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Plenary Session

Youth at the Helm of Building Community Climate Empowerment

with Jen Kretser, Director of Climate initiatives at The Wild Center; Witter Swanson, Student and Youth Climate Advisory Board of the Wild Center; and Brittany Gutermuth, Climate Educator with Massachusetts Audubon Society

The term climate change often prompts feelings of diminished hope and futility regarding rising temperatures and sea levels, drought, wildfires, invasive species, diminishing snow pack, erratic storms and changing precipitation patterns, and a deep political divide. These feelings are legitimate—climate change is considered to be the greatest threat to humanity. However, optimism, determination, and resilience do exist among young people, and they are igniting a climate movement. For today’s youth, the status quo is unacceptable, and many feel we need to transition rapidly to a low-carbon economy. For the last 10 years, thousands of students have learned about climate change through a unique, youth-driven climate-education program in the Adirondack Park of upstate New York: the Adirondack Youth Climate Program. In turn, they are sharing that program model around the world. The program’s student leaders are part of a worldwide movement whose purpose is to engage and empower youth on climate change. Join Jen Kretser, Director of Climate Initiatives and Witter Swanson, Youth Climate Advisory Board Member from The Wild Center along with Brittany Gutermuth, Climate Educator from the Massachusetts Audubon Society as they share a unique approach to partnering with young people to act on climate change in their communities.

Jen Kretser

Jen Kretser is the Director of Climate Initiatives for The Wild Center, a science center in the Adirondack Park in northern New York State. Jen manages The Wild Center’s climate change engagement programs including the Youth Climate Program, which was highlighted by the former White House Office of Science and Technology; interpretive programs for visitors; green building education & design; the farmers market and other climate-related initiatives/partnerships. In December 2015, Jen represented the Wild Center and the Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC) at the UN COP 21 climate talks in Paris and is working to help seed youth climate summits around the world. Jen is an active member of the Climate Reality Project and has served on the board of the Climate Literacy Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN) for the last 3 yearsto help it acheive the goal of building a network of climate change educators across the country. Jen graduated from Cornell University with a B.Sc. degree in Wildlife Ecology and from Antioch University with an M.Sc. in Environmental Science and Education. She serves on the Adirondack Diversity Initiative and the Adirondack Farm to School Board.


Witter Swanson is a sophomore majoring in Political Science and Environmental Studies at Amherst College. He currently serves on the advisory board of the Adirondack Youth Climate Program, and he has been involved with the program for over 4 years. Witter is originally from Saranac Lake, NY.


Brittany Gutermuth

Brittany Gutermuth been an environmental educator for almost 2 decades, working at nature centers, zoos, museums, schools, and a fish elevator. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching for Earth Science but finds informal science education much more interesting and "on mission". She is currently using her natural science and teaching skills as the Climate Education Coordinator at Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary.

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