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Turning Talk Into Action

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Lorne Fultonberg


Lorne Fultonberg

CCESL prepares the campus community for Diversity Summit with an event of its own.



Prof. Drew Mueller delivers a five-minute 'lightning talk.'
Prof. Drew Mueller delivers a five-minute 'lightning talk.'

It was nearly impossible to find a seat for a recent discussion on the intersection of diversity and sustainability. Mostly because there weren’t any chairs in the room.

The idea is that moving the needle on society’s most pressing issues requires on-your-feet movement: approaching and interacting with colleagues and neighbors.

Last week, DU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning served as facilitator, hosting a Grand Challenges Forum on environmental sustainability — an issue that dovetails with the theme of this year’s Diversity Summit.

“We’ve talked with the folks over there about how we leverage activities where people get passionate about creating change around these kinds of topics,” said Cara DiEnno, CCESL’s associate director. “CCESL can be the next springboard to help folks realize what to do with that passion. How do we take action?”

On this occasion, it began with five-minute “lightning talks.” Three experts in their respective fields drew rough sketches of environmental issues that have larger social implications.

Real estate assistant professor Drew Mueller introduced the audience to Denver’s Sun Valley Eco District, emphasizing the need for a cross-disciplinary approach and communication with communities.

Chemistry assistant professor Alex Huffman outlined the Catch 22 of aerosols — how some can actually reduce global warming but at the cost of public health.

Emily Silverman, who manages the city of Denver’s Smart City program, touched on the importance of experimentation and new, collaborative engagement when approaching local problems.

Then, attendees were encouraged to mingle, converse, ask questions and brainstorm new ideas.

“Doing something good for the environment goes hand-in-hand with reducing poverty and empowering the community to take charge of their own lives,” Mueller said after his talk, emphasizing the need for a diverse set of voices to find solutions. “Siloed thinking is how we’ve made so many mistakes. That’s why I think this forum is a good first step.”

Assistant Prof. Alex Huffman engages with members of the DU community following his presentation at the Grand Challenges Forum.
Assistant Prof. Alex Huffman engages with members of the DU community following his presentation at the Grand Challenges Forum.

The parallels between the Diversity Summit and the Grand Challenges Forum are not a coincidence. CCESL’s event can be considered a warm-up, Cara DiEnno said. In addition to encouraging dialogue at the summit through staff and student presentations, CCESL will host a “Call to Action Lunch” on Friday, with the aim of turning talk into action.

As Mueller sees it, that call to action is needed. “They’re big issues, and they seem daunting to take on initially,” he said. “But the more you get more people from completely different disciplines and backgrounds together and start talking about these big challenges, that’s when you get the realization that everyone shares a common interest.

“We’re all humans. We need to make an environment that doesn’t harm us, and we need to make a society that’s fulfilling to live in.”