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Helping to Shape the Next Generation of Environmental Leaders

06/15/11 by Guest Writer

– by Kelly Vaughn, Rocky Mountain Institute

While you may be more used to hearing about RMI’s work with an automaker or building owner, a recent RMI partnership has a very different flavor. This summer, RMI is collaborating with Catawba College’s Center for the Environment on an upcoming program, “Redesigning Our Future: A National Environmental Summit for High School Students” July 20-24, 2011. We interviewed RMI Senior Consultant specializing in sustainable communities and campuses Michael Kinsley on what RMI brings to the education table.
KV: What does RMI bring to the development of this program?
MK: The first thing we bring is a different way of solving problems using whole-systems thinking and integrative design.  
The other area of expertise we bring, which is an essential component of the program, is our experience guiding collaboration toward a common goal.
We have a lot of experience working with diverse groups who may have different  skills or competing motivations to develop solutions that are advantageous or at least acceptable to all parties (take RMI’s most recent charrette for example).
KV: RMI practitioners tend to have backgrounds in environmental science, engineering or business. Is integrative design and whole-systems thinking useful to high school students with different backgrounds? Say, someone who are interested in music or writing?
MK: Sometimes, there is a perception that the only people who can solve environmental problems are either engineers or scientists. That perception gets in the way of people participating in solutions.
Take global climate change as an example. The scale of the problem is so large, and its reach is so wide that essentially everyone has a role.
This program is designed to show students how to exercise their unique skill sets in a variety of ways to bring solutions to bear in their own lives, or bring change to whatever organization they may be a part of.
Whether you are an actor, a writer or a mathematician — you have an important part to play.
KV: As someone with almost thirty years experience in the industry, what advice would you give to a high school student who wants to get involved in making the world a better place, but doesn’t know where to start?
MK: I used to be someone who thought that in order to fix a problem, other people had to change. In short, I was a passionate advocate of others making changes.
Eventually, I learned that though encouraging others is important, solutions come from what I do to change myself and the organizations I can influence.
KV: How do you think this program can help these students shape their future?
MK: The program consists of five days and emphasizes several topics: whole-system thinking, collaboration and communication.
Each of those days is designed to offer a new way of thinking about environmental problems and to point the students toward skills that they can develop in each of those areas.
The kinds of principles we will present, although they focus on the environment, are useful in any problem-solving context. So, even if a student isn’t interested in energy, the skills offered can be applied to essentially any personal or professional scenario where the student is looking for ways to solve big problems and make decisions more effectively.
In some ways, it’s about leadership. It’s about how they can be better leaders amongst their peers, at school, and in their future professions.
Find more information on the Summit here, or on the program’s facebook page. Space is limited, so interested students are encouraged to apply ASAP.

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