With her third invitation from the White House, UVM student Gina Fiorile returned to Washington, DC on December 5 as a Champion of Change for Climate Education and Literacy. She spoke as part of the Champions of Change Reunion held at the U.S. Department of Transportation Headquarters.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality asked Fiorile to speak on the Communicating Climate Change panel during a breakout session on Energy and the Environment.
Created by President Obama’s administration, the Champions of Change Program recognizes average Americans for extraordinary work. The program honored Fiorile in 2014 for her work in climate education and literacy. Because the White House Administration will change significantly in the coming months, President Obama's administration organized a final reunion for all individuals who had been recognized as Champions of Change.
“I'm pleased to share this honor with both the Rubenstein School and UVM,” said Fiorile, a junior environmental studies major in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. “This event was particularly inspiring because nearly three hundred individuals were gathered to connect with each other, share their testimonies, and empower each other to continue their hard work that they were initially honored for.”
Fiorile was selected to speak among past Champions of Change who were recognized for their work on the environment.
“We had a fruitful discussion surrounding next steps and challenges that we will face with the new administration the next four years and how to effectively connect with audiences who have differing values,” said Fiorile, who in February 2015 during her first visit to the White House, joined seven other Americans honored as Champions of Change for Climate Education and Literacy.
As a high school student in Saranac Lake, New York, she was instrumental in organizing a Youth Climate Summit to educate students and their teachers about the impacts of climate change and how they can develop climate action plans to lower carbon footprints of their own schools. Fiorile brought the model for the Youth Climate Summit to Vermont, partnering with Senator Bernie Sanders, Professor Jon Erickson, local environmental experts, and ecological economics students to organize three annual summits. More than 130 high school students and their teachers come together on the UVM campus each year to create climate action plans.
Her work with the youth climate summits brought Fiorile national acclaim. The concept was chosen by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to be a national model for climate change education.
In August 2015, Fiorile was invited back to the White House for a Back-to-School Climate Education Event. There, she took the stage before a 200-person audience to ask questions one-on-one with Kathryn Sullivan, leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This month’s return visit to Washington, DC, encouraged Fiorile to work harder than ever toward climate change education.
“This invitation was important to furthering my work in climate education because it re-legitimized all the effort put forth into the annual Vermont Youth Climate Summit and other climate education initiatives within the state,” said Fiorile. "The White House Administration's acknowledgement of the importance of climate education has empowered countless actions taken by environmental groups. The take-home message from this event was that individual actions matter.”