Courtesy of Jonathan Fanning
The Museum of Science, Boston is adapting to the pandemic while encouraging college students to combat climate change by holding its third annual “Go Carbon Neutral! A Transportation Challenge” online for their 2021 competition season.
In teams of one to four, students from New England, North Carolina, and the San Francisco Bay area can use their creativity with the help of industry professionals, and pitch their ideas on how to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 for a grand prize of $3,000.
The competition, traditionally held in-person, will be accepting submissions and hosting their awards ceremony virtually.
Marketing specialist Ryan Thomas said he and the museum believe student participation is crucial to solving the climate crisis.
“The bulk of solving this issue is going to fall on this generation really,” Thomas said. “Trying to get people to think about it creatively now, and hopefully inspire them to really pursue career paths that help resolve the issue is key.”
Education associate Jonathan Fanning added that new ideas from the next generations are incredibly important for climate-friendly technological innovation.
“In order to solve a challenge as broad and all encompassing as climate change, it’s going to require us to inspire a next generation of STEM professionals that include diverse voices that are fresh voices to develop new technologies to help solve the problem,” Fanning said.
Both Fanning and Thomas discussed how they wanted to streamline the submission process in a virtual format by making mentorship accessible and easy for students to get involved.
“It’s great, it’s fun, we try to make the process as simple as possible,” Fanning said. “The museum’s goal with this challenge is to help students feel more confident in these spaces.”
In addition to helping students build confidence in a STEM atmosphere, Fanning said he hopes that the resources they provide can continue to help contestants in the future.
“As nice as it is for us to hand out prizes and a $3,000 Grand Prize, ultimately, what I personally and what the museum is hoping will happen with [the competition] is that we’re establishing long lasting professional connections for these students,” Fanning said. “Anything that we can do to aid them in finding a voice in that space and feeling like they belong is what we’re here for. It’s what the museum is here for.”
The event normally takes place during the spring, and as Fanning recalls, having to adjust the competition to be accessible in a COVID-19 world was difficult, but it was important to him to still hold the event.
“Part of what often sets climate change mitigation policies aside is the more urgent needs in the present,” Fanning said. “We felt very strongly that this is the moment when we’re supposed to be like, ‘Alright, we can persevere through this, we can find ways to continue to do good work like this in these moments.’”
The event was still successful last year, as students were “enthusiastic” to continue developing their green ideas. Although the pandemic did provide some challenges for the museum, opportunities have also arisen as a result, allowing it to spread the competition to different regions of the country, which Fanning said he was excited about.
“What I love is the geographic distribution,” Fanning said. “Now, we’re spread out over a large section of the US and can get perspectives from coast to coast.”
Thomas said no matter what field students plan on entering after college, there is no limit to what jobs can help create a more climate-friendly society.
“Even if it’s something that you think is unrelated, everything can tie back to it,” Thomas said. “Whatever industry, there’s some way in which it could be cleaner and greener, to help the planet.”
Both Thomas and Fanning encourage all students to register as soon as possible, preferably before March 5, and to reach out if any questions need to be answered. The deadline to register and submit a proposal is March 5.