Karpf Wins Brower Awardby Liz Heron
Hardworking student activists can sometimes feel that juggling academics and activism goes unappreciated on Oberlin's campus. That all changed for Junior Dave Karpf when he was recently applauded for his work by a national audience of environmentalists.
Over fall break, Karpf was awarded the coveted Brower Youth Award for exceptional environmental leadership winning a $3000 cash prize from the Earth Island Institute for his role in leading the Sierra Student Coalition, a nation-wide network of student environmentalists.
"It was a great opportunity to get [SSC's] name out there," said Karpf. "But a lot of what it meant for me personally was the formal recognition of my work."
Karpf took a year away from Oberlin to act as the national director of the SSC. The organization uses training and campaigning to affect change on environmental issues in the U.S.
The specific contributions for which Karpf won the award were the SSC's "Roadless Summer" campaign and his role in the SSC's activist training program.
The "Roadless Summer" campaign was conceived as a way for students to continue their activism during summer break by working at a wilderness summer camp, bringing their message to others, generating public comment cards or interning at environmental organizations. "Student activism doesn't have to end after finals," said Karpf.
When President Bill Clinton announced his proposal to protect 60 million acres of roadless areas in national forests last summer, Karpf saw an opportunity to mobilize the forces of student activism. He contacted 90 student groups who passed the 25,000 mark in public comments advocating permanent protection in just a few weeks. "We reached out to students across the nation," said Karpf. "We surpassed everyone's expectations by a landslide."
Karpf also toured colleges and high schools on the East Coast giving speeches about summer activism, signing up 350 students who in turn generated over 35,000 public comment cards. The involvement of student's voices "really changed the nature of the debate" on environmental issues, said Karpf. "I was really proud of the job we did."
Another accomplishment for which Karpf was recognized was becoming the training director of the SSC and designing their current training programs. "The training teaches people to build organizations that aren't going to disappear," he said. The Student Environmental Training Program, which is beginning to be seen as one of the best in the nation, gives high school and college students the organizing skills and knowledge to lead groups in their own educational facilities during a week-long summer camp.
When Karpf retooled the program, "it went from being a summer camp to a boot camp. We started seeing results, and now [the participants] are running the organizations that are changing the world," he said.
The Brower Youth Awards were founded in honor of environmental leader and chairman of the Earth Island Institute David Brower. Although Brower is 88 years old, he made a reputation for recognizing the efforts of young activists in the environmental movement. "We as parents and grandparents have mostly only slowed the rate at which things have gotten worse," Brower has said. "With our help, this can be the generation that restores the earth and begins to increase the rate at which things get better."
Copyright © 2000, The Oberlin Review.
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