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Catawba National Environmental Summit Students Receive Grants for Projects

02/09/13 by Juanita Teschner

Sophia Dill

Two students who attended the 2012 National Environmental Summit for High School Students last July at Catawba College have received mini-grants to help fund sustainable projects they have initiated in their schools.

Grant recipient Sophia Dill of Glencoe Mill Village, N.C., is orchestrating a project called “Chasing Sustainability – Earth Week” at Western Alamance High School. Her grant was funded by Burt’s Bees.

Shaina Robinson of Ann Arbor, Mich., has started a high school club promoting social responsibility at Greenhills School.  An anonymous donor funded her grant. Both students are using knowledge introduced during the summit to advance their causes.

Shaina Robinson

The summit, a partnership of the Center for the Environment at Catawba and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) of Colorado, is designed to help high school juniors and seniors learn how to use their skills and interests to make a difference in the world.

“So many people don’t realize they can make a difference or they don’t discover it until later in life,” says John Wear, executive director of the Center for the Environment.  “But they can. They can change the path of others. That’s the message we offer these students.

“The 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 Wear. “It carries the student through every process.”

Students learned about setting goals, discerning who the stakeholders are, discovering how to go about organizing and motivating people and teaming up for success.

Importance of Sustainability

Sophia Dill, photo by Seth Holtzman

Dill’s project is intended to increase environmental awareness among the students, faculty and staff of Western Alamance High School by implementing activities that focus on sustainability during Earth Week in April. “Incorporating these events in a school-friendly yet educational atmosphere allows my peers to understand that these sustainable practices in accordance with sustainable living are necessary for our future as a whole,” she writes in her project description.

She has contacted TS Designs, a local eco-friendly business, and the Alamance County Beekeepers’ Association about making presentations on sustainability during Earth Week.

In addition, she is collaborating with Western’s environmental club, Project Green Light, on activities, such as Earth Hour. The plan is to turn off all lights and not use computers during the first hour of school one day to calibrate the number of kilowatts used during that period. Dill hopes this will help students and others understand that their behavior impacts the environment every day.

She is also involving members of the school’s Book Club by inviting them to make seed paper bookmarks that can be planted.

Dill’s National Environmental Summit experience helped her understand “what can be accomplished if we work together,” she says.  She notes that she wouldn’t “be this far along or as successful” if she hadn’t learned how to plan and orchestrate a project at the summit.  “It magnified who I was or who I want to be.”

Eco-friendly, Ethically Produced Apparel

Shaina Robinson

Robinson got interested in environmentally friendly and socially responsible apparel companies when she witnessed a research project her father, a member of the faculty at the University of Michigan, and his students completed. The students surveyed consumers at a mall about whether – once they understood the hazards of sweatshops – they would be willing to pay a bit more for clothing made by companies which pay their employees a living wage and employ eco-friendly practices.

Her interest was further piqued when she tried to purchase a coat for her father that was made in the United States. “I really couldn’t find a single coat,” she says.

Robinson is acutely aware of how much influence teenagers have as consumers of clothing. She hopes to inform students and others at her school about sweatshop conditions and then help them transition into buying apparel that is made by companies that are socially responsible.

She has made a presentation to students, faculty and staff and talked with the individual at Greenhills who is charged with buying school apparel.  She is also committed to doing research that will help the person make informed decisions about ethically produced clothing.

“The summit helped so much,” Robinson says. She learned how to attract members to her organization and motivate people, how to collaborate and further develop her leadership skills.

Attending the summit made her more aware of her responsibility to become aware of issues and take a stand. It also helped her realize that “our opinion really matters,” she says. “We’re never too young to learn how to inform others and show them why they should care.”

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