Redesigning Our Future Focus Groups

2018 Focus Groups Coming Soon

2017 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.

“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.


Water Wars?

Dr. Norris Feeney

War is not often the first thing that comes to mind when studying environmental issues, but societies have turned to violence in the competition for this resource throughout history. In the past century, a combination of increased pollution and population pressure has led to water insecurity in many more regions of the world. War over water is only part of the connection between humans’ most vital resource and human societies’ most brutal form of interaction. Throughout history, water has often been central in warfare as a barrier to overcome, a strategic target in defeating the enemy, and a delivery system for armies, material, and disease (sometimes intentionally). In the “War on Terror” era, water systems have once again been viewed as a fundamental component of national security now threatened by potential biological terror attacks and cyber warfare. In our sessions, we will explore the historical role of water resources in warfare to inform our understanding of the current threats to national security and international peace posed by water security issues. We will also examine recent examples of international cooperation to reduce the likelihood that water will lead peoples to war in the near future.

Read more about Dr. Norris Feeney


A Backbone for Conservation

Dr. 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 Dr. Joe Poston.



Learning to Pay Attention:  Yoga, Mindfulness, and Our Environment

Dr. Elizabeth Homan

In this session we will explore ourselves as microcosms of the world around us and examine how practicing mindfulness can help us become better stewards of the environment. With a focus on the first three limbs of yoga practice—Yama, Niyama, and Asana—this session will explore how yogic principals interface with the ideals of environmentalism. Dress or bring clothes to move in. Yoga mats will be provided.


Read more about Dr. Elizabeth Homan.


Death, Skulls and (Re)cycling: Investigating Humans in Their Nature.

Dr. Erin Wood

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

- Jane Goodall

(that woman who lived with gorillas for a long time)

I would add that humans can’t go through a day without being impacted by the world around us – it goes both ways. If nature is an endless series of endless cycles, our lives and history mirror those cycles. We are born, we live, we die. Societies are born, they live, and they too die. In this course we will look specifically at one of the most common human experiences: dying. While it may sound depressing and macabre, the discussion of death and dying can actually be quite entertaining, and we will make it so in this course! We will investigate how the environment’s cycles and our own are inseparable, even though in our current age of technology some might believe otherwise. We will explore how it is that across centuries and geographies different human cultures have evolved particular characteristics and traits because of the unique natural environments in which they live(d). Death is reflected in all of nature and ultimately in each of us. How do we respond death if we come from a community that is entrenched and devoted to nature, as compared to a community that is removed and detached? How have the various ways cultures interact with their natural environments affected our own interpretations of the role of the dying process in the living process? Would your perceptions about death be different if your ancestors’ relationships with the natural world were different? Would we be more or less afraid, or content, or intrigued if our relationship with nature changed? These are the sorts of questions we’ll ask one another and ourselves during this course. Through our answers we’ll anticipate our future relationship with both our environment and death as a part of the cycle of life.


Read more about Dr. Erin Wood.


TRACE: Wildlife Forensics

Lisa Wear

Sea turtles and red wolves cannot call 911.  Wildlife forensics has changed that by providing a growing voice in protecting wildlife and solving wildlife crimes. Wildlife forensics, like human forensics, uses laboratory and field analysis to answer investigative questions.

This focus group will engage in the use of current approaches and techniques in obtaining evidence and uncovering identifying characteristics for species identification and origination. Various aspects of wildlife forensics that will be applied to authentic wildlife specimens will include experiences in:

  • Collection and identification of physical evidence at the scene
  • Morphological identification of wildlife species
  • Pathology of wildlife species
  • Knowledge of major U.S regulations, laws, and treaties to protect wildlife
  • Team presentations with supporting expert testimony


Read more about Lisa Wear.