Designing the Destination: 2 Hours to a Vision and Mission for Our Center

Sabo_pitch&post_photo

Pitch and Post worked well for generating the vision and mission for our new food systems center.

In my last post, I described how I used Think-Pair-Share in a 2-hour meeting to build trust and momentum among faculty who are creating a center on food systems at Arizona State University. In our second meeting (also 2 hours) we modified several tools introduced by Barefoot at the Leopold Leadership training last June to create vision and mission statements. Here’s what we did.

Meeting 2: Creating a collaboration space to draft vision and mission statements

At Meeting 2 we had some of the same faculty (veterans from Meeting 1) and a group of faculty who could not attend the initial meeting (rookies). In hindsight it would have been nice to redo the Think-Pair-Share exercise by pairing veterans and rookies and having the veterans “swear in” the rookies to the group. Note to self for next time.

The goal of Meeting 2 was to brainstorm a vision, and if time permitted, a mission for the center. To brainstorm the vision statement, we used a version of “Pitch and Post.” We divided the large group into subgroups of four and tasked each one to come up with a two-sentence vision statement for the food systems center. Each subgroup appointed a delegate who pitched the idea to the larger group. The other participants wrote their reactions on post-its and posted them on the written (paper or tablet) vision statement. Each subgroup took the feedback, synthesized it, and redrafted their vision statements. We then reran the Pitch and Post a second time. In the end we derived three very solid vision statements.

After this vision exercise, I charged the group with brainstorming a mission that would achieve the vision. We did this as a snowball activity. Pairs discussed and synthesized their top three activities that would achieve the center mission. These ranged from more organization to writing collaborative research proposals to funding conferences led by graduate students to changing the metrics for P&T evaluation to rewarding engagement and the translation of research into action. The pairs then paired up into groups of four and honed and culled until they had a set of their top three activities. Then we did this as a large group. In the end I left the meeting with a short list of top 12 most desired activities for the food systems center.

By the end, I had new insights about managing large faculty meetings.

Most important do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t be afraid to deviate from the script: Think-Pair-Share and other Barefoot activities can be mixed and matched, co-opted for other purposes, and redesigned.
  • Make room for movement: Switch between pairs and groups of four midway through the meeting, or better, make the group reorganize into 2-3 different groups of four to discuss focus questions. Getting up and moving keeps interest levels up.
  • Appoint assistant coaches to help design and execute the meetings: The coaches were valuable notetakers and guidance counselors to faculty through the meeting process. Their participation led to better outcomes.
  • Don’t forget the food: Eating together builds community. Design these sorts of meetings at lunchtime and feed participants well.
  • Don’t fear execution imprecision: The second round of Pitch and Post in Meeting 2 was actually a complete accident (unplanned) but hitting the clutch and shifting gears on the fly paid off.
  • Don’t try to do too many games in one meeting: Explaining game rules and getting participants in the groove takes precious time and may ultimately get in the way of getting work done.
  • Don’t go in blind: Have a ballpark idea of your desired outcome — e.g., what that vision and mission should look like. Design your destination, be flexible, and prepare to listen in order to lead more effectively.

Share your best tips for leading faculty meetings in the comments below.

John Sabo, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is Associate Professor in the School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Director of Research Development at the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Follow him on Twitter @jlsaboASU.

An Environmental Scientist’s Confession: Why I Burn Fossil Fuel

My research vessel (Photo by Sarah Bagby)

My research vessel has a 267,000-gallon fuel tank (photo by Sarah Bagby)

Several years ago, my sister created a website, carbonconfessor.com. I was delighted.  Finally, a friendly place where I could seek absolution for my carbon sins! She even had a phone-in option. I was excited because I had long lived with the guilt of a double life. In my daily existence I commuted by bike, taught university courses about climate change, and interrogated bacteria that produce and consume greenhouse gases. But when away from my daily life I binge-burned. I burned diesel in oversized rental trucks, jet fuel when I traveled to conferences, and on special occasions I burned Bunker fuel oil when I directed large oceanographic vessels on tortuous paths through the high seas. Have you ever pumped fuel into a 267,000-gallon tank? It stings more than a little.

A certain “fair and balanced” news outlet has pointed to hypocrisy such as mine as evidence that climate change is not a serious concern. If it were, surely we highlighter-green-liberal-academic-environmentalist-science-leader-types would never tempt global annihilation by burning that black juice of death! But I do, and that makes me a hypocrite. If you are among the 50% of the US population looking for validation of your opinion that climate change is not a concern, then read no further – you have my admission of hypocrisy as ammunition. But if you are interested in getting to the bottom of this, let’s dialog.

Human behavior can be baffling, but the explanation for my hypocrisy seems rather simple: I am a scientist who is a product of a modern society. Like everyone else, I depend on the many benefits of fossil carbon – transportation, electricity, heat, and plastics – to fulfill my responsibilities as a member of society.

This realization struck me unexpectedly a few years back. I was leading a fuel-hungry expedition off the California coast when devastating news came that a crew-member’s mother had suffered a massive stroke and had only hours to live. I faced a decision – do we cease operation and drop him off at port for the chance that he might say a final goodbye to his mother? Yes, this was a no-brainer. How about speed – do we burn an extra 500 gallons of fuel to get him to port an hour earlier in hopes that he might catch a flight that same night? Of all the considerations that crossed my mind, carbon footprint was not one of them, and we put the pedal to the metal. Like everyone else in the decision chain, I was guided by one thing: doing everything we could do help our crew member get home as fast as possible.

What this experience forced me to recognize is that as leaders we sometimes need to separate our humanity from our knowledge. What I know through study is that our collective actions are continuing to change Earth’s environment in a way this is likely to cause massive upheaval and strife for future generations. In the face of tragedy it was easy to set aside this long-term environmental concern. But in truth it is just as easy to set aside environmental concern in the face of more mundane priorities like getting to work on time. So I pose these questions to the ether of LL 3.0: as environmental leaders, where do we draw the line between our actions and our goals? How about convenience and sacrifice?  I’m not suggesting that anyone boycott their upcoming trip to Wisconsin or tear apart their driver’s license, but I am curious how others maneuver their way through this issue.

I am sorry to finish by announcing that I don’t know exactly where the grey area ends. Some interesting guidance can be found here, and you can calculate your carbon footprint here. And if the results of that exercise cause you foreboding, don’t worry, I can help fast-track your absolution request.

David Valentine, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is professor of Earth Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Read more about his research here.

The “Secret Sauce” of Leadership Development: Interview with Jon Foley

Jon Foley (Photo by Josh Kohanek)

Jon Foley (Photo by Josh Kohanek)

Note from Kate: I recently interviewed Jon Foley, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE), about what academics need to become effective environmental leaders. In his development as a leader, working with networks was key. He also talked about the need for training, which provides skills and “moral encouragement.” Here’s what he had to say:

KK: Can you describe a specific moment or experience when you really felt like you were making a difference as a leader?

JF: That’s a tough one. I’m not sure you’ll never really know. And you’re never done, of course.

I feel that you go through career transitions. Initially, your sole focus is to do the science your peers respect. That’s great; and when you do the science your peers respect and the public notices, that’s really great. When you do the science that’s respected by your peers, the public notices, and then thought leaders are asking your for help, that’s the third level that you reach. That’s been very rewarding — and intellectually, incredibly stimulating.

If you put yourself in a position of leadership and visibility, you have to learn to have a thicker skin, because you’ll be exposed to more criticism. It’s a different world where you can get a few more bruises, but the rewards are so much greater than that. Don’t stress out about it; just realize that you can get a little bit beat up.

KK: You’ve described these levels of career development. From the outside, it looks like you just made your way up them. How did you figure out how to do that?

JF: I think we’re all experimenting in our own ways. That’s where this network of people working on leadership issues that Leopold helped create has been so incredibly powerful. We got these crash courses on communications and media relations, and those were really helpful. It also introduced us to 19 other crazy people who were trying to do the same thing, and that was even more valuable. Those two weeks you’re together, doing this course, you become fast friends. That was the most important two weeks of my professional life — and of my life. Probably second only to the birth of my children, in terms of the influence it’s had on my life and career. I am still incredibly grateful and indebted to the Leopold program for kicking off things.

But is there a simple how-to guide? No. I think that’s where we’re struggling, because we‘re trying to figure out how to “train the trainer” and replicate that experience for younger people when they are in school.

KK: Why do you think developing the next generation of leaders is important? How do you think it’s different and similar to regular graduate education?

JF: The Boreas Program borrows a lot of inspiration from the Leopold Program in the sense that there are elements of preparation, like workshops, preparing you to gain specific skills. Skills preparation lays the groundwork. The secret sauce that Leopold had, and I think Boreas has, is that it also gives you the moral encouragement to go out and try these things.

That’s where it’s different than regular graduate training. But there’s a similarity, too. Let’s say you get a PhD in chemistry. You’re not going to have your committee members beside you for the rest of your life. Eventually, you have to go out on your own. A good graduate program gives you the tools for how think about these things and encourages you to innovate your own path. I think that’s where Leopold and Boreas try to do the same thing. The skills are not as obvious sometimes, and they don’t fit as neatly into a traditional disciplinary rubric. But they are nevertheless rigorous and important.

KK: If you’re thinking about your own moral encouragement, what advice do you have for aspiring world-changers?

JF: I try to remember my inner 13- or 14-year-old. The person who was really passionate about science, wanting to go save the world, or do something great. The person who got up and watched Carl Sagan and wanted to be one of the first astronauts to Mars. That was me as a kid. I think we lose sight of that through all those dissertation chapters, committee meetings, prelims, defenses. Being a post-doc, getting your work published, writing proposals — it’s a pretty demoralizing, hard life in some ways. A lot of the creativity and spark can be beaten out of you if you let it. My first advice would be don’t let it. Keep that inner spark. Let that be your moral compass. That should be guiding your career more than a path to getting tenure. We’re not in the business of getting tenure. We should be in the business of changing the world. And if you change the world, well, you do good scholarship.

The final thing is that for most people right now, it’s a choice to do this kind of more public service science. Thankfully, it’s become a lot easier to do that over the last decade or two. Personally, I don’t think that’s even far enough. I don’t think this should be optional. It should be the way we do things.

If we start to think carefully about the kind of science we should be doing, and the greatest public good, it doesn’t just mean creating a patent, or some new miracle drug or technical solution. What it is that we as a civilization need to know in the long-term? That could be very long-term investments in basic research, but it is also being thoughtful about our social compact. Being accountable to our fellow human beings is not a bad thing at all. All we are doing is reinventing what we knew in the late 19th century, of the land grant, and the Morril Act, things that a lot of us at state universities know about. I hope this kind of training and leadership become the norm. Maybe that will slowly happen over the next decade. That would be very, very cool.

___

Kate Knuth, Program Director of the Boreas Leadership Program at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She is pursuing a PhD in conservation biology. You can follow the Boreas Leadership Program and Kate on Twitter, @BoreasIonE and @KateKnuth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bridging the Leadership Gap: Internships As Catalysts for Post-graduate Success

Gennifer Meldrum, BRITE intern placed at Bioversity International in Rome

“My experience as a BRITE intern at Bioversity International was a pivotal moment in my career.” — Gennifer Meldrum

In my last post I wrote about a major gap in graduate education: the lack of training to equip PhD graduates in the sciences for success in careers outside academia. This is a major failing, since only about 20% of graduates land tenure-track positions at universities.

A partial solution is to provide graduate students with short internships in corporations, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations. This is what we have been doing through UBC’s Biodiversity Internship program, or BRITE. Such internships provide students with real-world experience solving problems in “partner” organizations, offering them an invaluable leadership opportunity. Here’s a short reflection on my experience creating and running BRITE.

How We Did It

Great experiences don’t just happen, of course. They must be carefully crafted. This dawned on me when our funding came in, and I suddenly had the responsibility of delivering on my promise. Where to start? What procedures to put in place?

I started by consulting an existing internship program at UBC (the Bridge program), and thinking through how our process ought to differ from that, given our context. Then we set forth, with procedures to continually revisit guidance and policies. After the first year, we identified four essential criteria for picking successful pairings (none of which will come as a surprise), and we still use them now:

  1. Anticipated contribution of the opportunity to the student’s career
  2. (Our perceived) importance of the project, to the partners and in general
  3. Fit of student with project; ability of the student to do as hoped
  4. Expected quality of internship experience based on the arrangement (e.g., work from office vs. telecommute) and partner agency/supervisor (here drawing upon past intern reports to judge partners)
  5. Financial considerations (including matching funds from partners, but high scores also if a project depends critically on BRITE funding; low scores if no matching funds or if BRITE funding is only helpful and not necessary).

To find good matches, we ask the students and internship hosts to prepare an application that speaks explicitly to all these criteria, and we engage them in a back-and-forth to help them through the process.

What We Learned

Was it working? Reports from both interns and host organizations documented that it was (see quotes below), buoying our commitment to the program. Sally Otto, director of the Biodiversity Research Centre and PI of the NSERC training grant, was a key champion. Key additions and revisions included a clear explanation of the selection process, and a list of past interns, their host organizations and projects.

Future Directions

Alas, all good things come to an end. The grant was a one-time opportunity, and the end is nigh. Would the internship program dry up, with all our learning and social capital seeping away?

No. Sally Otto won the MacArthur “Genius Grant”, and in a huge vote of confidence and inspiring generosity, she contributed $100,000 to jump-start a $1 million endowment effort to keep BRITE running in perpetuity. We need a lot more help to make this dream a reality, but at least we’re on our way. If you want to contribute to this effort, please visit ‘Biodiversity Internship Fund: Help our students help the Earth’.

Sally Otto, director of the Biodiversity Research Centre at UBC and champion of the BRITE internship program
Sally Otto, director of the Biodiversity Research Centre at UBC and champion of the BRITE internship program

So, how do you simultaneously train young scientists for a diverse set of non-academic careers, and insert much-needed science into policy and practice? We don’t have all the answers, but we feel like now we have one. Here are a few reflections shared by interns and partner organizations:

  • “The BRITE internship was extremely successful for me…I got a job with the organization I interned with! For many non-profits, especially in a poor economy, they don’t have the money to hire interns. And as a student I certainly couldn’t afford to work there for free. This internship showed them the value of having an academic work with them (I was the only person with a PhD working there), and supported me while doing that.” — Kerrie O’Donnell, placed at Ecotrust Canada.
  • “The interns that CPAWS-BC had the opportunity to work with through the BRITE program added immeasurable capacity and insights to our conservation work. Having access to innovative thinkers who could tackle complex policy and research issues is invaluable to a non-profit conservation organization and we look forward to working with BRITE scholars in the years to come.” – Nicola Hill, Executive Director, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, BC Chapter
  • “My BRITE internships have been a wonderful bridge between where I am as a student and where I want to be as a professional.” — Manon Picard, placed at CPAWS-BC and the Secretariat of the CBD.
  • “We were extremely happy with the way this internship turned out…. Having Jenn be part of our team for 6 weeks was a huge benefit to our organization, in the work she did, in the connections she helped us forge with scientists and other organizations and in the support she provided other staff. It was also a real pleasure to work with her. Our only regret is that she wasn’t with us longer.”– Georgia Strait Alliance

Kai Chan, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is a Canada Research Chair (tier 2) and associate professor in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at University of British Columbia. Read more at his lab’s blogs and follow him on Twitter.

 

Bridging the Leadership Gap: Investing in Graduate Training

As a BRITE intern, Jenn Burt  helped the Georgia Strait Alliance build relationships with scientists

As a BRITE intern, Jenn Burt helped the Georgia Strait Alliance build relationships with scientists

At the center of graduate education is a dirty little secret, that’s actually no secret: Most graduate education in science (natural and social) leaves graduates woefully unequipped to thrive in the careers they pursue.

I’m not writing to opine why, but rather to tell you a bit about what I’ve learned about fostering post-graduate leadership while initiating a program at University of British Columbia (UBC). This Biodiversity internship program, or BRITE fills a major gap in graduate education, while also inserting crucial science into policy and practice. Of all that I’ve done at UBC, it’s probably my most important contribution.

Pressing issues in environment and sustainability require the expertise of leaders well trained in science. Climate change, biodiversity loss, land-use change, food security, ecosystem-service degradation, marine pollution, and over-harvesting are just a few of the challenges that humanity faces in the 21st century. There are, of course, plenty of graduate students in science, but current programs inevitably lack the real-world and leadership training and experiences that would enable them to succeed and lead in non-academic organizations.

But only a small fraction of PhDs — perhaps 20%, based on recent statistics — will land tenure-track positions at universities. The others — the 80% — go elsewhere. In so doing, they are not failing us, rather we are failing them by insufficiently equipping them for success outside academia.

Without appropriate training and experience, science graduate students are hampered from identifying and realizing appropriate opportunities. They also miss critical experiences that would enhance their future and current work — even if that future work would be in a different organization or sector. Similarly, the science needs of partner organizations go unfilled, increasing the gap between science and practice/policy, to the detriment of both.

In my next post, I’ll write about how I developed the BRITE internship program as a partial solution to bridging this gap. What’s been your experience working on this challenge? What approaches do you find most promising? Leave a comment.

Kai Chan, a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow, is a Canada Research Chair (tier 2) and associate professor in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at University of British Columbia. Read more at his lab’s blogs and follow him on Twitter.