Shi Center fellows make trek to conferences
Whether it’s semester-long study away, shorter-term May experiences, internships, or presenting research at academic conferences both in the United States and abroad, Furman students have abundant opportunities for engaged learning outside the classroom.
Last spring, Shi Center for Sustainability associate director Yancey Fouché and program coordinator Kelly Grant Purvis brought a cadre of Furman students to two important conferences in the field, the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference (Baltimore) and the Feeding the Planet Summit (Washington).
At the conferences, Furman student delegates not only gleaned ideas to improve the university’s already environmentally sound profile, they also helped themselves to a sea of networking and learning opportunities to bolster their marketability in sustainability-related professions.
The Shi Center hosted Elly Gay ’17, Logan Richardson ’18, and Ying Yang ‘18 for the Smart and Sustainable Conference. The two-day meeting brought together international sustainability leaders from the private, non-profit, and higher education sectors to grapple with strategies for equipping college students to solve complex global problems.
Fouché and Purvis tapped the three to attend the event for demonstrating leadership in the area of sustainability at Furman. As a sophomore, Gay completed a year serving as co-president of student-led Environmental Action Group; Yang and Richardson, only freshmen at the time, assisted in Furman’s sustainability assessment efforts resulting in a Gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS®)—a rating which only five southeastern universities achieved in 2015.
Rubbing elbows with potential employers in the field of sustainability is especially important when headlines continue to cast gloom on the job market for the 25-and-under set. So Furman student representatives at the Feeding the Planet conference last May used the time to network with leaders in the field to reinforce their studies at Furman and shape their impressions about the types of jobs they may one day hold.
Elisa Edmondson ’15 says the meeting was “a wonderful culmination to my Furman career that fused my interests in communication studies, poverty studies, and sustainability … Being surrounded by driven innovators, politicians, activists, and videographers made me feel excited to experience my future beyond Furman.” Edmondson, who ran social media platforms for the Shi Center now works for an executive search and management firm as a social media recruiter.
This year’s Feeding the Planet summit, an initiative of George Washington University’s Planet Forward, centered on the theme, “The Story of Food in the Age of Climate Change.” The intent of the annual meeting is to harness the power of student voices and the reach of digital media to explore innovations needed to feed a climate-challenged planet.
One of those voices was that of Amanda Richey ’17, who also shared her impressions of the summit. “To say I’m a little overwhelmed after the Feeding the Planet Summit would be an understatement. Feeding all soon-to-be nine billion of us, fairly and sustainably, under increasingly sporadic weather is the ultimate test of my generation’s lifetime. We have to do it using strained agricultural land and limited water and we have to do it fast.” Richey, who later participated in Furman’s MayX Slow Food Italy says, “Feeding the planet is a gargantuan task, but this summit gave me hope that we can rise to meet the challenge.”
Emily Anderson ’18, who attended as a freshman, was struck by what can be achieved even on a small scale. “Witnessing the accomplishments of the ideas and will power of individuals and small NGOs was inspiring.”
Planet Forward founder Frank Sesno says, “We stand at a vital intersection of communications and sustainability.”
At this important crossroads, it’s good Furman is part of the conversation for a lot of reasons. Students engage with leaders and peers in the sustainability sciences to better understand their own place as change-makers and leaders in an at-risk world. At the same time, students improve their employment outlook as they learn about opportunities in the field and connect with the larger sustainability community.