On September 9th and 10th, the Alliance hosted approximately 50 students and 11 faculty members from Maryland and Washington, DC’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) at the inaugural HBCU/MSI Chesapeake Bay Summit. The students, ranging from freshmen to masters-level, came from a large array of academic backgrounds, including biology, environmental science, business, and creative studies. Each of these students woke up before the sun rose to converge on Pecometh Retreat Center, driven by one thing – a shared passion for the environment.

In its inaugural year, the HBCU/MSI Bay Summit had three major goals:

  1. Foster connections between students and faculty at HBCUs in the watershed;
  2. Build the capacity of students to pursue environmental careers and address environmental challenges in their communities;
  3. Highlight environmental initiatives on HBCU campuses in the watershed.

Over the course of the jam-packed, two-day Summit, students and faculty members engaged with incredible speakers, shared their expertise and experiences in facilitated discussions, and connected with the Bay through guided outdoor experiences.

Learning from the Experts

A person giving a presentation to a room full of people.

Vince Leggett, founder and president of Blacks of the Chesapeake Foundation, opened the Summit with an interactive keynote presentation about the rich history of Black watermen and farmers within the Chesapeake Bay region.

Students and faculty members engaged with 11 insightful and inspiring speakers, a majority of whom were professionals of color. These speakers represented decades of experience in policy and advocacy, ecosystem restoration, education and interpretation, birding, storytelling, and research. To build the capacity of students to pursue environmental careers, each speaker discussed their career paths, shared advice and insights, and answered questions from students.

Learning from Each Other

A person giving a presentation, with the screen reading "Impacts of Woody Debris on Freshwater Fauna"

During the Student Lightning Talks portion of the Summit, around 15 students gave short presentations about professional experiences and/or topics of interest.

The Summit was also intended to serve as a space to highlight environmental initiatives on HBCU campuses across the watershed, with student lightning talks and an art showcase.

During the lightning talks, students gave short elevator pitches on an environmental topic of interest or environmental professional experience. Students spoke about a range of topics including research, internships, and other conferences. Beyond serving as an opportunity for students to practice their public speaking skills in a safe and supportive space, the lightning talks also allowed students to connect professionally, and learn about each other’s work.

To make the Summit as multi-disciplinary as possible, student and faculty artists were also elevated in a showcase of environmental artwork. In all, students and faculty members exhibited 8 pieces of art, including poetry, photography, paintings, and mixed media.

Connecting with the Bay

Two students smiling and kayaking in the foreground with many other students kayaking in the background

Students participated in one of five guided outdoor adventures on Sunday afternoon. Here, students kayak on the Chester River during an expedition led by Pecometh staff.

On day two, students and faculty members participated in half-day, guided outdoor activities. Participants went climbing and ziplining, fishing on the Island Queen II, monitored water quality on Washington College’s research vessel, took a birding walk led by Tykee James, or kayaked on the Chester River. Regardless of whether it was their first or hundredth time doing these activities, students returned with smiles on their faces, and a stronger connection with the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Beyond fostering a personal and long-lasting connection to the Chesapeake Bay, these experiences also strengthened the sense of community and togetherness.

Building a Community

A small group of people taking a selfie

Summit participants take selfies at Pecometh following the closing presentation.

To help build connections between students and faculty members at these universities, Alliance staff members facilitated icebreaker and team-building activities. By the end of the Summit, students had already created both a GroupMe and a WhatsApp group to stay connected, and many were planning to collaborate across campuses. Arriving as strangers, they left with a strong sense of community and camaraderie. One of the students even jumped on the bus as it was leaving to give everyone a hug goodbye. Although they were tired from a busy weekend of physical and mental activities, students left emphatically requesting another Summit.

Looking Ahead

An event program displayed on a wooden bench

The Summit program, developed in collaboration with a Steering Committee of representatives from all seven participating HBCUs/MSIs, featured many incredible speakers, including Dr. Victor McCrary, Vice President for Research at the University of the District of Columbia, Mariah Davis, Deputy Director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition, Carmen Tucker, Special Projects Coordinator at GreenVest, and many more.

Thanks to generous support from the sponsors, and the tireless dedication of the Steering Committee, respectively listed below, the Summit was a huge success that we hope to build on in future years. On the event feedback survey, one student perfectly encapsulated a theme that was present in many of the students’ surveys:

“I like how the Alliance for the Bay made it about Environmental Justice and Black people in this field and the outdoors, and not just talking at us. I got to make a lot of new connections and get closer to people in Environmental Science/Environmental Justice in my university. I really enjoyed my time, thank you for the work you put in.”

In the inaugural year of this Summit, this reception serves as a strong indicator of the appetite and importance of continuing this work.

Summit Steering Committee Members

Dr. Janelle Burke, Howard University
Ms. Emma Gregory, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
Dr. Shizuka Hsieh, Trinity Washington University
Ms. Julie Lawson, DOEE (University of the District of Columbia)
Dr. Eric May, University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Dr. Patrice Nielson, Trinity Washington University
Dr. Christopher Rivera, Coppin State University
Dr. Mercy Shenge, Coppin State University
Ms. Tameka Taylor, Morgan State University
Mr. Jabari Walker, Bowie State University

The Summit’s Generous Sponsors

Various logos of organizations involved: National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, The Campbell Foundation, Water's Edge Eastern Shore, Bellevue Passage Museum, Blacks of the Chesapeake, Chesapeake Bay Trust, National Park Service

See more photos from the Summit here!