To tackle the lack of environmental education programs for youth, a trio of eighth graders – now seniors – established Operation Leadership, an initiative fostering leadership skills in young people with a focus on environmental concerns like plastic pollution and climate change. Along the way, cofounder Joey Misailidis ’23 has garnered several notable national distinctions – the prestigious Cameron Impact Scholarship, which covers four years at any college in the U.S., and the President’s Environmental Youth Award – all while nurturing the next generation of environmental leaders in Hawai‘i.
Since its creation, Operation Leadership has continued to grow and evolve. Misailidis and her cofounders have created both online and in-person workshops for fourth and fifth grade students at Punahou, where participants attend five-day workshops that center around leadership, environmental issues affecting O‘ahu and design-thinking projects.
Students work in groups to tackle an environmental issue and create a prototype solution, inspiring everyone with their youthful creativity. As Misailidis explains, “They are so willing to dive headfirst in what they’re doing, and it’s fun to see what they come up with.” For instance, one group designed a solution to prevent melting glaciers and protect marine life.
To ensure the longevity of the program, the founders have trained 20 student volunteers in the Operation Leadership Hawai‘i club, which Misailidis will continue to coordinate. Currently only available to Punahou students, the team plans to expand to other schools and organizations, such as the Nā Kama Kai, La Pietra and Roosevelt High School. They are collaborating with the Luke Center to establish new chapters and train the next generation of high school students to become workshop leaders.
For their outstanding efforts, Misailidis along with the other two co-founders of the organization, Kaelah Kimura ’23 and Katie Rudolf ’23, were honored with the President’s Environmental Youth Award, which is presented annually by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The award recognizes local projects developed by students, youth organizations and others that promote environmental stewardship and protection. The team attended the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., where they were inspired by the passion and strengths of other recipients and EPA employees working towards a sustainable future.
Misailidis brings a passion for Hawaiian voyaging culture into Operation Leadership. She regularly meets with the voyaging club at Punahou to learn about the ocean, astronomy, and the basics of voyaging and sailing. Misailidis even completed a 10-day voyage with Kānehūnāmoku Voyaging Academy. Voyaging has been a way for her to connect with the land and ocean and has been an inspiration for her environmental leadership, which she says is rooted in the values of voyaging, where the canoe serves as a model for the world. “On the canoe and in our world, resources are finite. We’re all on this island and world together, so if we treat the world like a canoe and navigate, we can create change. In our leadership curriculum we try to instill how to be empathetic leaders who put their community first to create positive change.”
She has big plans in store upon graduating. Misailidis will study environmental engineering at Cornell University where she hopes to use math and science to solve environmental problems in a solution-oriented way. She will also continue swimming as a D1 athlete.
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