2016 National Environmental Summit Fosters Leadership

08/04/16 by Juanita Teschner

Invasive plants and animals. The psychology of change. The role of water resources in warfare. Music to support environmental causes.

These are just a few of the subjects participants studied on the Catawba College campus July 12-16 at the 2016 National Environmental Summit for High School Students. The Center for the Environment and Catawba faculty joined forces once again with Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Environmental Working Group (EWG) to offer stimulating classes and help students learn the skills they need to be environmental leaders.

The summit, now in its sixth year, is the brainchild of Dr. John Wear, executive director of the Center for the Environment. “Our goal is to help students understand that they can bring about positive change in the stewardship of the environment by experiencing things early on that will help set the stage for their future paths,” he says.

“The unusual thing about this summit is that it’s not just for students who want to go into the environmental field,” he says.  “This is for students who love things like music and writing as well as those who are at home with the sciences. The idea is to help them use their talents and interests to make a difference in the world.”

Students learn at the summit that it takes more than innovative ideas to get things accomplished. “They have got to be able to bring others on board to get the concept from the drawing board to the real world,” Wear says. “So one segment of the summit helps them learn how to plan, communicate and mobilize an initiative so they can return to their schools armed with the skills they need to implement a plan.”

Summit leaders employ a solutions-based approach to environmental challenges.  They stress the importance of collaboration, whole systems thinking and effective communication skills. RMI Managing Director Marty Pickett, joined by Senior Associate Robert McIntosh, Associate Courtney Fairbrother, Intern Eleanor Johnstone and Summer Associate Samhita Shiledar of RMI, engaged the students on these topics.  Heather White, a sustainability, health and wellness leader and former executive director of Environmental Working Group also spoke as did EWG Vice President Jocelyn Lyle and Dr. Chris Magryta, a pediatric physician who provides specialized care in wellness and nutrition.

Focus groups allow students to concentrate on specific issues: Dr. Seth Holtzman, chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy, taught “Go Ahead: Change Your Mind.”

Cyndi Allison Wittum, a lecturer in communication arts at Catawba, guided her students as they explored “Green Reporting: Backpack Blogging for Digital Natives.” Dr. Norris Feeney, assistant professor of politics, taught “Water Wars?”

Dr. Jay Bolin, assistant professor of biology, led students in “Invasive Alien Plants and Animals: Friend or Foe to the Environment?”  Dr. Joe Poston, associate professor of biology, taught “A Backbone for Conservation,” and Dr. David Lee Fish, chair of the Music Department, focused on music that supports environmental causes in “They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot.”

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