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.

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.

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.

Photography and the Environment

Seth Holtzman

This focus group will explore the role of still photography in the environmental movement; we are not going to include the role of video.  We will consider how photographs past and present move people to understand, to relate to, to care about, and to act on behalf of the environment.   Our resources will include readings, photos, film, probably one or more speakers, as well as photos that we create during the Summit.  You will need a relatively decent digital camera, at least a digital compact with manual exposure capability and macro setting--better yet, a bridge camera or a DSLR.   You must already know how to use your camera; this is not a class that teaches you the fundamentals of your equipment.  Catawba College provides computer facilities that include Adobe Photoshop 6.0 for image editing.

Read more about Seth Holtzman.


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

Freedom, Fear, and Fouled Resources

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 Norris Feeney


The Effect of Species Loss on Mosquito Vector Ecology and Global Health

Carmony L. Hartwig

Summer fun often comes hand-in-hand with the buzzing sound and stinging bite of the mosquito, that loveable blood-sucking creature, that despite being annoying, can also be detrimental to our health due to the infectious agents they carry. Have you ever thought about how the changing climate may make our current problem worse? Have you ever wondered about how competition between those pesky mosquitos for resources in a changing environment may lead to an increase or decrease in the incidence of disease in humans? The current resurgence of West Nile Virus (WNV) and other mosquito transmitted diseases in the United States has highlighted the need for increased surveillance measures and more stringent control methods of mosquito populations. The loss of mosquito species due to global climate change presents a problem to global health, as biodiversity loss is predicted to increase mosquito populations that also are efficient vectors of disease. During the focus group sessions we will discuss the global health crisis due to the rise of disease vectors in a changing climate, with a specific emphasis on mosquito-related diseases. We will further discuss the current vector species in North Carolina, and the dynamic shift in species distribution and increased incidence of infection (like WNV). 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 laboratory techniques used to identify virus in mosquito samples.


Read more about Carmony Hartwig