Off to Baltimore!

Right around the end of June I received an email from Luther’s assistant director of Sustainability, Maren Beard. In the email, she asked me if I would be interested in attending the Aashe Conference in October. Aashe, which stands for (thank God for acronyms) the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, is a huge annual professional conference where students, faculty, and professors from around the US and around the world come to talk about what their campuses are doing to promote and be more sustainable (I know, I know it’s ironic that thousands of supposedly “sustainable” people fly from all over to attend this “sustainability” conference, but the intangibles of the positive environmental impacts that result from changes people create as a result of the conference are also important factors to acknowledge).

As someone who is incredibly passionate about tackling the looming environmental crises—from the well-publicized ones like climate change, to the lesser known crises such as the loss of irreplaceable topsoil—I was honored and beyond thrilled to be given such an amazing opportunity. Plus an all-expenses paid trip to Baltimore was nothing to shy away from. Clearly there was nothing to stop me from taking advantage of such an incredible opportunity...except for the date of the conference, which conveniently fell the week leading up to Fall Break, a.k.a. Midterms/Week of Hell. Yet I couldn’t possibly pass up this invitation; luckily it was far enough into summer that the stresses of the academic year seemed like a distant memory. And so I quickly replied back to Maren, and it was set—I would be going to Baltimore.

Fast forward to this past week with the Aashe conference, midterms, and Fall Break all in clear view.

I’ll admit that this time last week I was a little stressed. The week leading up to Fall Break is always a hectic one. With midterm papers and exams on top of the already busy school schedule, this week is certainly not the highlight of the college experience. Add a 4 day conference where I would have to miss 2 days of this hectic week, and it was a recipe for insanity. Fortunately, I survived the week, taking 3 tests the Friday before I left and 2 tests the Wednesday I arrived back. And I am happy to say that every minute of anxiety was worth it for my experience this last weekend.

I wrote so many notes, met so many amazing people (including some men from a university in Singapore as well as a super cool lady from Germany), and ate so much good food that I couldn’t possibly fit all these experiences into one blog post. Instead, I’ll share with you just a few takeaways I got from this conference.

  1. The movement and change are happening as we speak
    1. A lot of times, we tend to talk about tackling environmental issues in the future tense, as if they can be held off indefinitely into the future. Yet there are people who are enacting change right now across the country and across the world. From campus greenhouses and farms, to more renewable energy sources, to carbon-neutrality goals, colleges, professors and most importantly students are making a difference and moving in the right direction.
  2. Gratitude for Luther College Sustainability
    1. The biggest challenge to many students that I talked to was inertia and apathy. If no one on campus cares about living more sustainably, how can we create a culture of change? This is a question that I honestly do not have an answer for. Yet Luther has created this culture of change, and you can see it in so many aspects of the campus, from the compost/recycle/trash compartments in every building to the wind turbine that dots the tree-filled skyline. The Center for Sustainable Communities and Luther as a whole are doing an amazing job, and I am beyond grateful to be able to contribute to such a community.
  3. Hope
    1. Surrounded by so many other people that share my concern and care gave me immense hope. Oftentimes I get bogged down by the fact that I am just 1 of 7 billion people, and anything positive I do can easily be negated by others. Yet, at the student summit, surrounded by hundreds of other kids just like me, I didn’t feel so alone in the struggle. The crises we face are tremendous, but with so many bright, passionate young people looking to make positive change in our world, at the very least there is hope.
My roomie Natalie and I "heart" Baltimore a little too much

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