Redesigning Our Future Focus Groups

2014 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.

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.

The Price of Everything?

Dr. Eric Hake, Associate Professor of Economics

Who gets to use the precious resources of the earth, how much do they get to use, and what do they have to give up to get those resources? Economists usually argue that the prices of these resources, how much does it cost to get it, is a useful rationing device.  The price of a resource tells us how valuable it is, how much demand there is for it, and how much supply exists.  Economists' think prices are so useful that we even try to figure out how to put prices on things that can't be bought and sold, like the price of a clean beach, or a sunset, or fresh air.  In this class we will use some hands on techniques that economists at the Environmental Protection Agency use to estimate the prices of resources.  Perhaps, most importantly, we'll also discuss what happens when the prices that we see in the market place, and the prices that are estimated by economists, turn out to be wrong!

Read more about Dr. Eric Hake.

Stories in Support of Your Cause

Dr. Linda Kesler, Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts

Humans have long used stories as a means of recalling family and group histories, exploring contemporary ways of living, and examining important community issues.  Using story circle process techniques developed and codified by theatre artists and community organizers, students will develop and share short original theatre/performance art pieces reflecting and illustrating their views and experiences related to environmental issues.

Read more about Dr. Linda Kesler.

“Go Ahead:  Change Your Mind” this summer.

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 Seth Holtzman.

Sacred Spaces: Global Heritage and Conservation

Charlie McAllister, Professor of History

An interactive study of the selected sacred spaces (mountains, stones, waters, trees, and gardens) across the world, focusing on their spiritual heritages and conservation challenges in the 21st century.  The students will use the Web to research and produce PowerPoint slide presentations about key spaces to share with their fellow students.  For the final group project, the students will create small Japanese gardens that combine elements of their shared studies.

Read more about Charlie McAllister.

A Backbone for Conservation

Joe Poston

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 Joe Poston.

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