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Students give panel presentation on the One Fair Wage Campaign.

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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Eighth Annual Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference Inspires Future Leaders

Students give panel presentation on the One Fair Wage Campaign.

by Tricia Duke '19

As junior Fiona Munro will tell you, trying to change the world is a hard job.

Munro, president of Knox College’s Students for Sustainability (S4S) club, works hard year-round with other students to make their slice of difference, organizing campaigns like “There is No Away” to reduce end-of-year waste, “Recyclemania” to educate about Knox services, and “Meatless Monday” to discuss sustainable industry and food politics. In February, S4S partnered with the Knox Office of Sustainability and the Galesburg community to organize the Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference (PFBC).

“Doing environmental work can be tiring because it’s difficult and the goals are long-term. It can feel really hard to get things done,” Munro said. “Doing things to inspire each other is important.”

The PFBC is modeled after a national conference put on by Bioneers, an organization founded in 1990 that seeks to promote “practical and visionary solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.” The PFBC includes three days of speakers, activities, and panels on issues ranging from solar energy to food politics. Between the activities, participants can discuss and reflect with each other. According to Munro, the discussions are where the power of the event lies, because Bioneers’ first function is to encourage.

“People like to have a place where they can talk about what they want to see in the world and how they’re going to move ahead,” she said.

Sophomore Isaac Hughes, vice president of S4S, agreed that the “practical” part is as important as the “visionary” part in the “practical and visionary solutions” that Bioneers generates.

“It does feel good to get things done and see them get done,” he said. With three other students, Hughes helped lead the most-attended panel of this year's Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference: a session that discussed minimum wage, particularly the wage of tipped workers. The presentation was the culmination of student efforts that began last fall with a visiting lecturer on the topic, the formation of a student task force, and a trip to the state capital to lobby for the bill, which passed in February.

Munro, who helped run a panel called "Reflecting on Bioneers and what it Means for Us," said that students’ excitement with practical progress is a common product of the Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference. Munro described how students from a wide range of fields, who attended activities about issues like Latina leadership, repairing bicycles, and educational policy, shared positive experiences by hearing about others’ progress and brainstorming more paths forward.

Hughes concluded that the encouragement from these accomplishments is needed to propel students through what needs to get done.

“There’s a lot left to do,” he said. “Now we know we can do it.”

Other panels and discussions at the 2019 Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference included:

  • Fighting for Safe Water in Flint, Michigan: Perspectives on Community-Driven Lawyering, a keynote presentation by Sarah Tallman of the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Yoga with Tina Hope of Tina’s Botanicals
  • Microgreen Planting with Knox Nature Club
  • From Plastic Bag to Costume and Choreography, a presentation by Kathleen Ridlon, Associate Professor and Chair of Dance

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Printed on Saturday, May 25, 2019