Sound Environmental Leadership Will Trump Denial

Dean’s Update
by Jeffrey Vincent, Stanback Dean

On the night of Nov. 8, 2016, I, like many of you, watched as the results of the U.S. presidential election ushered in a new era of environmental denial and backsliding in our political landscape. The apprehension I felt about the future of our field, our nation and our planet was palpable.

In the days that followed, however, I realized the futility of this reaction. Defeatism accomplishes nothing. Change, however unfathomable, can bring opportunity for those who are prepared to lead.

If progress is unlikely to continue at the federal level over the next four years, then we must redouble our efforts to ensure that it does continue at the state and local levels and in the private sector.

The Nicholas School is particularly well positioned to help lead the charge on the environmental front.

Our alums hold leadership positions in state and local governments, corporations, nonprofits, and research institutions nationwide. The work they do—such as Joel Dunn’s leadership at the Chesapeake Conservancy and Brian Holt’s work at
the East Bay Regional Park District —provide a springboard for continued progress even in the face of setbacks at the federal level.

Our faculty members regularly collaborate  with public and private partners on a wide range  of timely research and outreach initiatives. These collaborations—such as Lori Bennear’s work to quantify the effectiveness of government regulations on corporate sustainability and Andy Read’s work to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise —will not end with a new administration in the White House. If anything, the demand for our expertise—from partners in the private sector, U.S. state and local government agencies, and the global community—will only increase.

The Nicholas School also is well positioned for leadership in this new era because of the broad and unparalleled training we provide our students.

This year, we launched a new Master of Environmental Management (MEM) concentration in Business and the Environment  tailored to meet the growing private-sector demand for managers, consultants and analysts who can develop and implement business practices that benefit the environment, society and shareholder value alike.

The new concentration builds on the skills and training we’ve provided students for years through our Certificate on Sustainable Systems Analysis program, and it augments the skills and training students headed for careers in the private sector can receive through numerous other programs, such as our Environmental Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate.

Our Stanback Internship Program, now in its 21st year, provides project-based training for more than 100 students each year headed to careers in environmental fields in the private and public sectors alike.

Our Nicholas Scholars program, now in its second year, provides extensive financial aid—the largest packages we’ve ever offered—for up to 15 incoming MEM or Master of Forestry students from diverse backgrounds and experiences who demonstrate exceptional leadership potential and academic excellence.

Last fall, we announced a new $25 million financial aid initiative, Forging Future Leaders Together. We’ve already raised more than $4 million toward this ambitious goal, and it already is making a difference. We have doubled the amount of need-based  aid we’re offering to current and new students next year, and have increased both the number and average size of merit-based awards. This initiative will enable us to make a Nicholas School education possible for even more future agents of change.

Despite the troubling signs coming out of Washington these days, I’m not giving up on federal agencies just yet, either. Some of the most talented, resourceful scientists, social scientists and managers I know work there, including many Nic School alums and longtime colleagues. We must—and will—keep the avenues of communication and collaboration open.

It’s understandable that many of us feel deeply discouraged—even outraged—at the environmental backsliding taking placing at the federal level. But I am convinced that progress remains possible, even probable, if we channel our resources into smart, concerted action at all levels of government and in all sectors of the economy.

Sound environmental leadership will trump denial. Managing under uncertainty is, after all, a defining skill of our profession.