Loyola University Chicago

School of Environmental Sustainability

2021 Conference Agenda


March 15, 2021
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

This panel is moderated by Professor Kalyani Robbins, Loyola University Chicago, School of Law

The effects of global climate change are not equally distributed around the world, nor in our communities. This panel will discuss the relationship between climate change, race, migration, and the current efforts to bring these important intersections to the frontline of climate change advocacy. 

Panelists include: 

Maxine Burkett is a Professor of Law at the William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai‘i and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.She is also Co-Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit Institute for Climate and Peace.Burkett is an expert in the law and policy of climate change, with a specific focus on climate justice, climate-induced migration, and climate change, peace, and conflict.Her work has been cited in numerous news and policy outlets, including BBC Radio, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Nature Climate Change.From 2009-2012, Burkett also served as the inaugural director of the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy. Burkett received her B.A. from Williams College and Exeter College, Oxford University, and received her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Elsa Mengistu is the former director of operations and logistics and currently an operations coordinator at Zero Hour, a grassroots climate organization intent on gaining support for the Youth Climate Movement. She is a freshman at Howard University and native of North Carolina by passage of Ethiopia. Mengistu is an avid organizer and activist who started her work in middle school and high school. She has advocated for changes on various issues, including electoral politics, racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, and women’s rights, through local organizations and school clubs. She has also worked on gun violence prevention and was one of the lead youth organizers for her local March For Our Lives chapter. In her role with Zero Hour, she advocates for climate justice through the organization of the Global Youth Climate March. 

Amira Odeh from Puerto Rico is a Geographer and Msc in Water Resources. Since an early age she has been interested in solving the most pressing environmental issues she has experienced around her. At the University of Puerto Rico, Odeh organized to ban the sale of bottled water, having the campus become the first in Latin America and the Caribbean to do so. Additionally, she leads training efforts in Puerto Rico, the US, and Chile to support new leaders in developing their own community campaigns. Odeh is leading the Caribbean Youth Environment Network of Puerto Rico. This chapter is leading a reforestation project that is dedicated to the sustainable rebuilding of the country after Hurricane Maria with a focus on food security. Odeh is an organizer for 350.org working on climate justice. 


March 16, 2021
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

This panel is moderated by Thomas Alaan, Coordinator of the UIC Energy Initiative

The massive scientific knowledge about climate change and its potentially catastrophic consequences generated in recent decades have largely failed to translate into effective policies or cultural change. What role might art play in bridging this gap? 

Panelists include: 

Kirsten Hedegaard has enjoyed a dual career as a singer and conductor. She has garnered critical praise for her singing: “the clarity and brightness of Kirsten Hedegaard’s soprano” (Splash Magazine), “seraphic soprano” (Chicago Tribune), “a voice that soars perfectly in the upper registers” (Barrington Quitessential),) and “glides angelically above the rest” (Austin 360). Currently Director of Choral Activities at Loyola University,  Hedegaard has taught conducting at Concordia University, River Forest and has conducted choirs and orchestras for various institutions including Eastman House, Chicago Children’s Choir, Gallery 37, Loyola Academy, and the University of California.  She was guest conductor with Chicago Choral Artists for the 2009-10 season and is the conductor for the Bella Voce Outreach program. She holds an MA from the University of California and a BM from Northwestern University. 



Sandra Kaufmann serves as the founding director of the Dance program at Loyola University Chicago with extensive experience as a dancer, director and educator. In Kaufmann's thirty plus year performance career she toured internationally as a member of the renown Martha Graham Dance Company, served on the faculty of the Martha Graham School as Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Ensemble. She also performed extensively with celebrated choreographers, Pearl Lang and Richard Move. With MOMENTA and Silo Chamber Dancers, Kaufmann danced many works by influential choreographers Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.  Her approach to Dance has always been concerned with using dance to promote human development. Her commitment to Dance and social advocacy culminated in a 2019 invitation by the Library of Congress to produce and perform a program “The Legacy of the New Dance Group” at the Coolidge Auditorium. She has served on the faculty of Barnard College, New York University, The Academy of Movement and Music and Loyola University Chicago.

Meredith Leich is a watercolorist, animator, and videomaker, whose work explores the nature of cities, place-based histories, and climate change. Her process begins in research into science, psychology, and cultural history, evolving into fantastical imagery and narratives, as she explores how we exploit, fear, deny, and revere our natural environment. Her climate change-based collaboration with glaciologist Andrew Malone was awarded a 2015-16 Arts, Science & Culture Initiative Grant from the University of Chicago and her resulting video “Scaling Quelccaya” won second prize at the Deutsche Bank 2017 Macht Kunst competition. She received a 2018 Individual Artist Grant from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and her work has screened as part of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Athens International Film + Video Festival, Chicagolands Shorts, and at other venues nationally and abroad. She has completed residencies at the the Studios of Key West (2019), the Ragdale Foundation (2019), the Vermont Studio Center (2017), and the Wrangell Mountain Center in McCarthy, Alaska (2017).  She is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA in Film, Video, New Media, and Animation, 2017) and also has degrees from Swarthmore College and the San Francisco Art Institute.

March 17, 2021
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

This panel is co-moderated by Professor Mike Schuck, co-director of the International Jesuit Ecology Project at Loyola University Chicago, and Xavier Colon

Indigenous youth from communities that have long-suffered racism and oppression are leading climate action in inspiring ways, showing how culture, spirituality, environment, and justice intersect. In this panel, young environmental activists from distinct cultural contexts speak to the impacts of climate change on their communities.

Panelists include: 

Samantha Arechiga is a community member at Semillas y Raices. She is a student at DePaul University studying Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies and Latin American and Latina/o Studies. In both her environmental justice and restorative justice work, Arechiga puts community building and Indigenous wisdom at the forefront through storytelling and workshops with youth. She has delivered speeches at rallies such as the Chicago US Youth Climate Strike, and is currently doing work in an Indigenous led urban garden to practice sovereignty. Arechiga plans to continue her education to attain her Master's degree in Critical Ethnic Studies and become an educator.

Wanbli Ceya
Wanbli Ceya, (meaning "crying eagle" in his Lakota language), also known as JUQ (pronounced "jook") in the music sphere, is a multi award winning Oglala Lakota singer / songwriter based on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He is also currently serving as a representative of the Oglala Lakota Chapter of the International Indigenous Youth Council.

Eleanor Ferguson
Bio to come

March 18, 2021
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

We are pleased to have Jerome McDonnell moderate our Keynote Conversation. 


Across the country, youth climate activists are mobilizing people to protect the planet. Listen to their stories, respond, and become inspired to act on behalf of the planet during this year’s Keynote Conversation at Loyola’s Virtual Climate Change Conference.

Moderated by: 

Jerome McDonnell hosted Worldview, WBEZ’s global affairs program from 1994-2019. Currently, he is WBEZ’s Environmental Reporter. McDonnell joined WBEZ in 1984 as an intern thinking this would be a quick “Peace Corps like” broadcasting experience. But suddenly he was producing a business program and then a Saturday morning calendar program. These days his picture is in the dictionary under “public radio lifer.” McDonnell produced the internationally focused program Midday with Sondra Gair and took over as host after Sondra passed away.

Keynote Climate Activists Include:


Vic Barrett is from low-lying land in New York, which is threatened by rising sea levels and more frequent storm surges, and has felt firsthand climate impacts in the form of Hurricane Sandy, when his home lost power and his school and local transport shut down. Vic is a Fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education, and traveled to Paris to attend and speak at the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change. After marching in solidarity with more than 400,000 people at the People’s Climate March in New York City, he organized his peers in local frontline climate campaigns, met with the Minister of Environment and Energy for the Maldives, and met with former U.S. astronaut, Kathryn D. Sullivan, who now serves as the Administrator for NOAA. He spoke at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for the High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. He cares deeply about climate change, justice, and human rights, especially regarding the ways climate change affects young people like him.


Dejah Powell is the Midwest Lead Organizer for the Sunrise Movement and has spent her time fighting for a Green New Deal rooted in equity, protecting Indigenous, black and brown, low-income and frontline communities that have historically been at the forefront of environmental injustice in this country.

March 18, 2021
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

Join our keynote speakers with their mentors to discuss how motivated youth and adults can work together to leverage each other’s experience, connections, and resources in the fight for a sustainable planet.

Moderated by: 

Jerome McDonnell hosted Worldview, WBEZ’s global affairs program from 1994-2019. Currently, he is WBEZ’s Environmental Reporter. McDonnell joined WBEZ in 1984 as an intern thinking this would be a quick “Peace Corps like” broadcasting experience. But suddenly he was producing a business program and then a Saturday morning calendar program. These days his picture is in the dictionary under “public radio lifer.” McDonnell produced the internationally focused program Midday with Sondra Gair and took over as host after Sondra passed away.

Leah Qusba (Vic's mentor at the Alliiance for Climate Education) Qusba's interest in social justice work sparked as a teen growing up in the “Paper Valley,” a section of the Fox River in northeastern Wisconsin with the highest concentration of paper mills in the world. When she was in high school, a 39-mile stretch of the river she often played in as a kid was designated as a Superfund Site by the EPA from unregulated dumping by the paper industry. Ten years later, in 2009, she found her home at ACE. She was inspired by the mission and felt called to help lift up the voices of young people on the frontlines of climate and environmental injustice. Qusba has been with Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) for 12 years and has had the unique experience of working to build the organization from the ground up—helping it grow into a national leader in youth climate education and engagement.

Elise Dagley (Dejah's mentor) 
is passionate about people. As a Senior Operations Associate at Civic Consulting Alliance, she manages internal operations and teams that shape how people join, develop, diversify, and engage with the organization. Dagley has supported some of the most vulnerable populations as a consultant and mental health worker in the non-profit, education, and social sectors. Whether it is developing a trauma intervention program in the US Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria or partnering with schools to expand mental health support to students in the Chicagoland area, she has dedicated her career to ensuring people thrive. 

Friday, March 19 
By Invite Only 

Student delegations from 38 AJCU and Chicago-are universities were invited to participate in a virtual discussion to develop strategies and resources to relaunch student-lead campus sustainability initiatives as they reopen. How do you create a culture where sustainable practices are the new normal on campus? 

If you aren't interested in sponsoring the conference, but would still like to make a general donation to SES, you can donate here.