Learning to tackle tough problems

How hard is it to live sustainably? One solution seems simple: encourage people to buy locally produced seasonal food. The reality, however, is different. Are there local farmers nearby? Is the food affordable? Can the farmer afford to advertise or set up a place to sell the food?

For three weeks, 23 high school students from as far away as California have been on the University’s Reynolda Campus exploring challenges related to sustainable initiatives. With the help of professors, renowned experts, owners of green businesses and one another, these students have confronted these and other complex issues from ecological, economic, political, social, and legal angles — to name a few — through Wake Forest’s LENS program.

In its second year, the highly-selective LENS @ Wake Forest (Learn, Experience, Navigate and Solve) program is geared toward students who want to implement positive change in their communities. “The greatest challenge to sustainability is societal apathy and the lack of concreteness. As with anything, if people cannot directly see the negative consequences of their actions, they will see no reason to make a change,” said Brian Gordon, a student from Short Hills, NJ. “We need to be that change.”

“The most difficult problems we face in the world today can only be solved by studying them from a variety of perspectives,” says Lucas Johnston, assistant professor of religion and environmental studies and co-director of the program. “The LENS program is designed to help students understand that broad academic knowledge coupled with input from people with different life experiences, concerns and opinions is a powerful problem-solving tool.”

Students visited Yellow Wolf Farm to learn about sustainable farming operations and a farmers market to purchase locally grown foods for a group meal. They also visited the Yadkin River, Forsyth County’s primary water source, to meet with a representative from the local Riverkeepers chapter.

Improving writing skills to communicate, test ideas and persuade others is another component of the program. Co-director Ryan Shirey, interim director of the Wake Forest Writing Center, provided one-on-one writing tutorials and collaborative workshops to help students translate their ideas into proposals for community action.

“What separates Wake Forest’s program from other similar programs is the goal of having students leave with the confidence and the tools to envision and implement their own sustainability success stories at home,” Johnston says.

Categories: Community, Sustainability, Top Stories, Wake Forest College