Natalie Hoidal of Forest Lake oversees strategy and logistics of the Next Generation Environmental Leaders, students from two University of Minnesota campuses and several colleges and departments.
The team won the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Student Sustainability Leadership Award.
The award was presented at the association’s national conference on Sunday, Oct. 6 in Nashville, Tenn.
The students from the University of Minnesota’s Morris and Twin Cities campuses inform policy makers regarding environmental concerns.
UM students first connected with Minnesota’s political leaders in 2012. They began by brainstorming with Ellen Anderson, energy advisor to Gov. Dayton and former state senator, on ways to participate in the Environmental Congress and engage in developing solutions toward sustainability issues.
From there, the students developed and planned a statewide “Next Generation Environmental Congress” for February 2013, a month before the full Environmental Congress.
Led by Hoidal and Christy Newell, the students reached out to statewide youth through social media, meetings, posters, phone calls and presentations.
They teamed with University of Minnesota students from all five campuses, as well as groups including the Youth Environmental Advocates-Minnesota, the Minnesota Youth Environmental Network and the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group to develop a unified partnership through which the next generation of Minnesotans could voice their concerns to the state’s Environmental Quality Board.
More than 12 months of work culminated with a transformative panel at Governor Mark Dayton’s 2013 Environmental Congress. This gathering of business, non-profit and government leaders developed recommendations to help guide the state in creating short-term action steps and setting long-term goals for the future.
Anderson said the Next Generation Environmental Leaders played a key role in the Environmental Congress. “Their powerful presentation helped shape significant policy steps moving forward.”
“It is fantastic that the state of Minnesota has an active environmental quality board,” Hoidal said. “But it is truly impressive that Governor Dayton, state legislators and other decision makers are opening the floor for youth to speak their minds and participate meaningfully in policy development.”
On Feb. 24 the Next Generation Environmental Leaders held the Next Generation Environmental Congress. Nearly 200 attendees talked about issues needing direct attention. Four main ideas emerged: to change Minnesota agriculture by applying sustainable practices, to change modern transportation to strike hard at energy consumption, to create a new foundation for the energy economy to incentivize renewables, and to support solar and renewable energy development and discourage waste and pollution.
When Governor Dayton called the Environmental Congress into session in March 2013, the University of Minnesota students presented their findings.
They were nominated for the award by Troy Goodnough, sustainability director at the University of Minnesota, Morris, and, Beth Mercer-Taylor, sustainability education coordinator at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
An award reception will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16 at the University’s Institute on the Environment in St. Paul.