As a young environmental activist, you might be wondering how to expand your resources. What steps can you take to strengthen your impact? Last month, the Greening Forward team took to the Green Schools Conference and Expo (GSCE) to set up the GSCE Youth Summit. Through the summit, we hoped to continue to foster youth leadership in environmental fields. Here are our 3 helpful takeaways, for all young environmental changemakers, from an inspiring weekend at the Green Schools Conference and Expo:
- Think globally act locally.
Sure, it’s important to think “bigger picture,” but the most effective steps toward promoting environmentalism are taken locally. GSCE is a great place for young people to formulate ideas to take back to their local communities. At our opening session with environmental education expert, Al Strenstrup, we were asked how “environmental” we categorize our respective schools on a scale of 1-10. Because all of the Youth Summit participants’ hometowns were so geographically different, it was no surprise that there were students on all spectrums of the scale. Someone from California might have a wider array of environmental initiatives at their school than someone from the Midwest, such as myself. But at the summit we were able to share our experiences and engage in the same debate BECAUSE of our different backgrounds. I was certainly able to gain new ideas from the dialogue, but the real test is implementing these ideas when I return to Michigan.
2. Your career choice may be more environmental than you think.
Environmental careers are no longer limited to environmental engineers and botanists. The career panel at the Youth Summit offered me valuable advice as a high school student looking ahead to my university studies. As someone who plans to study public policy, I wasn’t aware of the extent I could continue to pursue environmental activism until one of the panelists mentioned her decision to tailor her public policy degree toward environmental policy. Keep your options open. You might not feel that a biology degree is for you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work in the environmental field. State Representative Chris Lee talked to my Greening Forward team about the importance of concrete environmental knowledge in order to be an effective legislator.
3. Expand your network.
Network, network, network! A large part of acting locally is having the resources and the team of support behind you. Half of GSCE is gaining new ideas to take home with you, while the other half is meeting the people who can help make your ideas possible. Whether it be state representatives or environmental scientists, most field experts are more than willing to take young people under their wing for mentorship because young people are not only the future, but are the now. As a National Youth Council Member and a representative for Greening Forward, it is always beneficial to forge new partnerships. Because of the diverse group GSCE attracts, I was able to connect with influential professionals from my area. Next week, I will be meeting with a nonprofit leader from Detroit—my hometown— to discuss potential collaborations between our organizations.
The GSCE not only attracts motivated youth, but young social entrepreneurs as well. I met Eden Vitoff, a high school student and the keynote speaker for the conference, at the GSCE Youth Summit. I had the opportunity to speak to him about his time spent at the conference:
K: What was your most memorable experience at the GSCE and at the Youth Summit?
E: It was an amazing opportunity to speak at this summit. The most exciting moment for me came when I was up on stage during my address to the conference attendees. I looked out across the crowd of six hundred and I saw people from all over the United States. There were students, teachers, political leaders, and nonprofit founders. It took my breath away. These were passionate individuals all coming from their different communities and different walks of life, to work together and tackle the issue of climate change. It gives me a lot of hope for the future. Being at this event and seeing all the dedicated people helps energize and motivate you to keep fighting the good fight.
K: What new ideas did you gain from this experience that you plan to implement in your local community?
E: I am a founder of a nonprofit organization called the Green LYFE Network (Leading Youth for the Environment). We are partnering with the organizations iMatter and the Sierra Club. We work with these partners to engage in a statewide campaign to give youth a voice in the political process, and demand that immediate action be taken on climate change. At the conference, I participated in a panel discussion about building coalitions, where I got some great ideas on how to expand the network. Additionally, during the expo portion of the conference, I learned about some great recycling programs and advocacy projects that my high school environmental club will be participating in next year.
K: Would you recommend this experience to other young people? If so, why?
E: GSCE was one of the highlights of my year. If you are a student looking to be an environmental leader in your community, GSCE is the perfect opportunity to get ideas for projects, learn all about different facets of the environmental movement, and connect with like-minded people. The student summit in particular is a great way to make some friends your age who are interested in the same things you are.
From what I’ve seen at GSCE, I would strongly urge young people to take initiative and attend the conference. Not only will you familiarize yourself with new facets of environmentalism, but you will also connect with industry professionals and other inspirational youth your age. There is nothing more motivating than experiencing the passion behind every activist’s work and drawing from the environment to find your niche in the movement.