National Environmental Summit Taps Talent to Make a Difference

High school students from across the country converged on the Catawba College campus in July to explore how they could use their interests and talents to make a difference in the world.

They were part of the second National Environmental Summit for High School Students, a partnership of the Center for the Environment and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) of Colorado. With the guidance of Catawba professors, Center staff and RMI scientists and engineers, these students discovered how their interest in diverse areas – everything from writing to chemistry, from history to biology, from philosophy to theater – could be used to advance environmental causes.

One of many subjects the students studied was  biomimicry. The term – from “bios,” meaning “life,” and “mimesis” meaning “to imitate” – is a “revolutionary new science that studies nature’s best ideas,” says Dr. Jay Bolin, assistant professor of biology at Catawba and the leader of the biomimicry experience. Then it encourages the imitation of nature’s designs and processes to help solve human problems.

“Biomimicry holds a lot of unique solutions that can be models for how we design, construct and manufacture products while minimizing the environmental impacts of producing or using those products,” says Dr. John Wear, the Center’s executive director. For example, cockleburs – plants that produce fruits which have a fierce ability to attach themselves to other objects – served as the original inspiration for Velcro.

Hiking through the Fred  Stanback Jr. Ecological Preserve, students examined the fibers in a spider web, which can be stronger than steel.  “When man produces similar fibers, it generally requires us to use high temperatures and high pressures,” says Wear. “And the production may result in undesirable waste products.” The spider, on the other hand, can produce its fiber without increased temperature or pressure and without creating pollutants.

Participant Zahra Khan, a high school senior from China Grove, was fascinated by the biomimicry examples. “The answers are all around us,” says Khan. “We just have to look for them.”



Catawba President Brien Lewis

Catawba is one of the national leaders on environmental issues – as was recognized by being named by The Princeton Review as one of the top 21 “Green” colleges in the United States.  We should be offering experiences like the National Environmental Summit because of our unique facilities and the enthusiastic commitment of faculty from across disciplines.  If we are to truly inspire and educate the next generation about the deep interconnected nature of environmental, economic and global issues, we need to seize the kind of opportunities offered through the National Environmental Summit.