As the summer continues, the Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute (ESSYI) welcomes students from high schools across the country – and the world – for its 20th year of exemplary programming. Nearly 30 students hailing from Spain to California and Colorado will join four HWS students, one William Smith alumna and 15 members of the Colleges’ faculty for a transformative environmental experience.
“ESSYI is a real reflection of the liberal arts experience,” says Associate Professor and ESSYI Executive Director Jim MaKinster. “Students are able to explore environmental issues from multiple perspectives, disciplines and in creative ways as they learn how they can make differences in their daily lives, their communities and ultimately the world.”
This year, the program has expanded to include five participants from the New Jersey SEEDS program, which allows high-achieving, low-income youth to enrich their education through academic exploration. All five students were able to receive full scholarships for the program, with four of them funded through a new endowment for the Finger Lakes Institute.
Each summer, ESSYI combines classroom time and fieldwork to create a unique curriculum that brings students closer to the environment of New York State and the Finger Lakes region. Campers are able to take core samples from Seneca Lake aboard the William Scandling, study one of the largest active landfills in the country at Seneca Meadows in Seneca Falls, and explore organic farming and community supported agriculture at the Fellenz Family Farm in Phelps.
“I think the classroom, fieldwork and camping model really sets this program apart from others,” says Elijah Gleason ’12, who recently graduated with degrees in both biology and environmental studies. Gleason joins ESSYI for a third year. “Campers get a weeklong sampling of every class an environmental studies major would take – including fieldwork.”
An annual highlight of ESSYI is a trip to the Adirondacks where campers, counselors and faculty travel to Newcomb, N.Y., in the heart of the national park. During the two-week excursion, campers hike Goodnow Mountain, canoe across seven lakes to collect water samples for biodiversity data, and visit Tupper Lake.
“This is my second summer with ESSYI,” remarks Sarah Buckleitner ’14, an environmental studies and writing and rhetoric double major, who is serving as a counselor. “Last year, I had a blast – the students are diverse and incredibly smart, and my eyes were opened to new facets of environmental studies. Not only does everyone gain a fresh perspective on the issues we discuss, but it’s also a great way to get kids motivated about solving environmental problems.”
For first-time counselor Jackson Bartell ’14, an English major pursuing a minor in environmental studies, ESSYI provides young students with a head start on a life of environmental consciousness. “People need to be educated about environmental issues at a young age so they can reform their behavior toward the Earth and be able to teach others,” says Bartell. “If young people are aware of their relationship with the environment, they can start a revolution to preserve the beauty and the resources around them before there are little left.”
“In our lives we are increasingly shielded from our impact on the environment – and from the environment itself,” says Gleason. “ESSYI helps make our impact more transparent and give students an opportunity to think in new and refreshing ways.”
Above all, the program continues its efforts to connect students with the natural world as well as with one another. “I hope to make connections with students who’ve come from all around the world to discuss one thing we have in common: the planet,” says Buckleitner. “If they’re going to take anything away from their interactions with me and from the program, I hope it’s an infectious enthusiasm and respect for the complexities of the natural world.”