Mike Blackhurst walks away from the Carnegie Mellon Pittsburgh campus into the cold night air, leaving the exam he's just completed behind him. He is exhausted. Striding across Forbes Avenue, he waves at two familiar faces: Vanessa Schweizer and Justin Parisi. The three graduate students wait for the airport shuttle so they can begin their overseas journey. They are the university's delegation to the student climate conference at Denmark's University of Copenhagen. The inaugural event is designed to coincide with the United Nations' Climate Change Conference that will be held nearby. Only 17 universities worldwide were invited to make a presentation.
Once the Pittsburgh airport shuttle arrives, there isn't a moment to waste for the students. Their conference selection came just a few weeks earlier, so on the way to the airport they have an animated conversation. All three of their studies involve environmental issues from an engineering and public policy perspective, but they have different ideas on what they should say when it's their turn to present at Copenhagen.
Their conversation continues during a layover in Atlanta as they huddle together at the boarding gate. Blackhurst, warding off his exhaustion, types intensely on his laptop. The team is creating a PowerPoint presentation from their conversation that demonstrates how to implement a more environmentally friendly freshman orientation. For example—proposing digital alternatives to printed materials that will reduce waste. Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, the presentation is completed; Blackhurst can finally get some sleep.
With world leaders, including President Barack Obama, overwhelming the Copenhagen hotel market for the United Nations conference, the student delegates check into a hotel in Malmö, Sweden, which is a 30-minute train ride from the University of Copenhagen. On their commute to the conference, walking to the train station, they find themselves among hordes of Swedish commuters. Many of them are riding bicycles. Blackhurst is impressed. He laughs, though, when he spots a particular bike locked up to a rack outside the train station. It's a stationary bike.
Upon finally arriving at the conference, the CMU teammates hear a profusion of languages. It adds to the pervasive excitement of the first student conference to coincide with the United Nations' Climate Change Conference.
Unexpectedly, there is an administrative hiccup; there are no capabilities for PowerPoint presentations. Blackhurst, Schweizer, and Parisi are given different tools by the conference organizers—construction paper and scissors to create a scientific poster. The three laugh as the experience conjures up memories of middle-school projects. They make do, though, and their presentation impresses the attendees. It impresses Carnegie Mellon, too, which plans to implement some of their digital alternative ideas at this fall's orientation.
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Scholars in Copenhagen