- Participants in the NOAA/FAMU Environmental Cooperative Science Center came from 5 academic institutions and diverse backgrounds (BS, MS, JD, and PhD). Jennifer Cherrier (2013, center) with student cohort and postdocs.
“The brainstorming exercises were great! I will be using these again.” • “This group project was very much like a real-world stakeholder process.” • “At first I wasn’t sure about the pitch & post and other activities, but once we got to doing them, they were very useful. Especially for team building.” • “Great team building exercise. [The] Message Box was the best way of organizing our thoughts.” • “The PMI was my fav thing!” • “This [activity] helped the group stay organized and in sync. Also helped us to communicate, brainstorm together and gel as a group.” • “Loved the Wednesday night ‘mood setting’ activities!
This is just a sampling of the comments I received from upper-division undergraduate and grad students about the problem-based learning (PBL) portion of a multi-institutional short course I oversaw in August in the Florida Panhandle. And luckily, the timing for the rollout of the course allowed me to capitalize on my Leopold Leadership Fellowship core training and magnify its positive impacts: a truly amazing and gratifying experience. Feeling the fully energized communal mood of these students reminded me of the very same powerful sentiment shared by the 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellows during our training in June.
The opportunity: Our diverse group’s need to translate knowledge to action
The short course I oversaw, “Multidisciplinary Techniques in Marine Science & Policy,” was offered to support student training efforts for the Environmental Cooperative Science Center (ECSC), a multi-institutional collaboration led by my home institution, Florida A&M University, and funded by NOAA. The mission of the ECSC is to educate and train a new generation of ocean scientists, particularly from under-represented minorities, and to produce research products that support coastal resource stewardship and management. The ECSC promotes coastal resource sustainability by bringing together faculty and student researchers from diverse academic backgrounds (i.e., natural, applied, and socioeconomic sciences, as well as policy and law) with the collective goal of finding ways to balance societal demands on coastal system resources with coastal ecosystem health and resilience. The purpose of the intensive, 5-day short course was to provide students with an overview of the ECSC’s multi-disciplinary approach for carrying out research and informing coastal resource management to achieve the balance between resource use and ecosystem health.
Course design: Adapting Leopold Leadership tools
The first 3 days of the short course were dedicated to mini hands-on lecture/lab/field training sessions where students learned practices and techniques used in ecosystem assessments and valuation and participated in simulations that explored policymaking paradigms. The last 2 days of the course culminated with students working in teams on a role play problem-based learning (PBL) activity that focused on the impacts of land use practice on coastal ecosystem and socioeconomic health. This last activity challenged students to pull together everything they learned during the first part of the course and hone their collaboration and communication skills. I applied techniques learned during my Leopold Leadership training primarily during this final PBL activity.
For the PBL activity, students were broken into teams and each team was assigned a particular stakeholder point of view (i.e., government, developer, fishing industry, or environmental advocacy — see below) regarding whether plans for a controversial coastal development project in the Florida Panhandle, “SummerCamp,” should proceed. The task for each student stakeholder group was to develop and present a compelling “pitch” to the other groups during a “town hall” event. After the final town hall pitches, the stakeholder groups engaged in discussions with the goal of finding an amicable agreement about a balanced, sustainable path forward for the coastal development project.
The night before the students were to begin work on their group projects, I introduced them to the Message Box
and walked them through a couple of warm-up activities to help lighten the mood and get them into a more creative space. One of the warm-up activities was a gentle, bastardized version of Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument to help students see the strengths of their team members’ thinking styles and appreciate how their own thinking style might appear to others. The second activity was a destination postcard visualization/drawing exercise to help students imagine the best outcome their stakeholder point of view could produce for the land development project.
Their homework for that evening was to prepare a Message Box for their point of view for the coastal land development project.
The next day I had students do an iterative series of Plus/Minus/Interesting, shown here…
Working on “Plus/Minus/Interesting” analysis
They also used Other Point of View and Pitch and Post
Pitched and posted!
to guide them in developing a group Message Box for their “town hall” pitch on the final day of the course. Throughout the process I continually reminded students to be cognizant of their communication style, think about their audience, and avoid using jargon (advice from COMPASS in my Leopold Leadership training).
Working on message box for final pitch
The students worked extremely hard on this PBL activity. They were completely committed to the process and were genuinely interested in honing their collaboration and communication skills. All their hard work paid off, and what’s more, they had a lot of fun doing it! They did an outstanding job with their final pitches and town hall meeting discussions (they did come to a well-informed, amicable path forward) and it was great to see how effectively they integrated what they learned during the hands-on mini lecture/lab/field training sessions. They understood the necessity of “knowing thy stuff.”
Their evaluation of the PBL activity was very positive. The consensus was that the action of stepping outside of their own personal point of view and into that of the stakeholder, combined with the town hall simulation exercise, gave them a greater appreciation for what it takes, and for the skills needed to move people (all groups) toward sustainable practices. I found the whole process of working with the students on this activity to be unexpectedly organic, seamless, and incredibly satisfying. The experience really hit home the power and effectiveness of the techniques we learned during that arduous but lovely and magical Leopold Leadership training week at Wingspread. The Leopold training has certainly created a shift in my approach to teaching, and if the positive outcome of the ECSC short course is any indication of how it can speak to future academic and non-academic audiences, I fully expect the impact of the Leopold training to expand exponentially.
Big thanks to the ECSC faculty, post docs, and staff who helped put this course together — it took a village. And thanks to the Leopold Leadership Program for helping to shape the path and grow the rider!
Jennifer Cherrier is an Associate Professor in the School of the Environment at Florida A&M University and a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.