A Common Concern

Students discuss climate change.

Students discuss climate change at The Treehouse, Dickinson's Center for Sustainable Living.

Dickinson to host first statewide Student Sustainability Symposium 

by Christine Dugan

More than 75 students from 25 colleges and universities across Pennsylvania will gather on March 21 at Dickinson College to lend their voices and hands-on experiences to the work of creating a world that is more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. The Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium (PERC) Student Sustainability Symposium, the first ever student-initiated symposium in the state, offers an opportunity for the next generation of leaders to present research and projects and to network with other students to promote collaboration in their fields.

Presentations and posters will highlight research such as that of senior environmental studies major Christine Burns, who studied how white-tailed deer shape their ecosystem through preferential browsing and act as agents of seed dispersal. The symposium also will highlight programs such as the Idea Fund, a student-run organization that provides a platform for turning sustainability and community-building ideas into initiatives that repay the fund through the savings or profits generated.

Student-organized, student-focused

“We have shared goals and oftentimes shared obstacles, so why not communicate the knowledge we gain from our experiences with one another to make all of our efforts stronger?” says Anna McGinn '14, an environmental studies major and symposium organizer. “When students work to bring students together, it’s an energizing experience that makes people feel like they are part of a sustainability movement rather than siloed efforts.”

Instead of a professional conference that welcomes student attendees and presenters, the PERC Student Sustainability Symposium is completely student-focused. Dickinson students recruited and coordinated the seven round-table discussions that will bring together student leaders from across Pennsylvania to debate issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline, how to promote sustainable initiatives in the face of obstacles, fossil fuel divestment and how to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration as part of sustainability practices. 

Justin McCarty ’15 thinks the presentations will yield new and interesting information, but he most looks forward to the round-table discussions. “That’s when the real work will happen,” he says, noting that attendees will break out into seven groups, each with a discussion topic. “I think the Keystone XL pipeline conversation will be the most important. It will hopefully yield some sort of longer conversation or action about one of the most important decisions this country is currently facing. And with the recent student arrests in Washington, D.C., it’s even more topical and vital.”

Tackling big topics

McGinn agrees that the Keystone XL pipeline is a hot topic and adds fossil fuel divestment to the list. “I see these as two main issues that students can unite over and find methods to collaborate and take action on going forward,” she says, pointing out that, for her, another issue raises the stakes globally: “Climate change is, without a doubt, the most pressing issue of our time.”

Attending the Student Sustainability Symposium will be students from colleges and universities across Pennsylvania, including Cabrini College, Villanova University, Temple University, Ursinus College, West Chester University, Chatham University, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny College, York College, Franklin & Marshall College, Gettysburg College, Millersville University, Harrisburg Area Community College, Pennsylvania State University, Lycoming College and Bucknell University.

Hosting the symposium, Dickinson is a national leader in sustainability education, offering nearly 100 sustainability courses each semester, integrated throughout the curriculum. Using the campus as a living laboratory—through the Idea Fund; the Center for Sustainable Living; the organic farm; and the water monitoring, recycling, composting and renewable energy programs—students gain hands-on experience in and out of the classroom to identify and define problems, understand their causes, develop solutions and test their ideas.

Published March 12, 2014