This August, 15 high school leaders came together for the second year of our Sustainability Leadership Academy residential, week-long program. This year, we were excited to have participants who traveled from as far as China to learn about careers in sustainability (we miss you, Steve)!
After a first evening of icebreakers and teambuilding games, we jumped right in on the first full day, starting the morning with a leadership studio with Chatham’s Career Development Office. The rest of the day was filled with tons of time in the fields and woodlands of the Eden Hall Campus – starting with an applied woodland ecology session with Professor Linda Johnson and ending with an epic group game of capture the flag.
Day 2 was full of green building tours! We started at the new Frick Environmental Center, where Maureen Olinzock, Sustainability Coordinator, and Taiji Nelson, Naturalist Educator, both with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, showed us around the Living Building’s features. We spent the afternoon at Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes and even met up with their high school interns in the SEED Classroom. We were pumped to end our day with our first night out in Pittsburgh at Kennywood theme park!
Day 3 was food day! After a morning spent harvesting mushrooms, greens, zucchini and more with Tony on the Eden Hall Farm, we took the whole afternoon to learn how to cook from Chef Chris, who manages all the great food that comes out of the campus dining hall. We fileted and prepared our own fish with vegetables. It was a good challenge out of comfort zones for some, but well worth the taste! The day wound down with a game night – including corn hole, Frisbee, and board games like Exploding Kittens and Taboo too.
Day 4 was focused on social justice and planning. In the morning, we toured downtown Pittsburgh’s walk/bike infrastructure and public transit projects with Sean Luther and Phoebe Downey from Envision Downtown. The afternoon was spent in Homewood, where we toured the Sankofa Village Community Garden with Ayanna Jones and the Oasis Farm & Fishery with Casey Clauser. For most of us, seeing sustainability in action to drive social change on the neighborhood scale was the highlight of our week. That night, after some free time to play soccer and use the rock climbing wall on the Shadyside Campus, we had our second night out in Pittsburgh – an escape room! It was great teambuilding, even though neither team managed to escape in time.
Our last full day started with a green building tour around downtown Pittsburgh by kayak with Isaac Smith and Mary Schrag from the Green Building Alliance. Everyone had been looking forward to this all week and we were so glad the weather held out! In the afternoon, we had a follow-up leadership studio and then wrapped up the program with outdoor pool time, a campfire and some group closing and bonding time.
All week, each young leader worked on their own project idea to implement in their home communities, starting as soon as they left this program. Projects range from getting local businesses to eliminate use of plastic bags to inventing new technologies and improving the effectiveness of their high school’s environmental club. We look forward to catching up with the whole group over the next 6 months or so as we conference call to check-in on project successes and stories.
Thanks to all the young leaders and to the community partners involved for a great week! We couldn’t put it better than some of the leaders themselves:
- “I learned a lot more about sustainability than I knew before and also realized the connection between sustainability and social justice. I realized a possible interest in urban planning as well.”
- “I enjoyed learning more about sustainability in Pittsburgh because even though I’ve lived here my whole life I had no idea how many green buildings are here.”
- “This week I learned that working with the environment is what I want to do with my life for sure.”
- “Thanks for a great and empowering week!”