Winter Session Spotlight: Dr. Tom Silva on "Green World, Blue Planet"

by Shelley Preston,
SCE News, November 8, 2023

Through Cornell’s Precollege Studies Programs, offered by the School of Continuing Education (SCE), high school students have an opportunity to study with top-notch Cornell faculty and take credit courses alongside current Cornell undergrads.

This Winter Session, which runs Jan. 2-19, high school students can choose from dozens of online courses ranging from the arts, sciences, business and more.

One of Precollege’s most popular Winter Session courses is Green World, Blue Planet (PLBIO 2400) taught by Dr. Tom Silva, winner of a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for teaching. A senior lecturer at the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Dr. Silva has taught plant biology courses such as “Green World” since 1997.

This three-credit, online course focuses on understanding why scientific endeavors such as the study of climate change and genetic engineering may be controversial and how science communication relates to decision making and public policy.

Dr. Silva said the ideal student for Green World, Blue Planet, “is somebody who wants to understand the science behind the social issues of the topics we cover: Genetic engineering, climate change and biodiversity preservation. Having an open mind to change your opinions based on the facts helps as well. Students don’t need to be on a STEM track, but they need to be willing to learn enough science to understand the implications of these topics.”

Phoebe Warshauer, who took “Green World, Blue Planet” as Cornell sophomore alongside Precollege students, said, “I loved learning more about the environment and the world around me. I felt I was able to better understand our global challenges as well as current political issues involving science.”

SCE recently asked Dr. Silva what Precollege students can expect from taking his course.

What’s it like to teach an online course where there are motivated high school students in class?

Having high school students in the class has always been a great experience. They are inquisitive, ask good questions and want to learn. Performance-wise, they generally do as well as the regular college students, sometimes better. They will sometimes ask questions about the college experience as well, which is always good to talk about so they have an idea what college will be like when they move on to college study.

What do you enjoy about teaching this course?

It’s fun to hear students’ views on various topics—how they approach them and how their perceptions may change as they learn the material. I always get students from different majors and backgrounds in the course, and hearing how they perceive the topics from their perspectives has really helped me present the material in a way students can understand and find interesting. In a way I learn from them as they learn from me.

What do you hope your students come away with by the end of your “Green World, Blue Planet” course?

My hope is they walk away with a better understanding of the science behind these topics and form opinions based on fact and actual evidence. Hopefully they will approach other topics in this manner as well.

What should high school students know about taking a three-credit course in just three weeks?

It goes by fast! Deadlines come quickly, make sure you plan out your time to work on the course carefully, and make sure you will have time to meet deadlines before you sign up.

To learn more about Precollege winter and summer options, visit the website. The application deadline for Winter Session is December 4.

To learn more about Winter Session for undergraduates, visiting students and any interested adult, visit the SCE website.