In Case You Missed It: Students Systems Conference at the Midwest Regional Climate Summit

In our In Case You Missed It series (also known as ICYMI), students from the Office of Sustainability offer reflective reports on sustainability-related events and lectures at UW–Madison. The following entry is by Natalie Tinsen.

Across the nation, undergraduate students are organizing and advocating for sustainability at their individual schools. However, their efforts have yet to be organized at a national level. On November 6, 2020, Maddie Miller and I came together to do just that: cultivate a network of students to share experiences in making sustainable change on their campuses.

“It’s so important to have students on the same page as each other, [to] understand that we are in the same boat together, know that we are stronger together than we are apart, and use the resources available to us as students. This is why we wanted to pursue this and make it such an interesting event,” said Maddie.

Natalie Tinsen, junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (left) and Madeline Miller, junior at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (right)
Natalie Tinsen, junior at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (left) and Madeline Miller, junior at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (right).

Maddie and I first met virtually this past summer in our capacity as student representatives for the Outreach and Engagement subcommittee for the Midwest Regional Climate Summit. The Midwest Regional Climate Summit is a think tank-inspired conference that aims to “expand climate knowledge, accelerate climate action, and catalyze new partnerships that deepen expertise and develop a Midwestern response to the climate crisis.” After sharing our experiences advocating for sustainability on our own campuses, Maddie and I quickly bonded over the challenges we both faced. Realizing the benefits we could gain from collaboration, we began working together to expand our network to include other campuses.

On November 6, this effort turned into the Student Systems Conference, which featured over 50 participants from across the United States. Participants were able to talk about their experiences in four breakout sessions: Energy/Fossil Fuel Usage, Student Advocacy, Waste Management, and Environmental Justice. Students bonded over their campus involvement and worked together to overcome some common barriers.

Marie Kim, a student participant from the conference, explained: “Because of the Student Systems Conference, we were able to reach out to more people and come together to discuss future plans and goals, and share our contact information with everyone in order to keep in touch and work together for sustainable campaigns in the future.” The conference offered a safe place for students to share their ideas and experiences and left participants feeling empowered to advocate for sustainable change after meeting new allies.

From my perspective, the most inspiring part of this whole process was the look of relief and excitement on the participants’ faces after the conference. In addition, because of this event, Maddie and I had the chance to build new friendships and ideas. The Student Systems Conference achieved everything we had hoped for.

This conference could not have been as successful as it was without a couple of key people. The Midwest Climate Summit organizers listened to our idea and helped to make it a reality. Our two advisors, Missy Nergard and Shane Stennes, helped our idea come to fruition and were there to support us every step of the way. We also have a great deal of gratitude for everyone who attended the conference, as it would not have been as successful without every single one of them.

The Student Systems Conference will be returning in Spring 2021, and will be aimed towards developing a call to action and imagining what the future will hold. Maddie and I are eager to begin planning the next session of the conference and will return with more details later to come.