Who Are Sustainable Summer Students?

Anyone who has been to college will tell you their fellow students were every bit as, if not more, important as their professors, classes, and other aspects of the college experience. In other words, the students make the school, not the other way around.

We’ve long maintained one of the three things that makes Sustainable Summer special is our students (with our value and our approach being the other two). As we near the end of our recruitment season, and look back at the collective groups of young people whom have enrolled in one of our five Sustainable Summer programs for 2014, it is no less true for us.

Who are Sustainable Summer students? By the numbers, the “typical” Sustainable Summer student is a current junior (rising senior) and from the Northeastern US or California. There’s about a 62% likelihood he or she goes to a public school (and about a 50% likelihood he is a he versus she is a she). In some ways, this sounds like the picture of a pretty typical high school kid (or at least high school kids that travel abroad on a summer program).

But due to the narrow focus on sustainability, Sustainable Summer programs attract students who are far from typical. Our participants are overwhelmingly active and engaged with issues of sustainability in their communities and schools, or at the very least, curious to explore the subject in a hands-on way during the summer. They are on their school’s “green team” or in the environmental club; they have started recycling and composting programs at their school; they are taking (or have taken) AP Environmental Science; they are gardening at home or involved in a community organic farm; they are hikers and bikers and backpackers; they are interested in studying environmental engineering or food policy or conservation biology in college; they are the voice of their generation on the most important issue of the day; they are future environmental leaders.

Sustainable Summer is a small organization. By all accounts, we shouldn’t be able to get our message in front of the number of students and parents that we do. What we spend on marketing in a year is roughly the equivalent of what a large study abroad program spends on postage in a month. Yet, our message somehow seems to reach the most unlikely of locations – that student in Iowa or New Mexico or West Virginia or China or Ghana – and resonate with its intended audience. Somehow you are reading this from wherever in the world you are, and that is a bit of an improbability given that we are all just one in 7 billion. Of course, we aren’t even remotely able to reach every student that would benefit from our programs and be a valuable contributor to our like-minded community of young people. But the ones who find us, and who travel and learn with us, are among the most remarkable young people we’ve known in nearly 15 years in the education field.

Something about Sustainable Summer has resonated with you. Maybe it’s where we go and what we do and how we do it. But that’s only part of the experience. It’s a joy creating a space for learning and growth, but it’s the students who make our programs, not us.