Environmental Science Will Bohrnsen podcast

“12 stories, 12 students. These are our stories. We’re the next generation of dreamers. Of decision makers. It’s our future. It’s time to listen.”  —from the “Our Inheritance” podcast trailer

Will Bohrnsen’s students have come to expect that when they sign up for his Upper School electives they’ll be learning more than science. Bohrnsen is a strong believer in interdisciplinary collaboration and regularly teams up with his fellow faculty members to collaborate on projects that marry science with other subjects, such as printmaking, photography, social studies and service.

This fall, with the added challenge of teaching and learning remotely at times, Bohrnsen asked his Environmental Science students to create a podcast exploring different solutions for drawing down the amount of carbon in our atmosphere to a level that is sustainable to all life on earth. It became a learning experience for teacher and students alike, as Bohrnsen had never made a podcast before.

He enlisted the help of PK-12 Library and Media Chair Lizz Buchanan, who met regularly with the class to support students’ research and teach the technical aspects of developing a podcast. Director of Service Learning Lisa Sackreiter connected students with experts they could interview to learn more about their chosen topic. By the end of the semester, each student contributed a 7- to 12-minute, peer-reviewed podcast featuring interviews with at least three experts.

“I really encouraged them to constantly be revising and bettering their work” Bohrnsen says. “I didn’t get so hung up on letter grades and percentages on this project. I just wanted them to feel really proud of the work they put together and have it be that professional kind of quality. And that’s what they ended up with.”

Student Perspectives

Solveig Bingham ‘21 has long been interested in the topic of water; her eighth grade Influential project focused on water pollution and conservation. So for her episode of “Our Inheritance” Bingham chose to cover wetland restoration.

“Wetlands hold a lot of value when you're thinking about the climate,” Bingham says, “because they are able to store five times the amount of carbon than trees and forests can, which I was very surprised by because where does it go? Does it go in the water? Does it go in animals?” Bingham posed these and more questions to Rebekah Berkov, a field education specialist with the Presidio Trust in San Francisco. “I was just astonished at how much information she had to tell me,” says Bingham, who also interviewed Presidio groundskeeper Moses Alvarez and Associate Director of Planning & Capital Projects Genny Bantle.

Emily Carlisle ‘21 was drawn to the topic of food waste because of its significance in our day-to-day lives. “Everyone has to eat,” she says, “and therefore, everyone has the power to mitigate their impact on food waste. I was blown away by just how much food we waste and how detrimental it is to our environment: roughly 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted globally each year (about 40% of food in the U.S.), making food waste the third-largest contributor to climate change.” 

Carlisle says that after completing her “Our Inheritance” episode, she has a whole new perspective on food. “The process of our food being harvested, transported, handled and distributed takes immense amounts of resources and energy,” Carlisle says. “For 40% percent of it to go immediately to waste is heartbreaking.” 

Like Bingham and Carlisle, Matt Carlson ‘21 acquired a tremendous amount of information about his topic, tropical forest restoration. “That was probably my biggest challenge, figuring out what information to leave in my podcast and what to keep out,” he says. “I ended up focusing just on how [tropical forests] work as a carbon sink, what that means and the benefits and the downsides.”

Carlson says that after listening to the 12-episode series what struck him is how many different ways there are to work on climate change. “Just realizing the amount of solutions are in little things you can do that have a big impact, if many people do them. I'd say that was the most valuable thing for me.”

“Our Inheritance” is available on the following platforms: