From St. Olaf to Sweden, student researches the impact of climate activist Greta Thunberg
Last January Cully Hauck ’23 took a research course at St. Olaf examining global responses to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
That course sparked a deeper interest in the climate movement that just months later led Hauck to Stockholm, where he met Thunberg herself at the place in front of the Swedish parliament where her activism began.
“That was the only chance I’m ever going to have to actually see Greta and meet the person who I’ve been researching this whole time,” says Hauck. “It was a great experience to see the work she is doing in action. I think that seeing Greta was the cherry on top of my experience. There is nothing about it I wouldn’t relive again.”
Hauck’s interest in the Swedish youth climate movement took off when he enrolled in a Directed Undergraduate Research course titled “Responses to Thunberg” last Interim. The course, led by Norwegian faculty member Jenna Coughlin, focuses on how climate rhetoric in Sweden is portrayed in the media, particularly the influence that youth play in altering that narrative. Hauck was part of the first group of students to take the course during Interim, and Coughlin will continue the work as part of the college’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program.
“Currently, we’ve decided to focus our analysis on how opinion writers represent Thunberg’s leadership — is she an effective and appropriate leader?” says Coughlin. “We’re still working through our archive, but our preliminary analysis suggests that Thunberg raises tensions in Swedish society because, while Sweden has actively promoted democratic participation among youth, youth still don’t have a formal voice in politics and are perceived as needing protection. Thunberg’s message about the urgency of addressing climate change seems to suggest that children’s role in society may need to change, and authors are divided in their opinions on this.”
After collaborating with the class to publish a database of their findings, Hauck and Coughlin proposed a year of independent study to expand on the subject. Their proposal was accepted and financially supported with a Magnus the Good Collaborative Fellowship, a St. Olaf fund to support faculty-student partnerships in research outside of the classroom.
With the intention of studying the youth climate movement’s effect on climate legislation abroad, Hauck traveled to Stockholm to gain access to articles and original documents not accessible in the United States. With a detailed itinerary to maximize the material gathered, Hauck spent much of his two weeks abroad visiting libraries and universities. Hauck is spending this Interim reading through the more than 3,000 articles he sent to St. Olaf from the Stockholm University Library.
“I’m really looking forward to figuring out the true impact of these last three years on the Swedish climate agenda and all of the national discussions that they’re having about how to treat the climate crisis,” says Hauck, who is majoring in biology and environmental studies at St. Olaf, with a concentration in Nordic studies.
While the research materials Hauck gathered were great, the most memorable part of his time in Sweden may have been meeting Thunberg herself. Hauck attended Thunberg’s “Fridays for Future” youth climate strike on what happened to be the three-year anniversary of her first-ever youth climate strike in August of 2018. Given the event’s significant anniversary status, Thunberg was in attendance — and Hauck was able to introduce himself and his project to her.
“It was a huge honor to be able to talk to her, but it also seemed like the most casual thing in the world because she was there with a group of 15 to 20 teenagers just right in front of parliament, skipping school,” says Hauck, noting that the famed activist ended the conversation with both a wish of good luck in his research and a fist bump. “A lot in the world has changed since she started this work three years ago, but she was in exactly the same spot where it all began. And that was fun to see.”
A lot in the world has changed since she started this work three years ago, but she was in exactly the same spot where it all began. And that was fun to see.Cully Hauck ’23
Hauck has always had a passion for research. This summer he participated in a research experience with the University of Minnesota Department of Forest Resources sponsored by the National Science Foundation, conducting his own experiment to study water potential and photosynthesis in a restored hardwood forest. Later in the fall Hauck learned about climate governance through a virtual internship with the Stockholm International Water Institute, leading an outreach project to include more of the global south in the conversations of climate change. Hauck wrote to over 100 organizations across South America, Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa that focus on water-based solutions for counteracting climate change, inviting them to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference that took place in Glasgow, Scotland.
In addition to his academic interests and research, Hauck is incredibly involved on campus, singing as a Tenor 1 for the renowned St. Olaf Choir, which, as a Northfield native, had been a dream of his for a very long time. Hauck is also a member of the Blue Key Honor Society and up until this past October, he also swam sprint events such as the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard freestyle for the St. Olaf Swim Team, which his dad, Bob Hauck ’87, has coached for the past 33 years. Hauck is also joined on campus by his mom, Karna Hauck ’91, who has instructed an art education course for the last 20 years, and his triplet siblings, Marcus ’24, Tatum ’24, and Signe ’24.
“Despite the challenges, I feel at my best when I am feeding all of my interests because when you do what you love every day, there is a constant sense of reward,” Hauck says. “I need both creative and physical outlets for my energy, and I prefer it that way. Thankfully, St. Olaf allows me to do everything I love at the highest caliber I know. At another school, I might not have the same breadth of opportunity that suits me on all fronts, and I will never take that for granted.”
I feel at my best when I am feeding all of my interests because when you do what you love every day, there is a constant sense of reward. I need both creative and physical outlets for my energy, and I prefer it that way. Thankfully, St. Olaf allows me to do everything I love at the highest caliber I know. At another school, I might not have the same breadth of opportunity that suits me on all fronts, and I will never take that for granted.Cully Hauck ’23
Hauck says he owes his interests in research to the project he worked on while on campus during the summer of 2020, where he was one of just two students conducting research on a campus that was otherwise largely closed due to COVID-19 precautions. Under the direction of Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Kathy Shea, Hauck participated in a Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) project on agricultural sustainability and forest restoration.
“We were the only project on campus not operating virtually because we got to work outside,” Hauck says, noting that it provided him with invaluable experience. “If I hadn’t been included in that, I would have never really gotten a taste of research and realized that it could be something that I would enjoy.”
While at St. Olaf, Hauck earned the Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The award provides $9,500 per year of academic study for two years in addition to a paid summer internship opportunity at the NOAA facility of his choice. This summer Hauck will be traveling to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to research the baleen whale song through use of passive bioacoustics. Hauck says his chances of receiving the scholarship seemed slim, as it has an acceptance rate of around 15% and he has no background in oceanic or atmospheric science. But he decided to try anyway.
“My childhood dream job was to be a marine biologist, and I never really let myself abandon that,” Hauck says. “I sort of thought once I got to St. Olaf I would start to move away from that and find something else interesting to do, but I think at my core I had always been set on marine science. It could not have ended better because now my college is paid for and I have a really good sense of what I want to do for a career — and what more could you ask for?”