Reflections on the 2023 Collegiate Climate Policy Institute

    By Jessie Cohen

“Find your people, find your passion.”

– Amara Ifeji, Director at the Maine Environmental Education Association, 2022 Brower Youth Award winner, CCPI speaker (and so much more)!

This was the advice given to the 32 youth climate advocates participating in TCI’s Collegiate Climate Policy Institute (CCPI) in Washington, D.C. last month. And in many ways, CCPI facilitated precisely that: a powerful sense of camaraderie, and a reinvigorated passion for climate advocacy amongst participants. 

Over the course of three days, participants had the opportunity to go sight-seeing in Washington D.C., engage in lively panel discussions, and hold meetings with their congressional leaders, all while cultivating a deep sense of community, friendship, and solidarity. 

Jessie Cohen and TCI Executive Director Jono Anzalone at CCPI

I am incredibly grateful to have been one of the participants at CCPI. The connections I made during the program have been invaluable. Not only was I afforded the opportunity to meet professionals working in various capacities to fight the climate crisis, but also to meet people a lot like me; young, passionate, driven to make meaningful change in our communities… and just a little angry about the level of inaction on climate issues by those in power. 

The Institute welcomed advocates not only from across the country –from California to Florida and everywhere in between – but from around the world, including individuals from Peru, Germany, and the American territory of Guam. The diversity of lived experiences and perspectives present was one of the Institute’s greatest qualities . From a 17-year-old composting phenom (hello Changemaker award winner Maya) to a NASA scientist, a rural middle school teacher, and an electrician, I had the chance to interact with and hear from people whose lives and experience dealing with the climate crisis have been so vastly different from my own. Listening to and learning from the other participants was incredibly eye-opening and forced me to consider climate  issues in new ways.

TCI Policy Manager Javan santos speaking at CCPI

Because my fellow  participants so profoundly shaped my experience at CCPI, I have decided to allow them to shape this article as well. Here is a series of reflections and insights from some of the amazing individuals in attendance.

Quotes from our participants

“We had such a diverse group of people, including the [TCI] staff, but especially the participants. Everyone had their own background, which inspired unique specialities. After having deep conversations, both initiated by the program and by participants independently, I learned of even more creative avenues to work towards climate justice that I hadn’t thought of before.” – Belle Li, Posse Scholar at Pepperdine University

“Living on the coast in south Texas, combating climate change and billion dollar industries can feel very isolating and defeating. This conference connected me with young, driven individuals that share so many of the same passions and frustrations, despite our diverse backgrounds and experiences. I gained valuable insight from the panelists and guest speakers and feel much more confident and prepared in my ability to draft bills, converse with policy makers, and engage my community in climate action!” – Julia Nicholson, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi student and local activist

“CCPI was a great experience to be a part of. I learned so much in terms of policy, organizing and lobbying for my community’s climate needs. Being able to be with a cohort of young people that were my age helped me make meaningful and impactful relationships and inspired me. I was truly inspired by learning about everyone’s state and how other young climate leaders are working to help the environment they live in.”- Sam Salazar, Energy Policy Fellow with the Center for Civic Policy, and US Army Second Lieutenant

“The Climate Initiative provided a very wonderful opportunity for youth leaders from across the country to come together and discuss potentially the greatest threat to this planet: climate change. I was very honored to have been given such a wonderful opportunity. CCPI was a wonderful opportunity to connect with other like minded individuals, discuss climate change, learn about climate policy, and overall just have fun. The conference truly was a remarkable experience and an opportunity to learn what we can all do today for tomorrow. Climate change is a threat, young people all around the world seem to be the only ones to fully recognize that. We must all come together and fight for climate policy for a clean, green, and livable environment.” – Jeremy Lee, local activist

“CCPI was an absolutely unforgettable experience. It was so incredible to talk to so many people from across the country who are all in different stages of life, but are all fighting to better our world. Growing up in Minnesota and attending college in Vermont, I’ve always been surrounded by people who believe in the climate crisis. It was equally devastating and inspiring to hear the stories from whose for whom that wasn’t the case… Beyond stories, I will take away the knowledge of how powerful and determined my generation is. I will carefully tuck in my heart a little bit of the electric spark of being in a room full of people who are just as passionate as you.”- Corrine Lowmanstone, Middlebury College student

“CCPI was an incredible experience. I learned tremendously about climate change and what we can do in our communities to help. From policy to local government and our own communities, there are many ways we can cause change. I am grateful for the opportunity and can’t thank CCPI enough for everything. I came home with knowledge, and most importantly, hope. Meeting people from all around the world and getting to know everyone was also something I’m very grateful for. Learning from each other and teaching as well is something I won’t ever forget.” Jason Paz, electrical apprentice

“The panelists were all impressive… because they’re tackling the climate [crisis] in their own unique ways. I felt inspired by the IPCC panel because they were using hard evidence to inform policy and that’s something which interests me… I also really appreciated meeting people from such diverse backgrounds [who are] demonstrating their commitment to climate issues. Oftentimes we’re taught that it’s a partisan issue, but from what I saw, the younger generations are very keen on seeing climate action.” – Ayusha Gautam, Middlebury College student and intern at the office of Senator Bernie Sanders

Like my fellow participants, I will draw on this experience for strength and inspiration in my climate related work moving forward. I left DC with my mind swirling with the possibilities for making change in my community, and with newfound connections to people with the know-how to make it happen. A huge thanks to TCI for giving me the confidence and tools to make real change and to all my new friends for teaching and inspiring me, and for being amazing listeners, and frankly, just amazing people. I am so excited to see what this and future CCPI cohorts will do. Young people are incredible, we are resilient, and we are powerful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


For photos, footage, and more highlights from CCPI, be sure to follow TCI on social media, @the_climateinitiative on Instagram, and @theclimateinitiative on Tik Tok!