National Environmental Summit at Catawba: From Passion for a Cause to Mobilizing an Initiative

07/18/12 by Juanita Teschner

By Juanita Teschner

SALISBURY, NC – High school students at the National Environmental Summit at Catawba College are learning how to plan, communicate and mobilize an initiative so they can return to their schools armed with the skills necessary to make a difference.

The summit, “Redesigning Our Future,” has drawn students from across the country to the Catawba campus for the July 9-14 conference, which is intended to help them use their talents in everything from theater and writing to science and history to create positive change.

“This approach takes a student who walks through the door and shows that student how to go through a series of steps to implement an initiative,” says Dr. John Wear, executive director of the Center for the Environment at Catawba, the primary force behind the summit. “It carries the student through every process.”

This intensive guidance, based on best practices gleaned from successful conservation organizations, is designed to get the students from the original passion for a cause to the successful completion of an initiative. “This will give them the tools to harness their energy and enthusiasm to make a difference,” says Ben Prater, assistant executive director of Wild South, Catawba graduate and a summit workshop leader. “There won’t be any stone left unturned or question left unanswered from this really well thought-out summit.”

Students are learning this week that planning the initiative includes everything from identifying an issue and its root causes to setting specific, measurable, attainable and relevant goals, says Tom Atwood, a Duke University intern working at the Center for the Environment this summer.

Communicating the initiative involves identifying the target audience, discerning what to do and why it’s important and creating credible, compelling messages, using social media and 21st century communication skills.

Mobilizing the initiative includes forming and leading a team, identifying resources, creating and updating a timeline and documenting and evaluating the initiative.

Students will have an opportunity to apply for four mini-grants, provided by the Center through its sponsors, to help defray the cost of their initiative.

“Coming together and sharing a vision for our future is so important, but it really does come down to things like setting goals, finding out who the stakeholders are, discovering how we go about organizing and motivating people and teaming up for success,” Prater says.

 “As a conservation professional working in the environmental field, we have to recognize that people are not just the problem,” he says. “They are the solution. So it’s really critical, especially with the threats that exist to our environment and our human health and communities, that we take the steps to train, inspire and educate the next generation of people who are going to inherit the earth.”

Sponsors for the summit include:  Platinum – Fred and Alice Stanback; Gold – Schneider Electric; Bronze – Repreve Recycled Fiber by Unifi and the Proctor Foundation; Pewter – Blumenthal Foundation, Burt’s Bees, Susan Cloninger and Owen and Elizabeth Norvell.


The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country. For more information, visit or





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