The Art of Clean Air
Poster Contest Motivates Teens
With the blue skies of a Utah summer overhead and no inversion in sight, concerns about air quality also tend to dissipate. But two Utah State University professors, Roslynn Brain McCann and Edwin Stafford, work year-round to keep the air quality conversation going.
Driven by their shared passion about environmental protection, McCann and Stafford spend dozens of hours in high school classrooms each year, teaching students about strategic marketing, environmental awareness, visual arts and community activism as part of the Utah High School Clean Air Poster Contest, which the pair founded four years ago. Winners earn cash prizes donated by local companies.
“When I go in and talk about the science of air quality, it’s often the first time students have heard that Utah has some of the worst air quality in the nation,” Stafford says. “They don’t know that during winter inversions a layer of warm air traps cold air and particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or PM2.5, in the valleys. Or that PM2.5 comes from vehicles, industry and home emissions and ammonia from animal agriculture. They don’t know they can improve air quality by running several errands in one car trip, carpooling or not idling.”
For McCann, who spent most of her adult life engaged in land conservation, local food systems and other environmental issues in Canada and Florida, the lack of awareness can be alarming. “Students are not making the association that when their throats hurt or they’re coughing it might be because of high air pollution levels,” she says. “Seeing them make that connection is incredible. The issue suddenly goes from invisible to visible in their minds.”
Learning = Creativity
The creativity that results from the students’ new awareness never ceases to amaze the educators. Stafford says he has a hard time identifying his favorite poster produced in the contest; there are so many he loves. There’s the one with the beautiful artwork and the one with the funny catchphrase or the one that played off a popular book and movie series.
The hope is that learning about air quality and creating the posters will change the teens’ own behavior as well as that of their peers. Research seems to indicate this. According to an educational strategy called the protégé effect, youth learn more effectively from their peers.
The most surprising aspect of the poster contest is that teens are also having an impact on their parents. “In our post-contest surveys, we started seeing what The Wall Street Journal coined the ‘inconvenient youth’ factor,” McCann says. “Students say they’re pestering their parents to change their behavior about what they’ve learned about air quality conservation. Parents say they’re changing their driving behaviors based on nudges from their students. We never told them to do that; it’s just happening.”
Stafford, who is a marketing professor in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business in Logan, and McCann, who works as a sustainable communities extension specialist in Moab, hope to see the contest continue to expand throughout Utah. “Like one of our past winning posters said, ‘Clean air isn’t a dream. Reach for it,’” Stafford says. “We plan to keep reaching until it’s a reality.”
2018 Utah High School Clean Air Poster Contest Winners
More than 500 students in Grand and Cache counties competed for school- and state-level prizes in the 2018 High School Clean Air Poster Contest. Top winners’ posters are displayed in school and business windows around the state.
- Jaidyn Thomas, Grand County High School, Healthy Habitat Award ($200)
- HallieKate Briggs, Sky View High School, Youngblood Real Estate Award ($200)
- Aliyah Eddy, Grand County High School, Cache Clean Air Consortium Award ($200)
- Kylece Bartosh, Grand County High School, Malouf Award ($100)
- Monica Arellano, Ridgeline High School, Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art Award ($100)
- Ellie Mortensen, Ridgeline High School, Cache Chamber of Commerce Award ($100)
- Orrin White, Sky View High School, Campbell Scientific Award ($100)
- Ridge Murdock, Grand County High School, Conservice Award ($100)
- Makinna Elwood, Green Canyon High School, USU Credit Union Award ($100)