Matthew Pegorari Fostering Climate Literacy

Through her experiences as a former high school teacher, and now biology professor at Westfield State University, Jennifer Hanselman, Ph.D., is concerned about misconceptions students have regarding global climate change and environmental problems associated with those changes.

To address those concerns, Hanselman partnered with three educators from other universities to develop a teaching module in which the goal is to foster climate literacy by taking a look at different types of literature and then connecting it back to science.

“We need to start there and use our involvement to help break down these misconceptions so when
they come to us for research and other things at Westfield State they already have that foundation,” Hanselman said. “The cool part is I am enhancing their climate literacy and then they’re going to pass it on to their own classroom.”

A former student of Hanselman’s, Matthew Pegorari, who earned a biology degree in 2009 at Westfield State, is now a teacher at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton. He took Hanselman’s climate literacy course online and is now teaching a modified version of the module to his freshman biology students.

His goal was for students to realize that climate change is a major topic in science today, and to grasp that if the climate change is a mere few degrees, there could be a significant impact on the ecosystem.

“I love the feeling that I am teaching something that I actually learned. The professor’s job is to teach you the information so you can then teach someone else,” said Pegorari, 28. “I told my students that I did this as a grad student and it made them feel really good because they felt like they were doing college work.”

Pegorari noted that Westfield State is “on top of its game” in offering undergraduate and graduate students opportunities for research in the sciences. During his undergraduate studies, he traveled to St. Croix as part of a research project to capture and study mongoose.

Hanselman believes students at Westfield State benefit from the value placed on inquiry-based instruction.

“Whether it’s climate, ecological or cell molecular topics, our students have the opportunity to be in a small class setting, in one-on-one independent studies or in areas that will truly enhance their education where at a big school you don’t always get that chance,” she said.

Visit the Biology Department at Westfield State University

Jennifer A. Hanselman, Ph.D.

Jennifer A. Hanselman, Ph.D., enjoys talking to her Westfield State University students about paleoecology, which studies how Earth’s past climates have affected distribution of plants over time.

Her interest stems back many years, including through her Florida Institute of Technology dissertation that researched a 370,000 year record of vegetation and fire history around Lake Titicaca on the border of Bolivia and Peru.

These days, Hanselman teaches tropical ecology and biostatistics at
Westfield State and serves as the academic advisor for biology education students.

As a former high school teacher, Hanselman still stays connected with students in K–12 conducting outreach on ecological topics, including climate change. She also offers teacher workshops at Westfield State’s Center for Teacher Education and Research to address some science misconceptions.

Matthew Pegorari ’09

When Matthew Pegorari realized he wanted to become a teacher, his natural choice for that education was at Westfield State University.

“Westfield is one of best teaching schools in the country. It was an easy decision to make,” he said.

Before becoming a science teacher at Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton four years ago, Pegorari earned a biology degree at Westfield State in 2009. He enjoyed the intimate settings of his classes.

“My biology and sciences classes were not big so it gave me a lot of opportunity for one-on-one with my professors,” he said. “That actually led me to do a lot of outside research for the college.”

Pegorari’s students at Wahconah are benefiting from his experiences at Westfield State. “I always tell my students to take advantage of the opportunities no matter where you go to school. Professors are real people. They do no act above you,” he said.

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