As Catawba College’s third annual National Environmental Summit closed July 13, participants reflected on what they had learned and how they can use it to bring positive change to their hometowns.
The National Environmental Summit for High School Students: Redesigning Our Future is hosted by the Center for the Environment at Catawba and the Rocky Mountain Institute and aims to teach students valuable skills and knowledge that will help them use their talents to start environmental initiatives and educate others.
This year students spent a week studying invasive species, the intersection of the scientific and the spiritual in national parks, the economics behind production and resource draining, persuasion tactics, and how to accurately portray environmental issues through blogging and social media.
Many campers, such as Katie Trischman, traveled long distances to attend the Summit.
Trischman, 17, heard about the summit through her church in San Diego, Calif. Hopping coastlines, she expected the summit to involve a lot of hiking and outdoor activities. While those are features of the summit, one of its main focuses is teaching participants collaborative techniques and how to properly communicate and educate others about issues.
“I’ve learned a lot of things about how to communicate to people about environmental matters,” Trischman said.
Trischman said that now she knows how to handle herself in a debate and what to expect if she pursues a career in environmental studies.
In addition, the summit equips students with the know-how to start up their own environmental projects. And Trischman has plans. She said that her school has a nature path overtaken with invasive plant species. Trischman wants to replace them with native plants and use the location as a teaching tool.
“I’ve known what I wanted to do for a long time,” she said, “but now I know how to do it.”
Trischman isn’t the only student who had to travel to the summit. Madison Lemoine, 17, is from Tequesta, Fla. This is her second time attending the summit, and she plans on coming back for a third year.
Lemoine says she loves the summit because there’s nothing like it in Florida, as far as she’s aware.
“I think it’s an amazing experience for students to learn about the environment,” she said.
Already a veteran, Lemoine has plans to revamp her school’s recycling program. She says she keeps coming back to the summit because of the people she’s met and all the knowledge she’s gained.
“You have a different perspective when you leave,” she said.
Joel Schlaudt, 19, of Richmond, Va., said that one of the most valuable things about the summit was the camaraderie. Schlaudt was homeschooled and has never had much interaction with other students who share an interest in the environment.
“It’s my first opportunity to be around people who share the same passion,” he said.
He loves it and plans to enter Catawba as a freshman in the fall and study in the college’s environmental program. In fact, he has been granted an Environmental Stewards Service Scholarship. As for the future, Schlaudt wants to be a park ranger. He said the collaboration skills he learned this week will be invaluable.
Next summer he hopes to return to the summit as a counselor.
Sometimes, participants arrive at the summit with their projects pre-planned. Ariana Nicholson, 16, already has an initiative up and running back home in Durham.
Nicholson and the environmental club at her school have started a coalition of students and clubs called “N.C. Students for Climate Action.”
Four schools have signed onto the project so far, and it’s still growing. Nicholson spent time at the summit networking. She said she found a lot of other campers who were willing and eager to join up and hopes the project will really take off in the 2013-2014 school year.
Her experiences at the summit have been invaluable in that respect. Nicholson said she learned how to narrow things down, how to focus on the details and organize her budding initiative and keep it going strong.
Nicholson said her favorite part of the week was Chad Pregracke’s speech about how he started “Living Lands and Waters,” a nonprofit organization focused on cleaning the nation’s rivers. He started it by himself when he was just 17.
“It was definitely inspiring — how little things can turn into big things,” Nicholson said.
Her biggest takeaway? “People want to help you … so you should just go up and talk to them about it. Nothing but good will come of it.”