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2022 Student Impact Award Winners: Peer Leadership

This year the Institute on the Environment and Office of Sustainability hosted the inaugural, system-wide Student Impact Awards. These awards honor student efforts to lead the way towards a future in which people and planet prosper together. Meet the winners who excel in peer leadership.


Kara Nyhus inspires and connects students to environmental leadership opportunities

Kara Nyhus is a Student Leader for EcoliteracySCHOOL (Students Collaborating in Health-Oriented Outdoor Learning), a public health and environmental leadership program that brings University of Minnesota Rochester student mentors together with area high school students interested in biology and health science. As a Near-Peer Mentorship Leader, Nyhus welcomes students across multiple educational levels and works to sustain and grow connections with them during the program. Her kindness, commitment to environmental learning, and ability to create engaging mentorship programming is a noted asset. 

With her work, Nyhus has broad impact: She not only connects with future leaders in health science, health care, and sustainability through mentorship as an EcoliteracySCHOOL student leader, she also uses her writing to connect and inspire others. Nyhus brings a sense of belonging to environmental and sustainability advocacy, and has a deep understanding of the connection between human health and the environment.

Nyhus will continue serving in this leadership role in 2022. She’ll also conduct research on near-peer mentorship in sustainability learning settings, which will inform EcoilteracySCHOOL’s future directions. 


Brooke Benson’s transformative leadership is noticed across Crookston campus

Brooke Benson has been a co-chair of the University of Minnesota Crookston Students for Sustainable Development for several years. During this time, Benson has led the group in the campus Ecochallenge and other sustainability events, helped organize a planetary health seminar during the COVID-19 pandemic, and contributed to the development of a Green Office Program, which starts on the Crookston campus this summer. Benson is recognized as a leader in many different areas: as a tutor, an undergraduate researcher, and a member of the Crookston Student Association.


Levi Gregg sees opportunities and makes change

As one of the committee members of SEE Change, a student organization that engages communities to take collective action in the public interest, Levi Gregg submitted a grant proposal to the Swain Climate Action Fund to host an environmental summit at the University of Minnesota Duluth and was awarded nearly $5,000 to bring in speakers and coordinate a sustainability fair with local groups and campus organizations. Gregg also increased the number of students – and the diversity of majors they represented – in attendance by making it a Labovitz School of Business and Economics (LSBE) Passport event. 

As a relatively new leader within the organization, Gregg has accomplished a lot while also  weathering the challenges of COVID-19, by providing leadership on group direction, motivation, and membership. Additionally, Gregg has been instrumental in forging a strong connection with the group’s off-campus sponsor, Take Action Minnesota, a social welfare organization and political advocacy group. 


Jacob Bechtold helps lead events that encourage undergraduates to take climate action

Jacob Bechtold has a talent for engaging and mobilizing people around him to enact change. He helped set into motion and facilitate two undergraduate-led events that introduced many students to the different aspects of sustainability and environmental and social justice: the Green Careers Event and the Climate Activism Workshop. Bechtold does this in his role as president of 365 Green, a club of students working for sustainability on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, and as a student employee at the Institute on the Environment.


Sophia Fisher creates new opportunities for student group collaboration

As president of Net Impact, Sophia Fisher played a vital role in organizing Green Week, a week of collaboration between all of the sustainability student groups on the Twin Cities campus, that kicked off an incredible year of campus sustainability collaborations. In addition, Fisher planned a green careers event for students seeking sustainable job opportunities. Colleagues at the Institute on the Environment say they are inspired by her organization and drive.


365Green helps inspire students towards climate justice and climate careers

College is the perfect time for students to explore their interests and passions so that they can be incorporated into their future careers. 365Green, a UMN Twin Cities student organization, helped spearhead two student sustainability events in April 2022 that encouraged students to do exactly that. 

The Climate Activist Workshop included speakers on various climate topics and activities to help people dig into the relationship between intersectionality and environmental justice. It was open to all students eager to learn more about being an active participant in the environmental movement. The event endeavored to empower students to better understand the connection between climate and social justice and how to take action that makes real change.  

The environmental industry is growing rapidly, and the leadership teams for 365 Green and Net Impact have been working tirelessly to create a space for students interested in a green career to network. The Green Careers Event connected  students with  companies, professors, and student groups working towards a more sustainable future. This was also a great opportunity for local employers to see how important climate action is to their next generation of employees.

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