Teaching Leadership: Inspiration for the New Academic Year


The reciprocity ring: a reminder that leaders are willing to ask for help, and everyone has something to offer

The start of the academic year can be a natural time to try something new. If you’re looking for inspiration for new course content on leadership, read Kate Knuth’s recent post on IonE’s Boreas Environmental Leadership Program blog. Kate, who directs Boreas, facilitated a special session on environmental leadership at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting in August. It attracted participants across the spectrum of career stages — from undergraduates to retirees — and sparked a lively, engaged conversation on these questions:

  • Where and how have you learned best about your own leadership and potential for impact?
  • What skills/connections/practices/support systems do you think are important for developing environmental leaders? How do these differ at different points in a person’s career?
  • How could organizations you are part of help to develop people’s leadership capacities? Think of universities, agencies, professional societies, etc.

There’s a great summary of the group’s insights and advice in Kate’s post. What leadership idea or practice are you most interested in exploring with students this year? Leave a comment.

How Can Research Better Inform Decision-making? Let’s Discuss….

As a Leopold Leadership fellow, one of my primary practice year goals is to do research that has impact on major sustainability challenges. Many of the resources available to help scientists inform decision-makers focus on communication – how to engage with non-scientists, speak in clear language, and distill your main messages. I’ve learned a lot about these techniques through the Leopold program, which has encouraged me to make a “message box,” engage on twitter, and interview for information.

But if what we do as scientists is truly going to help solve complex global problems involving humans and the environment, we need to embed this kind of thinking not just into our outreach and engagement, but into how we do our science itself.  That is, the goal of having impact should inform the design, methods, and process of our research as well as its communication. At MIT, I’ve been working with a group of other faculty and researchers who are interested in how we can do better research when our goal is to inform policy-making.  The MIT Leading Technology and Policy (LTP) Initiative, made possible by a generous donation, has sponsored a variety of events around science and technology policy, and supports ongoing research in this area by awarding postdoctoral fellowships.

In September, we organized a small workshop at MIT to kickstart a conversation on this topic. To focus our discussions, we chose the topic of energy, environment and sustainability, but invited selected colleagues from across the U.S. and Europe whose focus was both within and outside this domain. We discussed specifically how methods of analysis can better capture the role of technical and natural constraints in research to inform policy. Participants discussed their latest work in watershed science, carbon management, climate variability, and globalization of clean energy technologies, among others. In focused, small-group discussions, we addressed selected broad issues faced by the technology and policy community.

One of these focused discussions addressed how educational programs can better train future scientists and engineers to address policy-relevant issues, which often involve social, natural and technological dimensions. MIT’s Technology and Policy Program has, through its nearly 40-year history, trained both academics and practitioners in this area. Much research has also been done, largely in the social sciences, to better understand why and how scientific information is influential in decision-making contexts. However, we found during the workshop that while many of us were broadly familiar with relevant literature, we did not have a shared body of knowledge to ground our discussions. To follow up on this issue, I’ll be working with interested faculty from other institutions to collect relevant syllabi, resources and case studies to help inform future education, including full-length courses, modules, and short courses.

Ultimately, we hope to catalyze a larger community of research and practice interested in technology, policy and related issues. If you are interested in participating, we have started a collaborative web site to share materials and coordinate future activities. We also anticipate having further discussions at the next CESUN conference in June 2014. We look forward to intellectual exchange and input from colleagues around the world in this endeavor.

The Gift of Time: the 10+2 Strategy



Last week while watching Peter Redstone facilitate a webinar on time management, I was reminded of the concept of “thinking time” introduced by Mary Budd Rowe, a visiting professor at Stanford in the 90’s.  She would give a 10-minute presentation and then give students 2 minutes to think—either on their own or in small groups.  She found that it increased the length and appropriateness of students’ responses and it changed the quality of questions asked by the instructor!

Peter stopped in the middle of the webinar and gave everyone 3-4 minutes to think about several questions regarding the challenges we face with time management.  Rather than asking us to think later—or more likely never!—we had time to reflect and write out our priorities.  It struck me as another tip worth sharing besides the ones shown above that Peter shared during the webinar.  Thank you, Peter!

Leopold Leadership Core Training Translated and Magnified

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) with student cohort and postdocs.

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

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.

destination postcard 1

Destination postcard

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…

Students working on "Plus/Minus/Interesting" analysis

Working on “Plus/Minus/Interesting” analysis


orig PMI actually subsequent to a PMI

…and here.





They also used Other Point of View and Pitch and Post

Pitched and posted!

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).

Results: Engagement!

Working on message box for final pitch

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.

Why are sticky notes & hula hoops essential tools for a Leopold Leadership event?

2013 cohort solving a complex problem!

2013 cohort solving a complex problem!

I just read a reflection on the question, How do you design a training so people learn something and are inspired to use it?  posted by a leading social media trainer Beth Kanter.  In a nutshell that’s my job and why I think interactive design is critical if you want people to integrate what they’ve learned into their repertoire.  Here in the Leopold Leadership office we’ve been following Beth’s blog and Pam Sturner’s been participating in a peer-learning group that Beth organized as a Visiting Scholar at Packard Foundation. Read Beth’s tips for interactivity.  It’s a long post so you may want to begin reading from “Design for Participants to Apply”!  

Let’s try an interactive brainstorm!   Can we get 20 tips?  Add your tip by replying to this post.  Here’s one to start us off:

Stand Up/Sit Down: (I opened the June training in 2013 with this one.) You get to know who’s in the room quickly and gets people moving as well!

Directions:  Stand up if you:

  • were born outside of the US (born in south, northeast, west, etc.)
  • traveled more than 2 hours to get here (keep increasing until you found out who traveled the longest)
  • took a gap year sometime in your educational journey
  • etc…(you’ll want to customize for your group!)