have hardly any IT experience. And we then bring them together with the technologies that may later support them in their career choice," says Dr. Thomas Bartoschek, who as managing director of openSenseLab gGmbH supports the project with its expertise and geographic information systems.


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What are geographic information systems (GIS)?

Geographic information systems record, process and analyze various spatial data. The best-known online GIS, which are also known to non-geoscientists, include, for example, Google Maps or the OpenStreetMap.

GIS, which are often used in student projects, are, for example, sensors for analyzing indoor air quality or soil conditions or thermal imaging cameras.

The zdi student laboratory GeoIT in Wuppertal

GIS also come in zdi students: indoor laboratory GeoIT of the University of Wuppertal. In the courses, for example, students can discover urban heat island effects using thermal cameras or explore possible uses of digital technology in agriculture. The course on the subject of renewable energies imparts extensive basic knowledge on the subject of energy transition and resource consumption. “We want to make climate protection something that can be experienced in practice. To do this, we use GIS, with which the students can independently work out scientific basics and analyze the physical-geographical conditions in their immediate vicinity," says Anna Jostmeier, head of the zdi student laboratory.

A student programs a microcontroller.
A student programs a microcontroller. © University of Wuppertal
A student examines the urban climate with a drone.
A student examines the urban climate with a drone. © University of Wuppertal
A student examines the urban climate with a thermal imaging camera and drone.
A student examines the urban climate with a thermal imaging camera and drone. © University of Wuppertal

She also knows what the young people are particularly enthusiastic about about the course content: “Of course, the upper school students in particular enjoy being able to get a taste of university life. The most important thing, however, is the regional reference that our course content has. The students in the "Urban Heat Island" course are currently planning the roof greening for the University of Wuppertal. However, we would like to expand the course program in such a way that a green roof can soon be planned for our own school. This strengthens the direct connection even more and, in the best case, increases commitment.”

The zdi student laboratory has been in existence since 2019 and will run until 2022 as part of the funding program ERDF zdi financially supported. The GeoIT took third place in the 2021 ERDF.Stars, an award for special commitment to driving a digital and green transformation.


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Image film of the GeoIT zdi student laboratory. © University of Wuppertal

Practical tip: Establish local references

A conclusion that both projects were able to draw: local offers are popular! The projects show where there is already a need for improvement on site and provide direct starting points for participation. The local reference raises the topic of environmental protection from the global level into a tangible, visible framework and thus lowers the hurdles for active commitment.

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