Natural Resources Leadership Academy offers unique summer program for professionals, graduate students

Wolf in front of whiteboard

Aaron Wolf is one of the professors participating in the NRLA.

A unique summer opportunity at Oregon State University is entering its third year, and is being held up as a model for creative programming. The Natural Resources Leadership Academy is a two-week, continuing education event that combines graduate students and professionals in the field into one intensive, integrated leadership program.

It’s the only continuing education event of its kind at OSU to provide intensive training and leadership opportunities to such a broad mix of students and professionals, organizers say.

“NRLA is unique in that it integrates a leadership component into an interdisciplinary approach to natural resources issues,” said Claire Cross, director of Summer Session. “Intensive one-week courses range in perspectives including social and community aspects, risk analysis, politics and policy, conflict management, sustainability and water rights, that are woven together in such a way that participants experience total emersion and cross-collaboration with students in the other disciplines.”

Field trips highlight current natural resources issues, allowing participants to gain perspective on those issues in a hands-on, holistic manner, turning theory into practice as they see how those issues play out in the real world. And having a mix of professionals and graduate students adds another layer of perspective.

“Graduate students bring current theory and knowledge to the discussion; professionals bring real-life experience,” Cross said. “And many of the graduate students are also working professionals in natural resources fields.  This mix of participants brings a rich array of new knowledge and practical experience, elevating the conversation for all to a more advanced level. “

Gloria Thompson of Many, Louisiana, was searching online for classes that would help her deal with water conflict when she discovered the Natural Resources Leadership Academy in 2012, and recognized that Professor Aaron Wolf’s water conflict management class was the perfect fit.

“The academy was just what I was looking for, some formal education mixed with the opportunity to network with other people in the field,” she said. She was so inspired by the program that she ended up enrolling in OSU’s graduate program in natural resources.

“The academy afforded me the opportunity to meet instructors, fellow students, and many professionals,” she said. ”Choosing to attend the academy was the best decision of my career. It will allow me to move into a field that will be very important in our futures.”

The second year she attended the academy, Thompson had a few more natural resource classes under her belt and felt she gained even more from the accelerated learning opportunity. This year a scheduling conflict is preventing her from attending, but she’s already planning on signing up for 2015.

“I would recommend the academy to any professional in natural resources.  Our field is increasingly becoming critical and understanding how to interact with a demanding public is essential,” she said.

While the Natural Resources Leadership Academy is a first for Summer Session, there are other big projects in the works, Cross said. The Department of Mathematics is developing a summer program for teachers, integrating several courses that will serve both in-service and pre-service mathematics teachers at secondary and collegiate levels; the College of Education is developing a dual language teacher academy to address the state’s newly developed Dual Language Teacher Competencies; and the statistics department has proposed a data exploration and visualization integrated program.  The new programming was spurred in part by development funds offered by Summer Session.

“Summer Session provides unique learning opportunities that enhance the academic progress, experience, and overall success of OSU’s students, and supports activities that enhance the vibrancy of OSU’s campus community,” Cross said, “thus allowing Summer Session to foster a rich learning experience to the greater regional, national, and global communities.”

~ Theresa Hogue


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