When Sylvia Dee, an assistant professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Rice University, is not researching and teaching about how climate change affects extreme rainfall across the United States, she is educating the public — particularly young women — about the impacts of climate change in the developing world.
For her extraordinary efforts of volunteering with the Girl Scouts of America, she was bestowed the 2021 Leadership Award at the Global Leadership Conference of the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains.
Dee regularly gives speeches and leads workshops about the Earth’s changing climate. She led an Earth Day @ Rice with the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council (GSSJC), which was attended by 60 girls from 4th through 6th grade and their parents. The girls used a map and compass to navigate between points. They made crafts depicting the geologic time scale and completed a wildlife scavenger hunt to find new birds, bugs and plants.
They also toured lab facilities and played “energy balance tag,” in which players representing greenhouse gases trap and accumulate other players representing infrared radiation, making it steadily harder for infrared radiation to escape as greenhouse gas players accumulate. They also learned about Earth’s reflectivity, using laboratory thermometers and a colorful world map.
Dee has worked with leaders of GSSJC to help girls obtain badges such as, Think Like a Programmer, Water and Eco Advocate, and lead a Think Like a Citizen Scientist program at Rock Stars, a geoscience- based weekend camp offered by GSSJC, the only such program in Texas. She taught the girls about tectonic plates and earthquakes, complete with their very own opportunity to measure shaking on iPad seismometers.
Since 2017, Dee has worked with the Girl Scouts of Southeastern New England Global Leadership Conference, which is attended by 250 scouts and 150 troop leaders and offers workshops focused on leadership in STEM and global and social justice issues. She has developed workshops on Climate Change and Society that engage the participants in strategy development through a mock United Nations energy, food and climate security exercise. Girls work in teams to develop mitigation plans alleviating climate change.
Her favorite part of her K–12 outreach is encouraging hope despite the climate crisis. “I think the most rewarding thing about working with young people is that it’s easy to lose people when you just talk about the negative impacts,” she says. “It’s much easier to carry them through when you can say, ‘You can help to solve this, your innovation and creativity will be critical to finding solutions, and there are so many different ways you can work on this problem.’”
— Jan F. West
Multicultural Community Relations