During the second year of their master's degree studies, Environmental Leadership students conduct an Applied Leadership Project that demonstrates their professional skills in helping an organization become more sustainable. Students volunteer for myriad organizations, helping improve their operations in a variety of ways. Projects have included an analysis of information sharing at Bella Energy, translation for an indigenous tribal project in Thailand, and creation of an educational film about watershed protection in South Carolina, among many others.
Associate Professor Anne Parker explains that students work as volunteers on collaborative projects that lead organizations toward sustainability. Students generally start looking for organizations to partner with in summer; over the fall semester, they work out the scope of the project, which they complete during the spring semester. Students report on their progress in a seminar class, where homework assignments are coordinated with the work they are doing with their volunteer organizations. Three mentors support students during the project phase—a faculty mentor, an organizational mentor, and a student mentor.
"They are leadership projects, not internships. Because of the long time volunteering, students offer a lot of value-added work to the organization. And they also understand its mission and its purpose, and then they hopefully offer something that is a win-win," Parker says. "They are coming in a way that is like a volunteer, but then they are moving into a more relational role to the organization."
The projects build students' confidence in their leadership skills, and each year a few students continue their involvement or are even hired by their organizations. Whether or not that relationship continues after the project, student leadership experiences have real world applications that make tangible what they've learned in the master's program.
Cy Englert's Applied Leadership Project was a graywater management program for a sustainable institute in Costa Rica. It was one of many projects in Costa Rica for Englert, who earned his MA in Environmental Studies in 2004. He also started a nonprofit organization for sustainable education and developed a summer abroad curriculum for Naropa's International Programs Office.
"My international work in Costa Rica, while attending Naropa, strengthened my belief of the interconnectedness of all beings. Learning about successful projects in Costa Rica and their continued environmental challenges demonstrates the value of having learned about complex systems and how they work," he says.
Englert has worked for IBM for thirty years, and IBM recently awarded him a $1,000 grant to create a permaculture-based disaster preparedness and first response workshop for the greater Olympia, Washington, area. The workshop will be created in partnership with SeaTrust Institute, a scientific and educational nonprofit organization.
"Last night, I received my Permaculture Design certificate, completing 72 classroom hours. I graduated! This weekend, I'm headed to Bioneers in San Francisco. So, as you can see, my passion remains focused on sustainable living," Englert says. "The question that still resonates is, how does Naropa's contemplative education inform my life? As the Great Turning continues to advance, my education allows me to continue to participate in the never-ending work of environmental sustainability in whatever form that manifests. In the face of 'failure,' discouragement and/or obstacles, my time with Naropa has allowed me to continue work without burning out or giving up. This continues to be true and is a direct result of contemplative practice."
Contemplative practices are interwoven throughout Environmental Leadership courses, including mindfulness, feedback, and coaching. In class discussions, students share their ideas for leading their organizations toward sustainability, as well as how they are feeling, and what they are noticing in the process. In addition to peer coaching, the authentic leadership program has provided effective coaching aimed at bringing out students' highest aspirations.
"They have people to balance ideas off, and then in class collectively we talk about all these stories. We incorporate contemplative practices and various things that might support the whole experience," Parker says.