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Sierra Student Coalition Summer Program 'Inspires'

The Sierra Student Coalition's Summer Environmental Leadership Training Program, better known as SPROG, has trained 100 high school and college students to become effective activists over the past decade. Below is an interview between high school seniors Karen Oelschlaeger, SSC's North Carolina state coordinator and graduate of the Vermont 2002 training program, and Andy Beckman, SSC's Public Lands Action Summit Committee chair and graduate of the Virginia 2001 training.

Andy: I know a lot of people thinking about applying to SPROG [the summer program] have reservations about doing so. I guess it's because you really don't know what to expect until you get there.

Karen: Definitely. When I first signed up I thought it would be nothing but hard work. If worse came to worse and it really was just school during summer, I told myself that it was only one week and I could deal with it. I was proven wrong. I had so much fun the whole time and when it was all over, I could honestly say it was one of the best experiences I had had in my life. Not only did I gain great organizing skills, but I've been able to apply those to my environmental group at school. The people I met were the best part. It was just amazing to have so many cool, passionate people together for that amount of time.

Andy: Yeah, I admit that there were some points when I was in a workshop out in the heat and I would think, "Man, it would be nice to go inside and chill out." But I never got bored; the trainers made it fun to be there. After every workshop I felt much more empowered as an activist. I never thought, "Wow, these people are insane." Everyone was so cool and laid back. I was afraid when I got home that I would just slip back, but I felt really empowered to make a change. I really have accomplished a lot since then.

Karen: I know what you mean about being afraid you'd slip back. I ended up not having to deal with that because right when I got home I decided to be the North Carolina state coordinator. I had to be trained by the SSC and prepared for the job at the national leadership shindig. I met with the officers of my high school's environmental group as well and we made a lot of changes on campus. For so long our club was just there; no one knew about us and we really didn't do much. Now the school is fully aware of us and I believe we are the most successful club at our school. When people pass me in the hall they're like, "Hey, Karen, how's the environment?" The mentality of my school has really changed. We even got the entire school to switch to recycled paper.

Andy: I had the same problems with my club. Before I went to SPROG, all we really did was take out the recycling once a week and there were hardly any members. After I was trained at SPROG, our club went full-throttle. We became a chapter of the SSC, lobbied Congressman David Price on the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act, organized a protest outside of Staples to demand recycled paper products, and began school-wide recycling and environmental education programs.

Karen: What makes SPROG so successful is that you inspire so many people. One person from your school's group attends and when that person gets back, everyone gets those skills.

Andy: I was appointed to be the Public Lands Action Summit (PLAS) chairman, or shall I say, chairwoman. Oh, and I went vegan!

Karen: (Laughs) What all do you do with PLAS?

Andy: Well, I get to be the queen of PLAS. Just kidding. PLAS is the largest national conference the SSC has each year. We gather in Washington, D.C., to teach about our public lands campaigns and lobbying skills, and everyone gets the opportunity to lobby their elected officials. I get to work closely with the campaign coordinators and the conservation committee to put it together. I've been able to work with such amazing people that it has never been too much and I can't wait to take on more. I still have that fire from SPROG, from two years ago. I'm still inspired, I have more energy than before and I have no plans of stopping.

Karen: It's contagious. The energy just spreads, not just to keep you going, but to the people around you. It enables you to do so much and accomplish more than you ever thought you would.

In 2003, the SSC will hold four high school programs and two college programs. See graphic below for dates.

The SPROG focuses on campaign organizing and strategy; tactics and event planning; leadership development; facilitation and running a meeting; public speaking; and working with the media. To find out more information, and to register, please contact the SSC National Office for a brochure at 1-888-JOIN-SSC, or visit our Web site at, where you can apply directly online.

Sierra Student Coalition

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