Sustainability in Kansas: A Recap of Spring Discussion Groups

May 3, 2024 - Features

by Rachel Creighton | Discussion Groups Coordinator


Kansas State Representatives Lindsay Vaughn (D) and Kenny Titus (R) join Dole Fellow Karen Willey to discuss water issues in the state of Kansas.



After a brief hiatus, Discussion Groups returned to the Dole Institute for a captivating series in the Spring of 2024. Discussion Groups, a semiannual program series led by the current Dole Fellow, delves into pertinent topics shaping today’s political landscape. In Spring 2024, the series focused on a statewide perspective: sustainability in Kansas. Led by the 2023-2024 Dole Fellow, Karen Willey, the series, “Obstacles and Opportunities: Tackling Sustainability in Kansas,” addressed key challenges and opportunities in the state’s sustainability efforts and was presented in partnership with the Kansas Rural Center.

Unlike previous Discussion Groups, which were solely developed by the Dole Fellow, this series took a new approach. Discussion Group student coordinators Braiden Bangalan and Rachel Creighton collaborated directly with Willey during the prior fall to develop the programming. Together, they researched and selected topics and guests, and brainstormed innovative opportunities for student engagement with the programs and guests.

On February 20, the series kicked off with “Farm Bill: Food and Hunger in the Heartland,” which focused on the Farm Bill—a massive piece of federal legislation impacting a wide range of issues from agricultural practices to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Renewed every five years, the legislation determines the most profitable and sustainable practices for Kansas’s primary industry: agriculture. Guests Zach Helder, Senior Agriculture Advisor to Representative Sharice Davids, and Nick Levendofsky, Executive Director of Kansas Farmers Union, discussed the bill’s key issues, ongoing debates, and environmental impacts associated with this influential legislation.


Kansas Farmers Union Executive Director Nick Levendofsky and Dole Fellow Karen Willey speak about the Farm Bill.


The second installment of the program, “Sink or Swim: The Future of Water in Kansas,” featured Kansas State Representatives Lindsay Vaughn and Kenny Titus. Both members of the Kansas State House Water Committee, the bipartisan pair discussed the current state of water quantity and quality in the state—providing valuable insights into the complex landscape of water access with competing interests among powerful stakeholders.


Evergy Clean Energy Development Manager Brandon Sack talks with a member of the audience after a discussion on renewable energy in Kansas.


Following the university’s spring break, the series picked back up with its third program, “Powering the Next Generation: Renewable Energy Options and Hurdles in Kansas.” As one of the most widely discussed topics with many stakeholders, the future of renewable energy in Kansas is unclear. The panel discussion included guests Climate + Energy Project Program Director Allison Thomas, Douglas County Planning Commission Chair Gary Rexroad, Evergy Clean Energy Development Manager Brandon Sack, and State Geologist of Kansas Jay Kalbas. The guests discussed the directions Kansas can go regarding different forms of energy production and usage.


KU Associate Professor Ward Lyles discusses climate change adaptation in Kansas with Dole Fellow Karen Willey and other guests.


The series concluded with “Where Do We Go Now?: The Politics and Policies of Climate Adaptation in Kansas.” Willey was joined by Douglas County, Kansas Food Waste Reduction Specialist Jamie Hofling, Kansas Rural Center Executive Director Tom Buller, KU Associate Professor Ward Lyles, and Earthjustice Senior Director Jasmin Moore for a conversation on how to create a livable state in the face of climate change, and how rural and urban areas can adapt to become more resilient.

The series was a resounding success and brought new faces and perspectives to the Dole Institute, with an average of over 80 attendees at each event, and a unique opportunity for students to be directly involved in the development of the program. All four parts of this semester’s Discussion Groups series are available to view on demand on our YouTube channel.



Rachel Creighton serves as a Discussion Groups and Outreach Coordinator at the Dole Institute. In this role, Rachel works closely with the Dole Fellow on Discussion Groups programming and assists in event planning. Rachel previously held the Service Chair position for the Dole Institute’s Student Advisory Board. She is a senior studying Political Science, English, and Business, and works for KU Study Abroad and Global Engagement as a Peer Advisor.

About the Dole Institute
The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, a vibrant forum for civil discourse, civic engagement, and idea exchange across the political spectrum, features historical archives, exhibits, and public programs for all ages. Inspired by the public service of native Kansan, veteran, legislator, and statesman Senator Bob Dole and his wife Senator Elizabeth Dole, visitor galleries feature changing exhibits, the Kansas Veterans Virtual Memory Wall, architectural-scale stained glass American flag, and September 11 memorial.

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