Student leaders, university representatives, environmental experts and celebrities from around the world gathered in Chicago in October for the Clinton Global Initiative University.
For Central Michigan University student Amber Van Meter, attending the three-day event felt like finding a support group.
"It can be easy to get discouraged when you care so much about the environment. It's a hard field, and it feels as if there's always someone telling you it doesn't matter. It was cool to be in an environment where everyone shared that passion and said, 'You can do this. Keep pushing,'" said Van Meter, a senior studying recreation, parks and leisure services administration and sustainability and environmental policy.
Van Meter and CMU geography and environmental studies graduate student Adam Gallaher attended.
Event participants heard from former President Bill Clinton and many global leaders, environmental experts and changemakers. They attended workshops, keynote presentations and worked in small groups to develop action plans addressing global challenges such as poverty, hunger and sustainability.
Sharing CMU sustainability efforts
To qualify for attendance, thousands of students submitted projects they were conducting at their universities that could positively impact the world. An extensive application process selected more than 1,000 students from across the globe to attend.
Van Meter and Gallaher submitted "Sustainability is Central," a report outlining CMU's goals for sustainability and the progress campus has made each year toward greener operations.
CMU students Adam Gallaher and Amber Van Meter share CMU's sustainability best practices at the Clinton Global Initiative University.
Working on the "Sustainability is Central" report is typically reserved for graduate students like Gallaher, but Van Meter was invited to participate this year as part of her Centralis Honors Program capstone project.
The Honors Program requires students to present their work in front of an audience, but Van Meter never expected to have such a large crowd for her presentation.
"It's pretty rare for a student to get to speak to a large multinational conference," said Thomas Rohrer, director of CMU's Great Lakes Institute for Sustainable Systems.
Ready for repeats
Rohrer said this won't be the last year CMU attends the conference.
After seeing Gallaher's and Van Meter's success, Rohrer plans to encourage students to apply every year. By attending annually, Rohrer said CMU can continue to develop global leaders and innovative ways to practice sustainability on campus.
Networking with students from around the globe and sharing best practices was an important aspect of the conference.
When Gallaher and Van Meter arrived, they were grouped with students who had similar projects. They met and exchanged ideas with students from as far away as Uganda.
Van Meter said those conversations made her proud of sustainability efforts at CMU. She often was able to offer encouragement and suggestions to others, including a student trying to initiate composting on her campus.
"CMU is a zero-waste campus, so I could share what we do and our ideas. I think the conference gave people a really good opportunity to learn more and find the resources they needed," Van Meter said.
Extending the impact to CMU
Now back at CMU, Van Meter wants to continue the conversation on sustainability.
"On a day-to-day basis," she said, "what I can do to make a change is to just keep talking to people about these issues."
Written by Abby Fischer, University Communications intern