Guest post by Chloe Wetzler
This is my first year as an EarthEcho Water Challenge Ambassador, and thus my first training in Washington DC. Although I did not have to travel as far as others (some of my peers flew all the way from California, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Australia!) it was still exciting and scary to travel alone for the first time as an “adult”. Additionally, before this weekend I had only ever communicated with the EarthEcho team electronically, so I was not entirely sure what to expect, but being greeted in person with smiles and enthusiasm by Mia and Katelyn upon arrival helped ease my nerves. I was utterly blown away by how outgoing and friendly everyone was, and at how fast I began to feel welcome and included in the team.
My first training session was led by Charlie Cook, from Xylem. He set out to help us effectively navigate the tricky group dynamics involved in decision making and teamwork. Before the summit, everyone took an online personality test to determine if their motivation was driven by performance, people, or process. Using our results, Charlie split us into groups and explained everyone’s varying personal motivational value systems and reactions to conflict. It was amazing to jump right in with such an interesting and useful lesson, and I was surprised by how well people from such a wide range of ages and backgrounds were able to get along and work cohesively.
Later that evening, the ambassadors and Youth Leadership Council members bonded over dinner before a screening of Inventing Tomorrow. The film followed four separate teams, that competed in the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. We saw teenagers just like us brainstorming solutions to urgent environmental problems in their own backyards. For instance, one young contestant from India was taking action because where she lived the lake water was so polluted it was flammable! I found it so motivational to see teens my age taking such brave steps toward sustainability. It restored a sense of hope, knowing that not all people are ignoring the worsening state of the environment.
In addition to being so inspiring, the film also revealed a difference between how science is viewed in Iess developed countries versus more affluent ones. I realize how lucky I am to not have to worry about my air, water, and food supplies being clean and safe. Yet, not seeing the firsthand effects of environmental problems, causes young people like me in first-world countries to not be aware of how grave situations are in some parts of the world. So, shielded from the urgent needs of today, young inventors and scientists in more developed countries often view the next steps in science as exploring the unknown realms of deep sea and space, developing artificial intelligence, and engineering new hybrid crops; or in other words, creating for the future. Whereas the students in Inventing Tomorrow were using scientific principles to address the environmental crises of today. They were using science to directly fix an environmental problem in their hometowns that had affected their own lives. Instead of inventing for a brighter future, the teens in the film were creating innovations to make a future possible for themselves and the wildlife in their area. Granted, I do not think dreaming about what scientific innovations can accomplish in the future is a bad thing, but it is important for us to realize that we cannot always be looking to tomorrow and the future without fixing the pressing issues of today.
After being inspired and awakened by Inventing Tomorrow, we rode back to the National 4-H Conference Center and some members, like myself, hit the hay while others played games and bonded with other visiting student groups. The following morning, we enjoyed an early breakfast before hearing from a career and internship panel. I really enjoyed the helpful advice on applying for internships and jobs from such an accomplished group of young individuals. They shared great resources and it made me want to start hunting for an internship right away with NOAA or on Josh’s Water Jobs! I was happy to discover EarthEcho is so eager to help and willing to give us so much useful advice on how to prosper in the real world of conservation and environmental protection.
Next, my fellow Water Challenge Ambassadors and I began planning the ins and outs of our World Water Monitoring Day events for September. We discussed different ways to make our events more successful and the various aspects we would need to plan. We shared our ideas with our table groups and gave each other feedback. I am currently planning on having my event at the Virginia Aquarium. At my table a few others were thinking of hosting events at Zoos or Aquariums and others were planning presentations for a school class. We went over the resources we would need, how we would publicize the event, and who we needed to get in touch with to launch the plans into action.
Once we had solid ideas to work with, we heard from Emma Housman, of Xylem Watermark. Emma shared her experiences organizing water-focused volunteer events internationally. I loved her tip about keeping track of how many people we reach at each event, so we have a quantifiable measure of the impact we are making. It is so powerful to know how many people’s lives you may have changed. She gave us another framework for planning a successful event and equipped us with tips to get volunteers excited to participate, such as giving recognition or incentives. It sparked a lot of great ideas! I am thinking of making a poster where those who attend my water quality event can sign their name indicating one action they pledge to do to help the environment. That way I know how many people I engaged, and it gives each person a sense of accountability for doing their part in protecting the planet.
After lunch, Katelyn Higgins spoke to us on how to adjust the information we present to different age groups. Another aspect of planning an effective water monitoring event is having a target audience in mind and aligning the presentation style to that target audience. One cannot expect to explain all of the scientific processes involved Eutrophication or Coral Bleaching to a group of kindergarteners. Therefore, targeting a specific age range, and preparing accordingly is key. I was really excited by some of Katelyn’s ideas, such as incorporating trivia questions and mini competitions into presentations for middle-school aged children to keep them focused.
My final lecture before heading back home was by Youth Leadership Council member, Armon Alex, and focused on how to effectively communicate more complex subjects like climate change. He drew upon what we had learned previously from Charlie Cook about matching what you say to the person you are speaking with. If your audience is driven by facts, then one must incorporate facts into the presentation and not be too heavy on emotions, or else the audience will not be very receptive. If you know your audience is moved more by personal stories and emotions than a super serious factual report is not the best choice. People are motivated by different things and Armon explained that you have to choose your method of communication based on what you observe your audience preferring. He also went over some general public speaking tips, like using engaging body language and voice inflection.
Overall, I was very impressed with how amazing my first Water Challenge Ambassador training with EarthEcho was. I met a lot of super interesting people in different realms of the conservation world; educators, researchers, publicists, and students. I learned valuable lessons I can utilize when planning and executing my water quality testing event. Finally, I was so inspired by all of the energy and passion present in those surrounding me. It is such a unique experience to have and I am so thankful I had this opportunity. I cannot wait for next year!
Editor's Note: Chloe Wetzler is a 2019 EarthEcho Water Challenge Ambassador from Virginia Beach, VA. To learn more about this year's class of Water Challenge Ambassadors, visit www.monitorwater.org/ambassadors. A special thanks to Xylem Watermark for their generous support to make this initiative possible.