Honors Summer Institute in Leadership and Sustainability

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July 20th - August 2nd

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We invite ambitious, motivated high school students and 2014 graduates ages 15-18 who are interested in leadership and sustainability to spend two weeks at Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst, the premier honors college in New England.

Are you passionate about protecting our environment for future generations and exploring solutions to sustainability issues? Would you like to learn how to marshal the talents of others to create sustainable change?

During this two week institute, you will prepare to turn your vision and aspirations for a sustainable future into a reality.  While engaging with the scientific, economic, social and ethical aspects of our relationship with the environment, you will practice the essentials of effective leadership: public speaking and writing; facilitating strategic planning and group projects; fundraising; and creative problem solving under the tutorship of University faculty and community leaders.  You will also learn about planning and leadership ethics while working on your final project, a proposal for an event or initiative.


Check out these videos to start your journey toward becoming a well-informed advocate for sustainable change:



Program Content Areas



We believe that with the correct training and experience it is possible to effect meaningful sustainable social change and progress. Over the two week program we will emphasize the acquisition of leadership skills that will provide participants with the ability to take their work in sustainability to the next level, to represent themselves with professionalism and confidence, and to develop the ability to work effectively in groups. 


As world population continues to skyrocket, and the methods of producing food become increasingly environmentally destructive and economically inefficient we face impending challenges with our food system. Through exploration of the theoretical, scientific, and physical aspects of food production participants will gain perspective on this growing field and its significance to human survival and success. 



Global scientific consensus tells us that our planet is warming and FAST. Through the program we will utilize resources from the New England Climate Center and from the University to further understand the physical science of global warming, as well as its economic, sociological and anthropological ramifications. 



Our current lifestyles demand tons of cheap and abundant energy! Through SILS we will explore our current energy system, and the potential alternatives currently available. We will have the opportunities to hear from experts in the field and discuss and debate potential options that might reform and improve our current dirty and unsustainable energy habits.


Participants will have the opportunity to explore and engage in the creation of solutions to many of the problems we will discuss during the course. Students will be exposed to many schools of thought and methodologies for understanding social change projects and their inception and deployment. Participants will work with a number of community groups and non-profits to learn first hand how these theories are applied. 



Human consumption and pollution patterns are crucial to our understanding of current environmental degradation and resource use. By focusing on system dynamics and consumptive patterns, participants will grow their ability to understand economic statistics, and explain cycles of production and consumption.




Having a grasp on basic economic principles is crucial to our understanding of human behavior. Over the two week period we will discuss a number of economic theories and explore potential alternatives to our current system. Participants will be encouraged to analyze systems and problems with economics in mind.







Understanding how we got to where we are today is crucial to making change going forward. We will learn about the origins of the present day environmental crisis, and we will draw inspiration from social movements and societies throughout history with different visions of how humans interact with our environment.







The Honors Summer Institute in Leadership and Sustainability is a partnership between the Commonwealth Honors College, UMass Alliance for Community Transformation, and the UMass History Department, as well as other on-campus partners. 



Students who participate in the Summer Institute in Leadership and Sustainability (SILS) will gain:

  • Increased fluency in scientific and social components of sustainability

  • Ability to use strategic planning and problem solving

  • Ability to ask pertinent questions and analyze a range of physical systems

  • Increased fluency in group dynamics and collaborative decision making

  • Understanding of core principles behind running a non-profit or business; fundraising, management principles, and leadership development.

Check out the final projects of some of the students who attended last year's SILS program!