High School Students Inspired by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. During Earth Day Visit to EPA

“Can I get my picture taken with him? Can we please go on a tour to see the solar panels? What was your college major? Do you know much about nanotechnology?” were just a few of the questions posed by high school students who visited EPA’s Research Triangle Park campus on Earth Day 2010 to hear environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speak.

Outdoors, under clear blue skies, the 40 students from Hillside, Jordan, Northern, and Southern High Schools in Durham focused their full attention on Mr. Kennedy as he passionately shared multiple stories and statistics to demonstrate that protecting our nation’s environmental resources makes economic sense. The hidden costs of getting our energy from non-renewable resources and accounting for the true costs of fossil fuels, as well as developing the infrastructure for renewable energy like solar, wind, and geothermal power, were themes that particularly inspired the students.

No texting, no talking. All eyes were glued on Kennedy, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, throughout his 1-hour talk as he offered a range of topics to pique their teenage minds as they consider subjects to explore in college and as careers: environmental science, engineering, law, politics, environmental justice, math, and history to name a few. In addition to Kennedy’s environmental anecdotes, he also shared personal stories including his trips to the White House as a child to visit his uncle, John F. Kennedy, in the Oval Office. I was in awe.

EarthDay2010-Robert-F-KenneAs Kennedy’s inspirational talk concluded, we did have many questions answered. YES, you can get your picture taken with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and YES you can take a tour to learn about our newly-installed solar panels. Students from Northern High School went on an impromptu tour of our environmentally-friendly building, learned about EPA’s air pollution research, and talked to several employees about their educations and their jobs. As for the nanotechnology question posed to me by a high school junior, I was “saved” at the last minute in the EPA Café line by running into a co-worker who does research in the area.

You can learn more about Kennedy’s Earth Day talk at EPA at http://www.allbusiness.com/government/government-bodies-offices/14335415-1.html or http://www.dpsnc.net/news/frontpage-news/a-kennedy-kind-of-earth-day/?searchterm=kennedy%20epa. To read about the EPA Administrator’s visit to Southern High School last fall, go to http://www.dpsnc.net/news/community-news/president2019s-cabinet-member-chooses-southern-to-speak/?searchterm=EPA%20administrator.

About the Author: Kelly Leovic manages EPA’s Environmental and Community Outreach Program in Research Triangle Park and has worked for the EPA as an environmental engineer since 1987, though this is the first time she had the opportunity to hear a Kennedy speak in person. She has three children and loves to inspire them, and anyone else who will listen, to protect our environment.