The Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute recently completed another successful year enlightening high school students from across the country – and across the globe – on the value of environmental education; providing them with the confidence, capacity and tools to truly change the world. High school students from as far as Spain, Italy, South Korea, Colombia and Taiwan gathered on the HWS campus for the two week, interdisciplinary program.
“ESSYI has now moved to facilitating conversations about pressing environmental issues among students from across the globe. With a growing number of students from overseas, all students are exposed to a variety of perspectives as they are challenged to understand how environmental issues in our local communities are tied to global issues, tensions and solutions.” says ESSYI Executive Director, Associate Professor of Education Jamie MaKinster.
Unique in its exploration of the environment through scientific, social, economic, ethical and political perspectives, ESSYI connects the talented students to more than 15 faculty members, provides them with the opportunity to research aboard the William Scandling vessel on Seneca Lake and allows them to explore both the environment and themselves in the field and in the classroom.
Throughout the course of the program, students are responsible for writing a detailed journal; a mix of data collected, notes from classes and speakers and reflective thoughts on their experiences – such as the weekend-long trip to the Adirondacks, led by Assistant Professor of Biology Meghan Brown.
“Students could really incorporate themselves into the reflective writing,” explains Director of Introductory Biology Laboratories and Summer Director of ESSYI Susan Cushman ’98. “By the end of the program, when presented with a problem, they are able to ask themselves: What do I think is the best solution? ESSYI helps them to see that they are in charge of the environment.”
This year, in addition to visiting streams and Seneca Lake to collect data, the students were given a unique perspective of the Seneca Meadows landfill – from the top. With a representative from Seneca Meadows detailing the process of creating and maintaining the landfill, students journeyed up the landfill.
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Darrin Magee also joined the students on the landfill trip, speaking about the environmental consequences and ramifications of such a site. Magee was able to initiate a dialogue that allowed students to look to the future and seek real solutions. Cushman says that students were able to ask themselves complicated, but critical questions such as: “Now that we have landfills, what do you think about mining for certain resources?”
They were also able to examine how their daily life impacts the environment; things like water quality can be affected by something as simple as a shower, or how long the water is left running when one brushes one’s teeth.
The students also met with young environmental activist Alec Loorz, who founded the non-profit organization Kids vs. Global Warming when he was just 12 years old. Now 17, Loorz has presented on hundreds of occasions to youth and adults throughout the country.
“Alec emphasized to the students that it is important to take a stand, that they are the future and that they matter,” says Cushman. “He stressed how crucial it is to understand and educate oneself in regards to the environment.”
However, one of ESSYI’s greatest strengths is its diversity. Students are exposed to a wide range of careers, fields and concentrations, allowing to them to find something that speaks to them.
“Some of the students take to stream sampling, for instance, or enjoy Professor Tom Drennen’s presentations on alternative energy. One student this year was particularly interested in sustainability and local agriculture,” explains Cushman. “ESSYI presents such a diverse set of experiences that students can really figure out what sparks their passion.”