A Mountaintop Experience

Mountains are moving. Students are in Kentucky for spring break to witness mountaintop removal and investigate how it affects the environment and the people of the region.

Mountaintop removal is a common practice in the Appalachia region of Kentucky, where students will spend most of their trip. Detonating explosives on mountaintops facilitates the effective removal of coal, which fuels about half of the nation’s electricity, says trip leader Nathaniel Cook ’12, Hutchinson, Minn.

“This is an environmental issue that it is tied with social justice issues,” he says.

Students have also moved mountains to make the trip happen. Cook sought funding for the trip, which he also planned. He recruited 14 of his peers, representing first-year students through seniors and a variety of majors, to join the trip.

“This is the most ambitious trip planned and undertaken by students that I know of,” says Dr. Stewart Herman, who is the faculty advisor for the Student Environmental Alliance.

Cook hopes the trip will by a catalyst for student ownership of sustainability issues.

“The trip will show students what they can do when they come back to campus,” he says. “Most students don’t realize what impact they can have here.”

During the trip, the students are gathering information and inspiration from a local non-profit organization, a student environmental group and with the people living in the mountaintop removal region. The conclusion of their trip will be spent at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.

“These immersive experiences have a profound impact,” says Dr. Andrew Lindner, who advised Cook in planning the trip. “The students who go will be new leaders on campus.”