State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Youth Learn Important Leadership Lessons in Earth Institute Pre-College Program

In fall 2020, the Earth Institute launched its first-ever non-degree programs, with offerings for professional learning and pre-college preparation. The Earth Institute’s non-degree programs aim to prepare learners to understand, analyze, and apply cutting-edge research to the complex problem of our changing climate. The pre-college program helps high school participants build important skills, advance their learning outside of school, and prepare for the college experience.

We’ve been blown away by the caliber of our young learners and their commitment and dedication to learning in a tumultuous time. Below, an instructor shares some of the ideas behind the workshop he led, as well as feedback from learners on what they took away from it.

If you are interested in finding out more about our spring 2021 offerings for pre-college students, please visit our website. For spring 2021, we are offering a Making Sense of Climate Data workshop led by Dara Mendeloff and a Communicating Climate Change Like Your Life Depends On It workshop led by Dale Willman.

The following is a piece written by Joan Lopez, program manager of the Youth, Peace, and Security Program at the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity. Lopez led the Let the Youth Lead workshop for pre-college learners in October 2020. The workshop invited youth leaders to enhance their existing practices, enthusiasm, and knowledge in order to support and further develop their roles as change agents in local and global community efforts.

joan camilo lopez
Joán Camilo Lopez is program manager of the Youth, Peace and Security program at Columbia University. In fall 2020, he led a workshop on youth leadership. Photo: Sarah Fecht

During the fall of 2020, I had the opportunity to develop and share a space for co-creation with high school students from the city of New York. We called this space, “Let the Youth Lead.” This space was created drawing from the many years of practice-oriented research on youth leadership by Earth Institute researchers — Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida (also academic director and vice-chair of faculty at the School of Professional Studies) and myself, Joan C. Lopez.

In fact, there is an existing urgency for spaces like this as those who hold positions of influence begin to understand and come to terms with the necessity to collaborate more with the youth; to include their energy, creativity, and transformative ways of seeing the world, in the continued efforts to grow a sustainable relationship between societies and their social and natural environments. We approached this urgency by offering high school learners the opportunity to explore some of the tools and methods that Fisher-Yoshida and I use in our practice-oriented research among youth leaders, such as Dynamic Systems Theory, Coordinated Management of Meaning, and the ethnographic method.

In the midst of a pandemic, seeing an array of social issues resulting from that, we recognized the importance to open up a space for exploration and co-creation. On the first day of the workshop, we met a group of high school students concerned with pressing social and environmental issues affecting their communities, and who wanted to take the lead on addressing them. Our role as instructors was to make available to them the methods we’ve developed and used in the field, as well as to show them some of the best practices that many youth leaders around the world are using to address social and environmental problems in their respective communities.

Each learner came to the workshop with one project or concern in mind. Some of the concerns and questions included: How to design and implement an anti-racist curriculum in New York high schools; how to understand and shed light on the social and environmental problems associated with mass consumerism; and how can communities living close to beaches engage in doing pedagogy around ocean contamination.

Beth and I proposed one norm: we would share information, methods, and concepts, and facilitate conversations around them; and together, instructors and learners, will co-create ways to implement these resources to each one of the social and environmental issues that students wanted to address. And for three weeks, we invested our shared energy on that.

Participants journaled around their experiences since we embarked on this project, and these were some of their reflections:

“Prior to participating in “Let the Youth Lead,” I fell victim to the notion that leadership solely meant carving a unique path for others to follow. While a major facet of leadership is taking the initiative to set an example for others, it’s only one facet of a complex and multi-dimensional mentality. Leadership spans from individual to individual, encompassing the very relationships friends, family, communities, and even strangers can share with one another.… Leadership connotes connection…. Leadership connotes listening…. I hope to continue to carry these newfound understandings into my community and beyond; our world could do with a few lessons on leadership.” — Katie

“In the context of youth leadership — and any leadership — it is important to have a holistic overview of the problems that society faces before attempting to figure out any solutions.… Another important part of leadership is to understand that there are many sides to a story.… I ask: Is it possible to tell all sides of a story? And if not, should we still try?… So it is important to see how our notions can often be wrong, and in our leadership, we should show the world how we can listen to those unheard stories and understand these other perspectives to enliven and strengthen our understanding and our leadership.” — Ajani

“The awareness of these points (the critical points of Coordinated Management of Meaning ) led me to take more time to make decisions when I arrived at them, and do a deeper analysis of my surroundings before I continued. I’m still trying to find ways to incorporate the LUUUUTT model, as it seems to require more training to master storytelling.… Overall it was a great experience and I was able to solidify the policy plans I had for my Reconstruction project.” — Theo

“My favorite lesson from the Let the Youth Lead workshop was asking ‘Why Aren’t Things Worse?’ This is because in every problem-solving question, situation, or idea, we are always taught to approach it with the redundant step of first identifying the problem, and then conjuring up solutions. Let the Youth Lead showed us how to break down these two huge steps into various steps that showed us how to effectively approach problem-solving the right way. Along the way, we are encouraged to ask why things aren’t worse. This took me aback just a bit because we’re always taught to focus on the problem. As humans, our nature is to focus on the problems and weaknesses we have in order to have the best chance of survival. By instead asking why things aren’t worse, we are forced to think about what is actually working, which is a positive attitude of course, and because oftentimes, the answer is right there!” — Lily

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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Joan E Crockett
Joan E Crockett
3 years ago

I am interested in the geological aspects covered in the program.