Reflections from an Environmental Leader: Youth Represents Earth Force at Conference

Guest blog post: Aidan White, Rising eighth grader at George Washington Middle School

This past school year, Earth Force sponsored my science class’ project to improve the local watershed. As a rising eighth grader at George Washington Middle School in Alexandria, VA, I recently attended Our Task Inc.’s Annual Earth 2100 Conference at George Mason University representing Earth Force. It is a conference focused on young adults to help our generation realize the problems in our environment and how we can help fix them.

I was surprised to find that I was the youngest attendee, followed by a rising high school senior. Nevertheless, I was excited to learn. Day one included presentations from by Robert Engleman, a Senior Fellow of the Worldwatch Institute and Timothy Damon, the U.S. Youth Delegate to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We then saw a presentation on renewable energy. Did you know that the U.S. is the second highest CO2 emitting nation (behind China)? Another panel included experts on alternative plans to help the environment. Two of the people on the panel were a brother and a sister named Carter and Olivia Ries. They founded a non-profit in 2009 called One More Generation (OMG). It focuses on saving endangered species for at least one more generation and educates students about the aforementioned species. They have helped hundreds of animals and educated thousands of students, all at the tender ages of 11 and 13.


Carter Ries (left), Olivia Ries (right), and I (middle)

Jacqui Patterson, the director of the NAACP’s Climate Change Initiative discussed Environmental Justice and the fact that most landfills, nuclear plants, and coal burning plants are built in areas with more people of color and ethnicity.

Day two kicked off with another presentation by Cater and Olivia Ries about the fact that anyone can make a difference. For example, Chick-Fil-A recently started serving paper straws at their restaurants instead of plastic all because Carter had a discussion with one of the managers about sustainability.

In the afternoon, we had an hour to talk with the heads of various environmental organizations. I was particularly interested with the Center for a New American Dream. Later, Hannah Debelius from the U.S. Green Building Council of Students gave a short presentation on her year living on Smith Island in Maryland. We then took a break to visit the George Mason student vegetable garden, being tended to this summer by Christine Harris, a current student at GMU.

(From left to right) Corn, peaches, cabbage, and squash growing at the GMU garden.

(From left to right) Corn, peaches, cabbage, and squash growing at the GMU garden.

When we got back to the conference room, we met up with the environmental organization heads again to discuss how to get involved. I am taking a pledge not to drink from plastic water bottles for 30 days (learn more here). We finished off with some closing remarks from the president of Our Task Inc., who put on the conference. All in all, it was an amazing experience, and I am grateful for Earth Force granting me this opportunity.

Conference attendees posing for a picture.

Conference attendees posing for a picture.

International Expansion Marks 25 Years of GM GREENing

For the past 25 years, the General Motors Global Rivers Environmental Education Network (GREEN) has engaged young people as active citizens who improve conditions in their watersheds now and in the future.

Dr. William Stapp of the University of Michigan founded the GREEN program in 1984. What began as a group of graduate students seeking a way to investigate cases of individuals who had contracted hepatitis from the Huron River grew to a broad network of citizens working to address the issues and threats facing their local water resources.

With the addition of General Motors in 1989, and Earth Force in 1999, the program grew to include all GM facility communities across the U.S. This evolution introduced a critical collaborative model that has since informed all of our work at Earth Force. Locally-based organizations, mentors from General Motors, and Earth Force come together to support young people in learning more about the watersheds they live in and using their findings to create lasting solutions to pressing water quality issues.


Since then, Earth Force has developed GM GREEN collaboratives in 26 communities throughout the U.S., engaging over 150,000 young people as environmental leaders.

This year, our 25th anniversary, marks a large international expansion into seven new communities in Canada, and deepening our programming in one existing community, Oshawa. The expansion brings new opportunities for youth from the U.S. to connect with students in Canada to learn about the similarities and differences they face when working to improve their environment.

We’re looking forward to celebrating 25 years with 28 amazing partners, over 200 GM mentors from 42 GM facilities, and thousands of young people and educators who make innovative and imperative improvements to their environments and communities.

Want to join our efforts? We’re continually growing our network. To learn more about GM GREEN, visit or contact Jan Sneddon at

Pals in Professional Learning: WestEd and Discovery Place Education Studios

Guest blog post by Staceylyn Machi, professional development specialist in the Understanding Science for Teaching Project at WestEd. 

Whether you’re in a sandbox, a school, or an office, everyone needs good pals in life. During the 2014 Next Steps Institute, WestEd will lead the Creating Cross Sector Partnerships to Advance STEM Education pathway. We know from experience how important partnerships are when working to make an impact through STEM education. When developing the Making Sense of SCIENCE (MSS), a project from WestEd’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program, we found a pal in the Discovery Place Education Studios.

Who are we?

The MSS project produces best-in-class teacher professional development courses in science. We also provide facilitation academies to prepare facilitators to lead the courses for teachers. We are a small team and don’t have the capacity to provide our courses directly to teachers. Discovery Place Education Studios provides professional development to thousands of teachers, and they want to provide the best science professional development out there.

How did we become pals?

Obviously, MSS and DPES are great compliments to each other, but becoming pals didn’t happen overnight.

We met each other by chance, and over the years Discovery Place staff attended several MSS facilitation academies. We quickly realized that Discovery Place was well-organized with a staff of knowledgeable and passionate science educators. They valued our expertise in curriculum design for teachers and the techniques we use for facilitating collaborative teacher learning.

From this foundation of mutual respect, we built a partnership. Both organizations were clear about what they needed and what they could and could not offer. We called on our organizations’ contract and legal departments to help sort out the logistics. Thanks to conference call technology, we had plenty of remote play-dates.

What have we done thus far?

In June, MSS instructors led a facilitation academy for the Making Sense of SCIENCE: Energy teacher course at the Discovery Place. The successful academy reached many formal and informal educators. The participants were engaged and challenged by the course and impressed with Discovery Place’s state of the art facility and fantastic staff.

At the end of the week, compliments abounded. One participant shared, “Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us to help teachers and impact student learning.” Hearing them was like stepping back and watching the flag soar on top of the sandcastle.

What will happen next?

The key to maintaining our successful partnership is finding ways both organizations benefit. Soon, Discovery Place will lead the MSS: Energy and the MSS: Force & Motion courses for teachers at their fantastic Education Studios. This July, their staff will get first dibs on learning our brand new course, MSS: Genes & Traits.

We are excited to see how this partnership grows, and are looking forward to meeting new pals at the Next Steps Institute to play in the STEM sandbox!

Register for the Next Steps Institute!