Hands-on Learning Brings Excitement to National Environmental Summit at Catawba

07/13/14 by Rebecca Rider

Students came from around the country to attend Catawba's National Environmental Summit for High School Students. Photo by Eli Wittum.

Last week teens from around the country gathered at the Center for the Environment at Catawba College to learn how they can use their passions to create a sustainable world. Students attending the National Environmental Summit heard from renowned speakers, such as CNN 2013 Hero of the Year Robin Emmons. 

Students use GPS trackers to find examples
of biomimicry on Catawba's Stanback
Ecological Preserve. Photo by John Wear.

During the day, students participated in workshops, focus groups and various activities tailored to help them think critically about how sustainability can be applied to all areas of life, and how they can use their specific talents and interests to start environmental initiatives in their hometowns. Students spent focus group hours doing things like tagging animals in the preserve, writing blog posts, learning persuasive speaking skills or studying invasive species.   

Group activities, such as a biomimicry scavenger hunt, were designed to help students think critically about what environmental principles look like when applied to daily life. Biomimicry is a discipline that studies nature's best ideas and then mimics these designs and processes to create sustainable solutions. 

Summit participants learned about the diversity
of wildlife on the preserve. Photo by Eli Wittum.

The teens trekked out into the 189-acre Fred Stanback Jr. Ecological Preserve and combed its trails for specific points using GPS trackers. At each destination they found a specific item—a salamander, a spider’s web, a black willow—and were asked to consider its inherent characteristics and how those might be incorporated into human technology.

Getting hands-on experience wasn’t the only way students learned, however. Speakers like Francis Koster, author and sustainability advocate, and Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, gave tips on starting an initiative and guidelines for effective communication including professional dress code, power poses to increase confidence and ways to succinctly get a point across in a difficult interview. 

Harrison Moore and other participants
seize a moment to kayak on Lake
Baranski on the Catawba campus.
Photo by Eli Wittum.

Many of the students aren’t planning on pursuing an environmental studies major in college but believe that just because they don’t want to make it a career doesn’t mean they can’t make it a lifestyle.

Elizabeth Maness, a rising senior at West Stanley High School in Oakboro, wants to study business marketing in school but believes that learning about science and environmental issues is crucial, no matter what path you pursue. She also loves that she's getting an idea of what college is like by living in dorms and having free run of Catawba's campus. 

“This is an awesome experience,” she said. 

Daniel Coburn of East Forsyth High School in Rural Hall is considering a career in psychology or criminal justice but has a love for the outdoors and thinks experiences like the Summit are invaluable.  

“I believe taking care of the environment is really important. There are a lot of really easy, really cheap things you can do,” he said.

Jumana Moughrabi of Durham
participated in the "Green Inc.:
Blogging for a Better Tomorrow"
focus group at the National
Environmental Summit because she
wants to pursue a degree in journalism
and photography. Photo by Eli Wittum.

So far, he's been impressed with the program and the other students—especially during Robin Emmons’ presentation, when Emmons opened the floor to discussion and the participants rose to the occasion.  

“The students that are here, they're smart,” he said. “They want to be here.”

This fall will be Coburn's first year at East Forsyth, and he said that if the school doesn't already have a recycling program in place, he is going to start one.

Jumana Moughrabi of Durham, a rising sophomore at Riverside High School, wants to study journalism and photography. She has spent the week setting up a blog about student experiences at the summit. She says she loves that her focus group allows her to experience all aspects of the summit, and she appreciates working with other people. Moughrabi said she's been inspired by the summit counselors, and says it's obvious how much they care about what they do in making sure the students have a good learning experience.  When she goes back to school this fall, she plans to start an environmental club. 

Payton Coleman works on a
National Environmental Summit
blog in her focus group, Green
Ink: Blogging for a Better
Tomorrow. Photo by Eli Wittum.

Concord teen Payton Coleman, a rising senior at J.M. Robinson High School, is one of the many students at the Summit interested in pursuing a career in environmental studies. Coleman says she hopes to double major in environmental studies and theater arts. And while she’s still considering her options for colleges, she’s glad she came to the summit. 

“It’s been really inspiring being in a community where people my own age are effecting change,” she said. 

Coleman is on the student council at her school and is determined to start an environmental club at her school in the 2014-2015 school year. 

Alyssa Shorak traveled to the Summit from Pittsburg, Pa. She says she has loved hearing all of the stories and learning all of the little things that anyone can do to make a difference. A rising sophomore, she hopes to start a composting program at her school. 

Alyssa Shorak (center) came from Pennsylvania to
participate in the summit. Photo by Yimin Shen.

Seth Stephens from Lexington just graduated from West Davidson High School and will be attending Catawba's Environmental Program in the fall. He has studied in the preserve catching turtles, birds, frogs and salamanders, tagging them and releasing them. He has loved the diversity of the speakers at the summit and the hands-on opportunities he has had in the preserve. He wants to be a game warden, he said, because he loves the outdoors and wants to help others foster a love and appreciation for the environment as well. 

“I want to show people what’s out there,” he said.

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