By SONIA SCHLESINGER
Chicago-native and Cornell University Junior Dejah Powell has been passionate about the environment for years. She has been involved in several environmental research opportunities and met former president Bill Clinton through the Clinton Global Initiative which focuses on issues of the environment, education and global poverty.
This month, from Aug. 15 – 19, she will be working with young Chicago students to teach them the passion and knowledge she has gained about the environment: in partnership with the University of Chicago Collegiate Scholars Program, an initiative that prepares Chicago Public Schools students for university, she is running a summer camp to teach Chicago students ages 9-13 about environmental issues and research. So far there are 18 campers; Powell is hoping that 20-25 will have signed up by the start of the program.
Each day of the camp has a different theme. On Monday, campers will be introduced to environmental science fundamentals. Then there is a changemaker challenge focused on teaching the students to become entrepreneurs in the field of environmental justice, for example, taking interest in community gardens as a means of decreasing violence. That day they will also visit the Method Soap factory in Pullman, a building with a green roof, solar tracking trees, a wind turbine, and other environmentally friendly practices. Friday, campers will present the changemaker ideas they have developed over the course of the week.
Powell hopes that the camp will continue long after this summer. She plans to run smaller programs when she is back in Chicago for holidays this winter, and to follow up with the students after the program, to track the ways it has inspired their involvement in environmental issues inside and outside of school.
“We’re not sure how students will respond to this,” Powell said. “A lot of this is very hands-on and I hope by taking pre- and post-program evaluations we can see if there’s an increase in their behavior toward the environment, an increased interest in compost, in recycling, in wanting to become an environmental scientist or marine biologist. We’d like to motivate the students to do that once they leave.”
In the future, Powell hopes to continue with exactly this kind of work herself.
“I love the environment and I love engaging with young people, so I hope to do something like that and still be a scientist at the same time,” she said. “I know how much potential you have to have to make an impact working with young people.”