National Wildlife Refuge System

“Generation E Is in the House!”

By Jennifer Anderson

photo of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The immense natural beauty of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska inspired 13 high school students in Connecticut to take action.
Credit: USFWS

So moved by the juxtaposition—images of the immense, naturally wild Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the possibility of oil exploration there—high school students in Connecticut took action.

From a continent away, 13 students spearheaded a project at Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, that achieved an impressive level of awareness for the Alaska refuge.

The whole experience “was better than I could have imagined,” says Mary Ann Lendenmann, the museum’s volunteer program manager and coordinator of a youth group called youth@bruce.

The crux of the project involved bringing a traveling exhibit—Arctic Sanctuary: Images of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by photographer Jeff Jones—to the museum. The 25–photograph display, one of a handful of exhibits on the museum’s calendar that the students could have chosen to fund, coincides with the refuge’s 50th anniversary and runs through May 29.

Rather than simply fund the exhibit, the students also applied to and obtained a license to host a TEDx event. TEDx events are planned and coordinated by independent groups and feature live presenters engaged in discussions on a range of issues.

The speakers at the March 26 TEDxYouth@Bruce event included Jones; former Arctic Refuge biologist Fran Mauer; author and environmentalist Bill McKibben; Alaska native Sarah James, a spokeswoman for the Neets’aii Gwich’in Indian tribe; and climate–change journalist and writer Andrew Revkin.

Revkin featured the event on his New York Times Dot Earth blog: “The best part?” he wrote. “The event has been largely organized by high school students from Greenwich and neighboring Connecticut towns. In other words, Generation E is in the house!” (Revkin defines Generation E as young people who are working on “the climate–energy challenge.”)

Why did the students work so hard on the project? “We felt it was important to fund an exhibit relevant to what was going on in the world,” says Dane Burge, a junior at Greenwich High School. Describing the photos as “breathtaking,” he says, “the exhibit was perfect for illustrating the debate on oil drilling in Alaska.”

“Even though the refuge is far away, preserving the environment is a big theme, global,” says Lisley DaSilva, a classmate. “We should be funding alternative energy sources.”

“Persistence Paid Off”

Using the fundraising Web site, the students wrote a 700–word statement explaining the project and their passion about the Arctic Refuge. They established prizes for various funding levels. Anyone who pledged $25 or more, for example, received two museum guest passes and an invitation to the opening reception.

The students also produced a video on that included images of Jones’ photography and footage from America’s Wildest Refuge, a movie about the Arctic Refuge.

They then set about encouraging friends and acquaintances to visit the Web site.

“Due diligence and persistence paid off,” Lendenmann says. The vastness of the refuge impressed the students, she says, and they were energized by the fact that it was an election issue.

Their efforts resulted in $4,200 in contributions—enough to fund the exhibit and put some money away for future projects, says Robin Garr, the museum’s director of education.

“These students are inspiring,” Garr says. “They picked the exhibit. The TEDx event became a reality, the whole thing just snowballed, we couldn’t be more proud of them.”

In addition to landing each student a President’s Volunteer Service Award, the work on the exhibit has longer–term implications. Thinking about the future and the pristine natural environment of the Arctic Refuge, Gillis Baxter, a junior at Greenwich High School, says: “I want my kids to get to see this, not just me.”

Jennifer Anderson is a frequent contributor to Refuge Update.

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Refuge Update May/June 2011

Last updated: May 10, 2011