The Climate Leaders Fellowship is a transformative program that ignites a passion for climate change and sustainability among young individuals. In a collaboration by Stanford University’s Stanford University’s Deliberative Democracy Lab and the Rustic Pathways Foundation., this online initiative empowers students to actively address and overcome environmental challenges.
Read Nick’s inspiring story below!
Little Miami High School
Ohio, United States
My name is Nick Nowacinski, and I am an eighteen year old graduating senior from rural Ohio. I play many instruments (primarily bass guitar) in a band and at a music school, write fantasy and sci-fi stories, read Stephen King books, cook, and hang out with my guinea pigs and my cat in my spare time. I’m also especially interested in earth sciences.
I plan on majoring in biology in college, and am very interested in both conservation biology and molecular biology. As someone interested in science–particularly biology–and who thinks helping others is one of the most important aspects of life, I was thrilled to learn about the Climate Leaders Fellowship. I signed up immediately.
What did I do for my project?
My cohort, spring 2023, was focused on reducing landfill waste. Did you know that 40% to 50% of all food produced in the United States annually is wasted and sent to landfills? I certainly did not before I started this project.
As I worked on my project and dove deeper into research, I felt as if I was opening my eyes to the real issues of the world. I wondered, how had I not heard of any of this before? Why did nobody tell me how dire climate issues on the earth have already become?
I concluded that I must raise awareness for these issues, to become the teacher I wish I had. I live in a rural area where, unfortunately, climate issues are not very well cared for.
Teaching young people is more likely to leave a long-lasting impression, so I decided to teach students at my high school. I chose to teach about climate change in general and landfill waste, particularly food waste, and means of prevention.
In order to get proper permission and resources from my school, I messaged my principal and met with my science teacher after class asking for permission to give these presentations. It was surprisingly easy to get approval. All I had to do was send a short email and give my teacher a brief description of the presentation.
I gave the presentation for approximately forty students aged 16-18, taught them the dangers of climate change and landfill/food waste, and gave them preventative measures (using the reduce, reuse, recycle method). Then I provided a google form asking what they learned and what they planned on implementing in their daily lives.
How Did The Project Unfold?
It was extremely nerve wracking to stand in front of students my age and teach them about something many of them didn’t even believe in. I felt as if they were judging me, just waiting for the presentation to end.
However, I realized that was mostly just my anxiety talking and that at least the majority of the students were actively listening to the presentation and not judging me in reality. Even if they were, that wasn’t my problem; I was here for the students who actually listened, who actually cared. The interest of these students was greater than I realized, which was proved through my form results.
Overall, I was beyond happy with the results. Most students said that they would recycle and turn off lights and water when not in use, and that they learned for the first time just how much food was being wasted annually and how dangerous landfills are for the environment.
I understand that not every student was enthusiastic about the presentation because they were high schoolers who were required to be there, but I do feel as if I genuinely connected with at least a few of the students. And I still feel as if those students who weren’t extremely passionate or engaged still learned something, and now important climate information they had never known before was at least in their minds. My goal was to raise awareness about the issues of climate change, and I certainly feel as if I accomplished that.
What Did I Learn From The Project?
A lot of results emerged from this project that I really didn’t expect. First of all, I learned more about climate change than I expected–the aforementioned staggering statistics of food waste, the dangers of landfills and of methane, and much more. I felt more urged to action after learning these alarming facts, and I had heightened personal motivation to do this project after my beginning research.
Secondly, I learned how to organize events for things I find important to my life and my values. Before I really tried as a Climate Fellow, I wouldn’t have even known where to start with community outreach and project planning. The Climate Leaders Fellowship was really the force that sent me into action. I definitely feel greater confidence in my personal ability in activism after this entire experience.
Third, I saw for the first time that there were actually other people my age who cared about the environment and its problems. This sounds obvious, but it is really encouraging to physically see and interact with other people across the entire world who take time out of their days to work together towards a solution for the common good. It was really inspiring and motivating to meet with other people of my generation who cared. I feel like I saw a lot of good in people and gained a new sort of respect for people thanks to the program.
Lastly, I learned the importance of awareness. I always sort of thought that “awareness” was just a buzzword, something people said when they didn’t bother to directly act towards fixing something. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. If nobody did these presentations, if nobody spread information on social media, if nobody taught others how severe climate change issues were, how would they even know there was an issue at all?
Furthermore, how could anyone work towards a solution without knowing the extent of an issue? Now I know that it’s vital to teach younger people the consequences of our massive carbon usage so that they can make changes in their lives. Awareness is key to progress.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I received through the Climate Leaders Fellowship to interact with other current and future leaders in the fight against climate change. I am glad to know that there is potential for us to change our ways, and to unite for the common good. The climate activist community is on the rise, and I am proud to be a part of it. I would encourage all others to join us. Divided progress cannot come, but together we can change the world.