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The art of leadership

June 27, 2012

Leadership. It comes in many creative forms. Sometimes it is quiet, arising in efforts to listen for common cause among diverse voices; sometimes it appears boldly, arising out of the passion, ideas and determination of a single inspired individual, beckoning others to follow.

We don't always know from where leadership comes, but we recognize it when we see it. This issue of In Common celebrates different forms of leadership carried out every day, across the world, by Nelson Institute students, faculty and alumni.

First, we would like to share some exciting news regarding our own leadership. We're enormously pleased to introduce Paul Robbins, who will take over as Nelson Institute director in August. Paul, who comes to Wisconsin from the University of Arizona, brings a wealth of experience, energy and ideas, and will, I am certain, lead us down exciting new paths and into new opportunities yet to be imagined.

We're also excited to tell you about our newest assistant professor, Monica White, who will join us in the fall. Her faculty position, created in partnership between the Nelson Institute and the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, is UW-Madison's first professorship dedicated to research and education on environmental justice. We're proud to have led the effort to establish this unique and timely faculty position.

Elsewhere, countless members of the Nelson Institute community are making their mark as innovative leaders. We tell you about a few of them in the pages that follow. They include:

  • Susan Hedman, an alumna of the Nelson Institute's Land Resources (now Environment and Resources) program. Susan heads the Region 5 office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overseeing six states, 35 tribal entities and the Great Lakes Program Office.
  • Leela Hazzah, a Ph.D. alumna, and Stephanie Dolrenry, a Ph.D. candidate, leaders in the Lion Guardians, an award-winning conservation organization in Kenya.
  • Nelson Institute graduate students Brittany Bovard, Ryan Marsh and Erik Olson, who are working with local communities in Madagascar to help protect a rare primate species.
  • And Nelson alumni Andrew Thoms and Nicolaas Mink, who have forged collaborations between environmentalists and business people through innovative projects in Alaska.

Finally, as my four years as interim director come to a close and I prepare to engage more fully in teaching and research once again, I look back with a sense of gratitude and pride in what the institute's faculty, staff and students have recently accomplished.

We successfully established an undergraduate major in environmental studies, capping a nearly 40-year effort to provide this option for UW-Madison students. We strengthened the Nelson Institute's role as a catalyst in fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and leadership in addressing environmental challenges, from the campus-wide sustainability initiative to programs and partnerships in communities beyond campus. Through the launch of the Community Environmental Scholars Program, we have also helped to create an inclusive environment in which the varied backgrounds and perspectives of students can flourish, and where a passion for environmental studies connects with a dedication to community action and to problems of economic and social injustice.

I look forward to continuing to be a part of the Nelson Institute community. And I know that with the inspirational help, commitment and devotion shown by so many faculty, staff, students and alumni, the Nelson Institute will prosper under Paul Robbins' leadership. On Wisconsin!

Gregg Mitman signature
Gregg Mitman
Interim Director