High School Students Arrive for Third Annual National Environmental Summit at Catawba College

07/11/13 by Juanita Teschner

High school students from as far away as California and Florida arrived at the Catawba College campus Tuesday to learn how they can use their talents to create positive change in the world.

They are participating in the Third Annual National Environmental Summit for High School Students: Redesigning Our Future, a collaborative effort of the Center for the Environment at Catawba and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) of Colorado. RMI scientists and engineers join Catawba professors and Center staff members in helping the students hone their leadership skills as well as learn about everything from invasive alien plants and animals to the psychology of change, from vertebrates in the wild to “green” blogging.

Dr. John Wear, the Center’s executive director, told the group Tuesday night they are the leaders of tomorrow.  “My generation will look to you to shape our world in ways that are innovative and just and sustainable,” he said.

Dr. Steve Coggin, associate provost, told the students that Catawba College was named after Catawba County, the Catawba River and Catawba Indians.  “But we are not in Catawba County or on the banks of the Catawba River, and the Catawba Indian Cultural Center is in Rock Hill, S.C.” he said. “So, why is Catawba College in Salisbury?”

The college moved to the Salisbury site in 1925. “The founders of Catawba in Catawba County did not foresee a move to Rowan County, but visionary people made it happen,” he said.  “They redesigned the future. 

“That is why you are here this week,” Coggin said.  “The future is not fixed; it is not determined. 

“At this summit, you will meet other committed people, both participants and leaders.  You will cooperate, collaborate and lead.  You will take from this summit knowledge and skills that you will put to use in leadership roles in your school, community, nation and world.  You will do this because the future is not determined.”

 In subsequent talks, Wear told them they can use their varied talents and new ways of thinking to help “redesign our world.”

The students will discover this week that “nature is one of our best design tools” as they explore the Stanback Ecological Preserve on campus, Wear says.

 One example is the silk produced by a spider. “This silk, spun together, creates a fiber tougher that any fiber man has ever made,” he says.  “The nearest humans have come is aramid fiber – a fiber which, when manufactured, requires extremes of temperature and extremes of pressure and produces lots of pollution.

“The spider is able to produce its fiber under ambient temperature, ambient pressure, with no toxic pollution and using only dead flies and water as resources.”

The students will also learn about whole systems thinking. “A great example is the way resources are dealt with in most of the world,” Wear says. “We extract, we turn the resource into a product with a short life and then we dispose of it.”

Ecosystems, however, operate differently. “In ecosystems the waste of one organism is the food of another,” he says.

He recounts the story of Graham Wiles, who created a business that had its inspiration in the natural world. Area restaurants paid his company to pick up cardboard, which he shredded and sold to stables as bedding for horses.  Then he collected the soiled bedding for a fee and used it in worm beds. He fed the worms to sturgeon he was raising. The sturgeon produced caviar, which he sold back to the restaurants. “It was a simple design solution modeled after natural ecosystems,” Wear says.

 The students will create plans for their own initiatives during their week at Catawba. To bring their plans to fruition, they will need additional skills, Wear says: “Once they have their plan, they will learn how they can effectively communicate with others about those plans and begin to engage others in their efforts.

“And because their plan really considers whole systems, they will learn about the best tool for working on whole systems initiatives, which is collaboration.”

The summit itself is an example of collaboration, Wear says. “To offer students this opportunity has required a lot of people coming together collaboratively.”

Those, in addition to Catawba College, who have provided funding for the event include:  Platinum Sponsors Fred and Alice Stanback; Silver Sponsor Schneider Electric; Bronze Sponsors Proctor Foundation, Repreve Recylced Fiber by Unifi, Burt’s Bees and Hayes and Susan Smith; Pewter Sponsors Brad and Shelli Stanback; Director’s Circle Davie Community Foundation and Granite Telecommunications.

Wear notes that many others have provided support for the summit: Catawba President Brien Lewis, Catawba Trustee Chair Darlene Ball, Rocky Mountain Institute and Center Advisory Board members; Catawba professors who are serving as focus group leaders – Dr. Joe Poston, Cyndi Wittum, Dr. Jay Bolin, Dr. Charles McCallister, Dr. Eric Hake, Dr. Seth Holtzman and Dr. Carmony Hartwig; speakers Ben Prater and Amanda Lanier; festival leader Linda Kesler; Application Review Committee members Dr. Rhonda Truitt and Bolin; Center staff Cathy Holladay, Sarah Moore and Lee Ann Corriher; interns Helen Wu, Dave Grace, Alex Lopez-Gutierrez, Leslie Brown and Colleen Smiley; and volunteer Deb Stephens.

Others who provided support include Carolina Beverage Co., Carolyn and Dewey Peck, Marjorie Rankin, TS Designs, Linda and Robert Voelker and Team Chevrolet.

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