J. Keith Gilless is a co-director of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program. He is Dean of the College of Natural Resources (CNR) at UC Berkeley, and holds a joint professorial appointment in CNR’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management and its Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. He is a recipient of Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award, and the co-author of two textbooks on forest resource management and economics.
by Dean J. Keith Gilless
At this year’s annual reception for the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program in July 2015, we were able to share a milestone with this year’s cohort, instructors, staff and supporters. This year’s reception was dedicated to the program’s 15th anniversary, and it featured special speeches by three of our 2015 ELP fellows. On a windy afternoon, Binta Iliyasu from Nigeria, Sheelasheena Damian from Malaysia, and Marjana Chowdhury from Bangladesh spoke from the Giannini patio and shared stories of struggle and triumph in their journeys toward environmental leadership. Binta spoke of overcoming gender discrimination to attain her education in biochemistry. Sheelasheena explained how a late-night encounter with a sea turtle pushed her from the private sector to the world of wildlife conservation. Marjana shared how her experiences at a catastrophic earthquake site led her to work with UNDP to bolster communities against natural disasters.
As I watched these three fellows captivate their audience, I felt proud that the ELP had become part of their journeys. I was reminded of the power of the ELP to bring together diverse backgrounds and disparate minds to solve global challenges that need every voice and insight. Committed to ELP’s mission, Raymond Hurst documented the process of empowering the participants to speak up. Highlights from their speeches can be viewed in this outstanding video.
15 years have passed since we decided to create a program that could act as a hub for different sectors, cultures, and academic perspectives. As the Dean of the College of Natural Resources and a current co-director of the ELP, I have a unique vantage point from which to view this program’s growth. I see cohorts come and go, taking new knowledge and connections with them as they pursue better environmental and social conditions around the world. I see the staff work tirelessly to ensure that every detail of the ELP experience is seamless. I see our faculty polish their presentations and walk into the Blum Center, ready to engage with participants of the highest caliber. Most of all, I see everything come together to produce innovative and thoughtful work that makes a real difference. From the Goldman Environmental Prize winning project by 2008 alumnus Prigi Arisandi, to the 47 Buck Kingman Initiative projects since 2003, to the work currently being done by all of our alumni and collaborators, we have witnessed amazing stories of global collaboration and change in these 15 years.
This program is fitting for UC Berkeley, an institution where so many work on research to support environmental and economic sustainability. Furthermore, as a university that strives for global connectivity, UC Berkeley continually works to create innovative, even audacious, ideas such as the Berkeley Global Campus at the Richmond Bay. This year, we are not celebrating ourselves. We are celebrating the ripples of change that each ELP session generates for people and environments around the world. I hope that this year’s participants feel that the knowledge they gained at the ELP will carry forth in their careers to help change lives in their home countries, and I hope that all of you can say the same.
A bittersweet aspect of a program like the ELP is that our participants scatter far and wide as soon as their sessions end. Of course, many of you keep in touch, and the ELP team works hard to keep past and present cohorts connected through webinars, social media, and updates such as this newsletter. If you are reading this, I am grateful that you have stayed with us on our path to improve the ELP. Developing this program has been a deeply collaborative process that continually incorporates feedback from alumni. Over 15 years, we have refined our curriculum, created new workshops, and adjusted our program structure to predict the needs of future participants based on the wisdom of their predecessors.
The ELP team is constantly searching for new ways to engage you, and this year they are unveiling the Mentorship Program. This is a platform for you to reach out to a newly accepted participants before they arrive at the ELP, to give them advice and encouragement from your experiences here.I will let the ELP team provide you with more details in the coming weeks, but I am excited for the potential bridges they will build as we work towards a bigger and better future together. I wish you well, and hope to see you at Berkeley again- perhaps for ELP’s 20th anniversary.