From the President’s Environmental Youth Award to Making a Global Impact
Introduction by Kathleen Fenton
Human health and the environment literally make up our world, which Pavane Gorrepati knows very well. While not all of us have won the President’s Environmental Youth Award, written a children’s book on climate change, or received the World Food Prize’s Elaine Szymoniak Award, we all have a part to play. My dream has involved working with the Environmental Education Program at EPA, which is how I came to know Pavane Gorrepati.
The Environmental Education Program crosses political and cultural boundaries by opening minds to the interdisciplinary nature of environmental science. To be stewards of the environment, children must learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as well as community planning, business and socioeconomic issues. Pavane has certainly made the effort and knows how to connect the issues with her generation. It is important that we empower children early so they have the intellectual tools to build resilient communities and communicate that need to their peers in a way that resonates.
As we celebrate this year’s Environmental Education Week, April 20-24, I wanted to touch base with past winners of the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) to see where their paths had taken them. Pavane won the 2009 award through EPA Region 7 for her work on a project involving fuel cells. She was gracious enough to send us her thoughts and describe her journey so far:
If I had not had such a strong environmental curriculum in middle and high school, I never would have pursued or accomplished some of the most amazing experiences in my life. An environmental education has played such a big part of my life in terms of discovering my interests and passions. One of the best parts of having an environmental education is being able to connect with kids and adults all across the country around a common interest and passion.
Since I received EPA’s PEYA award at a 2010 ceremony as a high school freshman, I’ve continued my efforts in educating my peers in my community and nationally by presenting my research on alternative energy and climate change on local, national, and international platforms. In order to engage all age groups and help kids develop an interest in the environment at an early age, I published a children’s book, “A Buzzie Bee Tale”.
My initial interests in climate change, however, were transformed throughout my high school career. I began to research and understand the effects of climate change on vulnerable populations, specifically in terms of food security. Learning how drought can devastate entire communities by wiping out food supply became an eye-opening experience. I became very interested in the relationship climate change has on global populations in terms of food supply and health.
To further explore this interest and gain experience, I conducted research in Changsha, China, on hybrid rice and the relationship of climate change, infrastructure, and socioeconomic factors on agriculture in rural China, for which I received the 2012 World Food Prize’s Elaine Szymoniak Award. As a result of that experience, I saw a need for education in this area among my peers. I started a nonprofit called Feeding Inspiration, which focuses on educating youth on the devastating effects hunger has on limiting the potential of future generations and deterring economic growth and future development. I continue my work and interests in this field at Yale University.
To say that an environmental education played a part in what I have done and who I am is an understatement. It helped shape almost every aspect of who I am today. It helped me to understand the world in a new light, pursue dreams I never thought were possible, and deepen my understanding of how interconnected the environment is with some of the world’s most challenging problems. An environmental education has meant the world to me.
Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the Environmental Education Program Coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs in Lenexa, Kansas. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education grants and “Healthy Schools” projects for over twenty years.
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