CU Boulder student Meredith Nass grew up in Durango, Colo., a region where diverging perspectives about energy, use of resources and sustainability are the norm. But growing up there, Nass didn’t know much about these issues. "I lived there for 18 years, went to public school, and volunteered in my community," she said. "But I never really knew much about the energy and sustainability issues affecting my region."
For Nass, that is about to change. This summer, together with nine other CU Boulder students from the INVST Community Leadership Program, Nass ditched her cell phone and set off for four weeks under the stars to investigate sustainability issues in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
"Having the chance to talk to coal miners and people who work on oil rigs, environmentalists, people on the Black Mesa Reservation who work for the water coalition, to be able to hear all these stories and perspectives during our INVST trip and bring this information back to my community, I’m just so excited for that,” she said.
The INVST Community Leadership Program, now in its 26th year, is part of CU Engage, CU Boulder’s Center for Community-Based Learning and Research. Guided by a core focus on ethical leadership, civic engagement, and rigorous interdisciplinary coursework, CU Engage promotes student success through learning opportunities that foster a sense of belonging, accountability and agency. INVST’s mission is to develop community leaders who engage in compassionate action as a lifetime commitment.
Every summer, a new cohort of INVST students travels throughout the southwestern United States to learn about a specific topic and take action. This year’s theme is sustainability, and the students are meeting extraction industry leaders, community activists and others to gain nuanced perspectives about the issues of climate justice, energy and power, and to learn how to think critically about these topics.
From early July into August, the students are staying with the Navajo Nation to learn about coal mining’s impact on indigenous people. They are visiting a coal mine to hear from coal miners, and speaking with local leaders about fracking. They also are studying permaculture, cooperative business models, the sharing economy, Earth Ship homes, acequias, co-housing, farmers’ markets, CSAs and aquaponics. They will end their journey by meeting with Colorado legislators and lobbyists at the state capitol to learn how to effect change through the political process.
Josh Edelmann is another CU student participating in the summer program. Originally from Charlotte, N.C., Edelmann is now a transfer student at CU Boulder who just finished six years of military service in April. For Edelmann, his two military deployments to Qatar started him thinking about human rights and the people behind the products of the modern world.
In Qatar, where Edelmann worked as a dog handler for the Air Force, he witnessed workers building a new stadium. "I was standing there thinking, it’s just not right to have these people working like this, out in the sun all day in 120 degrees," he explained. "That made me think about human rights and not being treated well, which made me think about how workers are treated here, and how issues of human rights and fairness are being addressed domestically."
Edelmann is most looking forward to visiting and working on an organic farm during the INVST journey this summer. "People often go to the store and don’t really appreciate where their food comes from," he said. "I’m looking forward to being on the farm and getting my hands dirty."
For Nass and Edelmann, INVST also provides an affinity group at CU Boulder of similar students looking to engage with the world beyond the university.
"INVST completely aligned with what I was needing, which was a smaller community at CU to add a deeper level of education," Nass said. "This trip is about listening and learning. And hopefully as we learn we can figure out what to do next that would help."