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Success of National Environmental Summit Prompts Plans to Hold Second Summit Next Year

12/01/11 by Kathy Chaffin

The National Environmental Summit for High School Students was such a success last summer that the Center for the Environment and Summit Planning Committee are already making plans for an enhanced summit next year. It is scheduled for July 9-14, 2012.

High school juniors and seniors from across the country attended the five-day event planned and orchestrated by the Center for the Environment, Catawba faculty from multiple disciplines and scientists from Rocky Mountain Institute of Colorado.

Dr. John Wear, the Center’s executive director, says the motivation for launching the national summit sprang from his observation that more and more high school students were expressing an interest in becoming engaged in environmental stewardship even though they were taking a non-science career path. “We decided to use the excellent resources of our own faculty to help students apply their talents to addressing environmental issues,” he says.

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Dr. Seth Holtzman, chair of Catawba’s  Religion and Philosophy Department and one of the event’s primary planners and faculty members, agrees that this event  was intended to engage students who were not planning to become research scientists or public policy professionals – careers that one would typically associate with tackling environmental challenges. “We had those dimensions to the program, of course, but we wanted to offer a much broader understanding of how one can make a difference and even be a leader environmentally,” Holtzman says.

“It was inspiring to watch the students interact with faculty from all parts of our campus in the focus groups,” Wear says. “The summit students learned they could use their talents and interests in writing, theater, philosophy and history just as much as chemistry, biology and environmental science to champion environmental causes and make a difference in the world.”

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Professors who taught in the program had high praise for the experience. “These students were just so fired up by the experience,” says Dr. Forrest Anderson, an assistant professor of English who taught “The Politics and Poetics of Environmental Writing.” He was impressed with the open and honest way they talked about what they had learned at an event where they could share their knowledge and insights.  “It was just great to see the enthusiasm that these students had,” he says. “They dropped that high schooler’s veneer of being too cool for school, and were completely wrapped up in what they were doing.”

Holtzman agrees. “What struck all of us was how really dedicated they were, how much the environment meant to them, how much they understood that their generation was going to have to deal with major environmental issues. And they were ready to begin facing up to them at the young ages that they are.”

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Participant Claudia Meyer of Raleigh is a prime example.  She left the summit with a sense of urgency about environmental matters that she hadn’t had before.  “I realized that it’s going to be my generation that’s going to have to fix so many problems in the world,” she says. “We can’t put it off.”

As part of her focus group, she wrote a letter to the editor, which she planned to submit to The News and Observer in Raleigh: “No one ever wants to live in fear of what tomorrow holds,” she wrote. “However, if we do not look into what the world holds for our future generations, life as we know it on Earth now could be destroyed.…”

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After hearing Wear talk about the Center’s Campaign for Clean Air initiative to facilitate no idling programs in middle schools, she says she now turns off her vehicle while waiting in line to pick up her younger sister at school. “I’m also working with our school’s environmental club president to try to get the no idling program started there,” she says.

Anderson calls the summit “one of the most rewarding experiences” he has had as a teacher. “I take a lot of pride in Catawba,” he says, “and I felt as if we offered the students the best of Catawba in that summit, and that made it a raging success.”

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