Julian Kroger is a member of the K-12 Education Office at Eden Hall, enjoy his reflection on his time as a participant, counselor, and program assistant.
The summer before my junior year of high school, way back in 2019 (that was three years ago?!), my mom told me about an opportunity to spend a week learning about sustainability. Despite my reservations about writing an essay so I could get a scholarship to attend, I was intrigued by the prospects of free college credits and a week away from home (ish). So, I got over the pains of the essay and was soon on my way to Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus to take part in the Sustainable Leadership Academy (or SLA).
Now the word ‘academy’ might make it seem like the program is a week of sitting inside stuffy classrooms listening to people four times my age ramble on for hours. Fortunately, this was not the case at all, and SLA was one of the best experiences of my life. Through a host of different trips, tours, panels, and other activities, I got to see first-hand what sustainability was and why it mattered. Even from the first evening of the program, I remember learning about various definitions of sustainability, from balancing the three E’s (environment, equity, and economy) to the Sustainable Development Goals. From that point on, we got to go on a green building kayak tour, meet and talk with professionals working in the frontlines of the field, see how renewable energy was being generated on campus, and get to know people our age who shared similar values to us. To this day, I still talk to some of the friends I made while at SLA.
Despite all of this, it’s clear to me that the most impactful part of the week was the time spent in intergroup dialogue. These conversations forced me outside of my comfort zone and into a place of learning as our group dealt with the dynamics of our diverse social identities. At times, this meant pre-planned activities designed to stir thought, and at other times it meant stopping what we were doing and addressing problematic actions or words that came to our attention. Understanding how social justice was directly related to the environment has been one of the biggest influences in my life, pushing me towards my pursuit of a sustainability degree here at Chatham.
Flashing forward to this past summer, I was given another opportunity to be involved with SLA, this time as a counselor. Having the experiences that came with two years, a pandemic, and a world much more conscious of social justice made this week different from the last, especially considering the fact that I was no longer a participant. Even with these changes, the experience was once again meaningful, although in a different way. Getting to reconnect with the other counselors (as well as meeting a few new people) while also transitioning from high school to college was an amazing opportunity to reflect on the relationships I made during my time as a participant in the program. Further, this reflection helped me learn a lesson on the importance of community when addressing sustainability. If I hadn’t had those open, sometimes raw experiences with my peers (and now friends) when I was a participant, I likely wouldn’t have truly grasped the importance of the issues we discussed and wouldn’t be where I am today. Being a part of that community inspired me to continue learning about the role I can play in making a more equitable and resilient future.
Now, as SLA Coordinator, I have an even better grasp of how important these experiences were for me. The behind-the-scenes work that goes into connecting students with effective methods of learning and the people who inspire change in the world is not insignificant, and helping Kelly in this process has given me a greater appreciation for the time I had as a participant. I mean, when else do you get to pick the vegetables that go with fish you just learned how to fillet during a sustainable food systems workshop? SLA is a really unique program, and I am honored to have been a part of it for so long now.
Looking ahead to this summer, we are making a few changes, like incorporating more time in the city again, introducing a session on sustainability in fashion, and making the panels more hands-on and interactive. Additionally, we have several early bird scholarships available for the program, with applications due by March 31st!
As we continue to prepare for this summer’s SLA, I hope to inspire students just as I was inspired when I participated in the program three years ago. We can’t wait to see you there!