I’ve had to repeatedly tout my experience and accomplishments as an environmental leader lately, so I’ve been doing some serious reflection on my leadership style. In general terms, I am a founder, a connector, and an advocate. I will make sure the job gets done. I don’t need to take credit for things and am happy to direct the praise to others who have worked with me and who often have done the heavier lifting. I listen carefully to people and take note of their interests, concerns, needs, and dreams. I am a problem-solver. As soon as I hear somebody express a desire or a problem, I immediately look for a solution. Often, those solutions emerge from conversations with other people when I realize, “Hey! You have a solution for this other person’s problem! You two should talk!” I surround myself with highly competent people with whom I am happy to share and rotate leadership roles. Below, I highlight a few examples from my professional history.
After I earned tenure and a promotion to Associate Professor of Biology at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, I was reassigned for seven years to serve as the first Director of Campus Sustainability with a direct report to the university president. I coordinated efforts to integrate sustainability themes and practices across the academic curriculum (multi-disciplinary and general education), and within facilities and operations, student life programming, marketing and communication, and development and alumni relations. In each of those sectors, I listened to staff, students, and faculty about their ideas for opportunities to reduce their environmental footprint, then I made connections and found funding to help them put those ideas into action. Networking was key, and serving as the nexus of communication and internal and external cheerleader was my most important role.
I was a charter board member of the Springfield Urban Agriculture Association, an organization formed to support small, urban and suburban farmers, to train a new generation of farmers through farm internships, and to establish 10 school gardens along with professional training for teachers in garden-based learning. I listened intently to the dreams of the young farmer-founders and immediately got to work to help them make it a reality. I helped them write and administer a successful $300,000 grant from the Missouri Foundation for Health to launch the organization, to recruit additional board members, to apply for and secure 501(c)3 status, and to connect with Springfield Public Schools. I was a committed and active board member, and served as president of the organization during my last year in Springfield (2013-14) to lead the organization through a radical change in management and organizational structure to ensure that its essential programs would continue even under a new structure. I can provide compassionate leadership through tough times and change.
I was also a charter board member and first board president of Ozarks New Energy, Inc., a 501(c)3 organization formed to promote innovation and education about alternative energy solutions for the Central Midwest states. Members included high profile municipal and private utility executives, energy sector entrepreneurs, academic scientists, farmers, and elected officials from the region. Initially, I was the only woman on the board, and the president. With that many alpha males breaming with lofty ideas in each meeting, I often had to assert myself as the level-headed bus-driver keeping us steered toward our goals of organizing monthly educational programs and annual, multi-state, multi-stakeholder conferences. I can hold my own and stay on track in a room full of strong leaders.
At Stetson University, as a new department chair hired from an external search to grow a new Environmental Science and Studies program from its roots as a small and chronically underfunded Geography program, I navigated the complex political landscape of an old but new-to-me academic institution to leverage resources (new faculty lines, bigger budgets, more auxiliary efforts) both for our department and for other departments with interdisciplinary links to our department. I made sure we recruited and mentored extremely qualified and high-energy, full-time faculty who have stayed, and a revolving team of part-time faculty from our deep pool of environmental experts in this community. I invested great effort in helping build affiliated programs like the Sustainable Food System program and the Environmental Health track within the Public Health program. I often put my department’s and institution’s needs above my own, and spent valuable political capital sometimes to make sure that promises made by administrators were kept. Our department along with the Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience that I also helped launch now have 9 full-time faculty, 3 part-time faculty and 2 staff members to support the nearly 100 students majoring in Environmental Science or Studies, 30 students in Sustainable Food Systems, and 15 students in Environmental Health. I surround myself with excellent people. I advocate fiercely for my colleagues, students, and the programs I lead. I build partnerships. I know when it’s time to schmooze and when it’s time to fight. I nurture leadership capacity in my colleagues, and I happily passed the batons of leadership to them when my term was up.
Now, I find myself seeking the opportunity not just to serve on the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District, but to provide bold leadership both within the organization and beyond to complement and amplify the good work that is already going on in Volusia County by so many other organizations to protect our water resources, our public lands, and our food systems. I am pondering how my own success in this role will be tied to the opportunity to elevate and strengthen the role of the VSWCD in this community and in our multi-county region. There are empty niches we need to fill. We have to be bold about seeking private and public funds both locally and across the state and nation to support our teachers, our farmers, and our partner organizations. We have to be unapologetic about standing up for aggressive water conservation strategies in urban development plans. We have to celebrate and support the good work that our K-12 teachers are doing to teach students about the environment! We have to support a new generation of farmers who will ensure local food security for Volusia County for the next 50 years. Some say we need more paid staff to do that work for us. Sure—that would certainly help. But the Supervisors themselves who are elected to these positions are supposed to be experts, are supposed to be leaders, are supposed to be passionate advocates for protecting soil and water. Their job is not to attend meetings. Their job is to get out in the community and work with our partners to protect soil and water. I’m committed to putting in that time and effort, and I will look forward to working with the other Supervisors and Associate Supervisors who add their passion and expertise to the mix to make sure this board works for every citizen of Volusia County.