Redesigning Our Future Focus Groups

2015 Focus Groups

Focus groups at the summit allow students to immerse themselves in a particular subject area and discover how their talents and passions can contribute to environmental causes.  Students will choose a focus group after being accepted into the program.


What’s ‘Bugging” You: Exploring Mosquito Diversity and Environmental Health

Dr. Carmony L. Hartwig

Summer fun often comes hand-in-hand with the buzzing sound and stinging bite of the mosquito, the loveable blood-sucking creature that steals our nutrients to produce offspring. Beyond their ability to pester us, many mosquitoes can transmit viruses, bacteria and parasites, to a multitude of hosts including birds, animals, invertebrates and amphibians. Investigating and identifying mosquito species diversity in an area can therefore provide important information as to the potential for human pathogen transmission, as well as the overall environmental health of the surrounding ecosystem. Despite the negative connotations associated with “mosquito” these creatures are important ecologically as a source of food and as pollinators. In this focus group we will discuss the basics of mosquito biology and vector potential, as well as learn the techniques associated with mosquito collection and vector surveillance measures. We will discuss how climate change and other current issues may affect the diversity of mosquito populations, and therefore the associated ecological health and pathogen transmission potential of an area. We will spend most our time exploring the ecological preserve, both setting and collecting adult mosquito traps, and getting muddy in summer pools dipping for dancing mosquito larvae. We will also spend a portion of our time in the laboratory, looking at our collections under the microscope and exploring molecular techniques used in mosquito genetic research. By the end of this session you will have a new appreciation for these beautiful yet often underappreciated organisms! 

Read more about Dr. Carmony Hartwig

“Go Ahead: Change Your Mind” this summer.

Dr. Seth Holtzman

We will examine the psychology of change.  How do we get ourselves to change our minds?  How do we get others to change their minds?  We will examine the conditions under which minds shift, and we will examine some of the obstacles to mental change.  We have all experienced times when someone should change her mind but doesn’t, and we have all found ourselves unwilling or (seemingly) unable to change our own mind even though we know we should.  People need to be psychologically prepared to change—or often they will not change, even when faced with sufficient reasons.  Notice how many people are resisting environmental truths such as climate change.  Notice how difficult people find it to start a new habit, such as recycling.  If our culture succeeds at confronting our environmental problems, it will be due to helping people change their minds.

Read more about Dr. Seth Holtzman.


Green Inc: Blogging for a Better Tomorrow

Cyndi Allison Wittum

Participants will learn how to set up and populate a basic blog with information, photos and video supporting a greener world. They will write and compile data and images from the summit and package that material to share with an online audience. This hands-on, collaborative project will be of special interest to students who want to learn more about environmental writing, journalism, new media, social media and multi-media. While not required, it would be helpful if participants brought equipment like laptop computers, cell phones, digital cameras and video cams to use in the project.

Read more about Cyndi Wittum


Freedom, Fear, and Fouled Resources

Dr. Norris Feeney

Have you ever wondered what the world is doing about current environmental challenges? Almost all environmental issues impact more than one country in the world. As these problems are transnational (and often global), effectively addressing environmental concerns requires global solutions. In this focus group, we will simulate multinational negotiation of international environmental policy. As you each play the role of a different sovereign country, you will become aware of the many barriers to strong coordinated action on environmental issues in the international arena. Following the simulation, we will discuss two crucial questions: (1) what can be done, and (2) what should be done to allow us to do more to solve the common challenges we face as a global society. 

Read more about Dr. Norris Feeney


Invasive Alien Plants and Animals: Friend or Foe to the Environment?

Dr. Jay F. Bolin

Alien invasive species are considered one of the top threats to biodiversity on the planet. First this focus group intends to provide an introduction to the value of organismal biodiversity, from ecosystem services to the intrinsic value provided by diverse communities of plants and animals. Then we will discuss and learn (in the field) about how invasive organisms arrive in new habitats and the negative impacts invasive species may have on native biodiversity. However the positive impacts in terms of ecosystem services (e.g. Asiatic clams filtering the water column, Kudzu serving as forage for endangered butterflies) of invasive species will also be underscored because in some environments, such as urban parks, invasive species are ubiquitous and are here to stay. We will use Kudzu (and/or Chinese Wisteria) and Asiatic Clams in the Catawba Ecological Preserve as model organisms, and more than half of the session will be spent in the preserve, quantifying the magnitude of the invasions using field sampling techniques and work to identify potential solutions or recommendations to control or use invasive species productively (as in eating Kudzu!).

Read more about Dr. Jay Bolin.


A Backbone for Conservation

Dr. Joe Poston

This focus group is full.

Vertebrates,animals with backbones, come in all shapes and sizes. And they include animals that are active at all times of day and all times of year. This variety of behavior makes it challenging to study vertebrates in the wild. In addition, many vertebrates are endangered because of human actions. Consequently, it is even more important to study wild vertebrate populations to help us make decisions about how to improve their chances of surviving. In this module, you will learn some of the techniques that scientists use to study populations of vertebrates in the wild. We will study animals that are active during the day and animals that are active at night. If you have a sense of adventure, and a willingness to get dirty, then you have a backbone for conservation.

Read more about Dr. Joe Poston.