AMHERST, Mass. – For the next two weeks the Pioneer Valley will be the training ground for teens learning to be leaders in sustainability. About a dozen ambitious, motivated high school students from across the country will earn college credit and learn about leadership and sustainability by attending the rigorous Summer Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (SILS) from July 21 to Aug. 3 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Commonwealth Honors College.
With visits planned to Simple Gifts, a community-supported Amherst farm that grows organic produce and raises grass-fed meat while keeping the land ecologically sustainable, and the Smith College Center for the Environment, which trains women to facilitate environmental action and protection, the students will learn about local success in sustainability efforts. Students will also visit Hampshire College, known for its agriculture and sustainability leadership, and the UMass Permaculture Garden, which won first place among 1,400 schools in the 2012 White House Campus Champions of Change Competition.
UMass Amherst has a history of helping students learn, live, and lead regional sustainability efforts, with the campus providing a real-time model for students interested in addressing sustainability issues. The university has one of the most advanced and efficient heating-cooling plants in the U.S., and students will tour the plant and learn how sustainability concerns were addressed. UMass Dining, the food service provider on campus, is run with a philosophy of environmental consciousness, and students will hear about the use of local sustainable agriculture and the challenges of large-scale food provision while still being sustainable.
“SILS helps students learn about the complex interactions between climate, society, and economy, and it gives them real-world experience in leadership,” says Alex Phillips, director of assessment and curriculum development in the college. “After two weeks, SILS students are capable of helping to lead the world toward a more sustainable future, one in which finite resources are conserved and communities are able to flourish. It is a totally unique, life-changing program,” he said.
Over the course of the program, participants will discover tools to turn visions and aspirations for a sustainable future into reality. SILS faculty and staff, which include professors from many disciplines across the Pioneer Valley, will engage participants in the scientific, economic, social and ethical aspects of humanity’s relationship with the environment.
All of these concepts will help students create as a final project a proposal for an event or initiative to improve sustainability in their community. For 2012 participant Avalon Lustick, the program motivated her to start a sustainability initiative at her high school in Nashua, N.H. In partnership with Brita, Lustick and a group of students sold 500 reusable water bottles, which funded the installation of a water filtration station near the school’s gym. The initiative has helped the school cut down on plastic bottle waste, and the station tallies how many plastic bottles have been saved by filling up reusable bottles.
The goal of the Summer Institute for Leadership and Sustainability at UMass Amherst is to provide an academic framework for sustainability and leadership development that includes skills in public speaking, stakeholder engagement, community engagement, strategizing and goal setting. SILS participants gain increased understanding of the scientific and social components of sustainability and the strategic problem solving skills to help create a more sustainable world.
About Commonwealth Honors College
Commonwealth Honors College provides an intellectually challenging undergraduate curriculum for academically talented UMass Amherst students from all backgrounds. This community of scholars prepares students for responsible engagement and future leadership in society. To learn more, visit www.honors.umass.edu.