The summit — created after the 2016 spring UNC Clean Tech Summit, which focused on renewable energy and technology — is designed to bring people together to help solve problems in rural communities.
Professor Greg Gangi, associate director for education at the UNC Institute for the Environment, said the process of planning the summit began when he started talking to members of UNC’s Students Working for Environmental Action and Transformation (SWEAT) who were interested in urban-rural disparities.
These talks inspired the creation of the Rural Sustainability Summit.
SWEAT is hosting the event in the Great Hall of the Student Union from 8 a.m. until 3:20 p.m.
Senior Brady Blackburn is studying environmental studies as an undergraduate and dual enrolling in the masters program for strategic communication. Blackburn serves as one of three co-chairpeople for the organization, along with Bridget Powmesamy and Kyle Ellison.
“The main focus of the summit is going to be on how environmentalism in North Carolina can also promote economic growth, specifically in rural North Carolina,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn, Ellison and Powmesamy have been working directly with Gangi and SWEAT since May to create the event.
Ellison, who is a junior information science and Spanish double major, said the summit is a student-organized event from top to bottom.
“We developed the Rural Sustainability Summit to focus on revitalizing rural North Carolina after the economic collapse of the nineties,” Ellison said.
The summit will feature speakers including Greg Gaskins, the deputy treasurer for state and local government finance, Patricia Mitchell, assistant secretary for rural economic development and Garrie Moore, executive director of the Conetoe Family Life Center.
“You get to make students aware of some of the problems that rural areas are facing, but also some of the opportunities to address a number of the problems,” Gangi said.
Gangi said because many people grow up in a suburban bubble, they may not have seen what is going on in rural areas.
“I often meet students who want to go somewhere in the world because they want to help with pressing social issues and poverty, but you don’t have to draw as far from Chapel Hill,” Gangi said.
Blackburn said he wants the summit to become an annual event, whether it stays about rural North Carolina or takes on a different hot topic every year.
“If we want to be a stable, prosperous society, we have to think about how to bring prosperity to all corners of our country,” Gangi said.
Blackburn said he hopes the summit, which will be open to the public, will start conversations between community leaders and business owners.
“Someone shouldn’t be afraid to come to the summit just because they might not be an environmental studies major,” Ellison said.
On Thursday evening, there was a pre-summit screening of “Raising Bertie,” a documentary set in rural eastern North Carolina, in the Great Hall of the Student Union. The filmmakers took questions afterward.