Knox Students Aim to Solve Environmental Challenges

'Bioneers is all about reconnecting with your community'

November 25, 2013

By Laura Pochodylo ‘14

Knox College students who helped plan the third annual Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference say they were inspired by the event, which brings together people seeking to solve some of the world's biggest environmental and social challenges.

"Bioneers reinforces the idea that sustainability is about more than just the environment. It is about sustaining a community of people that make up the human race," said Knox sophomore Jessica Robinson. "In the end, you realize Bioneers is all about reconnecting with your community and learning and growing together."Kristy Howell from the Sustainable Business Center leads a Bioneers breakout session

Natalie Donahue, a sophomore environmental studies student from Indianapolis, Indiana, also appreciated the community-based approach. She attended sessions where topics ranged from social justice to climate change, consumerism, and socially responsible agriculture. (Photo at right: Kristy Howell, Sustainability Director at the Sustainable Business Center, leads a Bioneers breakout session.)

"The conference brought people in and around Galesburg together to think about local solutions to global problems," Donahue said. "Having this dialogue was amazing, and it strengthened the connections between us."

The October conference at Knox -- also called Beaming Bioneers -- is affiliated with the National Bioneers Conference in California. On the Knox campus, Beaming Bioneers participants watched and listened to recorded presentations from the National Bioneers Conference and attended local, interactive workshops dealing with issues and initiatives in the Galesburg area. (Photo above: Professor Peter Schwartzman, Knox students, and Bioneers attendees planted three fruit trees.)

Peter Schwartzman, associate professor and department chair of environmental studies, organized the conference with a group of students focusing on holistic sustainability, both social and environmental, in the Galesburg community.

Interactive sessions were led by people from the Galesburg-area community.

John Hunigan, co-founder of the Knox Prairie Community Kitchen and The Lunch Spot, both local hunger-focused initiatives, presented a workshop titled "Volunteering in the Community." He spoke about the links between the College and the Galesburg community.

"In the projects I've been involved with, the students have wanted to be involved," Hunigan said.

Kristy Howell, the new sustainability director at Galesburg's business incubator, the Sustainable Business Center, talked about the center as a point of local and international innovation, as well as trends in "ecopreneurship."

She approached the concept of sustainability from many angles, including economic, social, and environmental definitions. Sustainability, she said, "is the idea of planting a tree you'll never see grow, so that people in the future can enjoy the shade."

Schwartzman reflected on this year's conference as an inspirational success.

"Bioneers is one of the greatest showcases of holistic problem-solving," Schwartzman said. "Our civilization faces many serious challenges and the wide range of visionaries drawn to a Bioneers conference provide any attendee with a great deal of inspiration."