Solutions Journal: Summer 2011—Catawba Center for the Environment Leads Student Summit

“We all have to seriously sit down and see the other side,” says Catawba College senior Sarah Moore, who is majoring in environmental education. “Our failure to see the other side holds us back, especially in the environmental movement.”

This belief, as well as Moore’s internship at Catawba’s Center for the Environment, has motivated her to spend her last summer of college helping to organize a cross-disciplinary national environmental summit for high school students.

The brainchild of Dr. John E. Wear, the center’s director, Redesigning Our Future: A National Environmental Summit for High School Students takes place July 20-24 on Catawba’s Salisbury, N.C., campus, with follow-up activities continuing through May 2012. 

RMI Executive Director Marty Pickett and Senior Consultant Michael Kinsley worked with Catawba over the last year to develop the summit’s curriculum and will help lead the sessions.

“RMI’s audience for years has been business leaders, and these are the business leaders of the future—that’s really why RMI got involved,” says Pickett, who is on the center’s board of advisors, as is Fred Stanback, an RMI donor and member of RMI’s National Solutions Council.

During the five-day summit, 13 staff members from Catawba will lead topic groups in 14 areas including biology, ecology, environmental science, philosophy, theater, writing and history. Each student will sign up for a topic area and meet with that focus group twice a day, in addition to attending other sessions. Five RMI staff members will lead separate sessions that will concentrate on whole systems thinking, collaboration and effective communication.

“Whether you are an actor, a writer or a mathematician, you have an important part to play,” Kinsley says of the multidisciplinary approach to environmental topics, both in the curriculum and in problem solving outside the sessions.

Pickett says the students will work together in a way that RMI has itself adopted to address pressing environmental and business problems. “We work in different sectors, yet we think of ourselves as seamless/teamless because we are all connected and not siloed,” she says. “Too much of the world is put into neat boxes, but people can have a broader view that can lead to integrated solutions.”

Moore, who has worked at the Center for the Environment on a work-study grant for the past three years, already has this mind-set. “My goal is to have a job where I travel, because I think it’s important to meet new people and be exposed to different viewpoints,” she says. “That’s exactly what these students will be doing because they, too, will be exposed to people from different perspectives.”

Moore became involved in all aspects of planning the summit in May 2011, though initial planning began more than a year ago with collaboration between Catawba faculty and RMI. As head of recruitment, she spent two weeks traveling across the United States recruiting student attendees and staff for the summit. She also hired 11 counselors, who will stay with the students, and she is training the summit staff. 

“I worked with two other Center for the Environment staff and some volunteers. It has been an amazing opportunity with a lot of responsibility,” she says.

So far, students from 16 states in all regions of the country have enrolled. Watch the RMI Outlet during the summit for live blogging and photos from the sessions. To read a full story about the summit, see RMI’s blog A Cross-Disciplinary Approach.