Students expand their ‘green’ knowledge

Sustainability Green: What does it mean? Nearly 1,000 students from three area junior high schools learned the answer to that question during a hands-on sustainability event held in and around UNI’s Wellness Recreation Center on May 24.   

For more than a year, Cedar Valley Sustainability and Environmental Educators, the group that presented the event “Green: What does it mean? Exploring our sustainable community,” worked to create a learning experience for young adults that was radically different from what the students traditionally learn in class. The event was successful, as students explored how careers, technology, recreation, energies, waste reduction and conservation all tie into the concept of sustainability.

More than 40 presenters, educators and community members from across the state raised students’ environmental literacy by showing them how everyday choices impact the environment. For example, during Camp Cooking 101, students learned how to cook pizza outdoors on a Dutch oven. Even more importantly, they learned that cooking with charcoal briquettes is a fun, resource-saving way to prepare meals instead of cooking indoors with gas or electricity. During the session Archery Instruction, students participated in a sport that’s environmentally friendly and takes advantage of the great outdoors. 

“We can’t take the outdoors for granted,” said Michaela Rich, an instructor in UNI’s chemistry and biochemistry department and member of the event’s steering committee. “If we want to have outdoor recreational opportunities, we need to protect the land, which is what the archery demonstration showed.”

Indoors, students climbed the WRC’s rock wall and also learned how recycled materials were used to create the wall. They also explored how electricity is generated from the wind and how this plentiful energy source can be used to power many devices in their homes and communities.

“Our goal was to provide students with a day of education and fun to help them see how most everything they do, from what they eat to what they buy to how they spend their free time, all ties into sustainable theory,” said Jenny Bruss, program and community outreach coordinator for the Recycling and Reuse Technology Transfer Center (RRTTC).

The keynote speaker for the day was Chad Pregracke of Living Lands & Waters, a not-for-profit organization based in East Moline, Ill., dedicated to cleaning up and preserving our nation’s rivers. Since its establishment, Pregracke, his crew and 70,000 volunteers have collected more than 6 million pounds of debris.

During their work, Pregracke knew they’d find discarded bottles and cans, yet he was both disheartened and flabbergasted when they also found televisions, cars, mattresses, tires, bowling balls and other random objects in our nation’s rivers. “Everything that you’d imagine in a city dump has been found in the rivers,” said Pregracke.

“I love doing this, but the river might not be your thing,” Pregracke told the students. “My hope for you is that you find something where you wake up every day and say, ‘This is exactly what I want to be doing.’ Study hard now and go to college, which will give you all kinds of options as you find your passion and make it happen. With persistence, dedication and hard work, anything is possible.”

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