April Aspirations: Four of NWF EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations

As Earth Month is wrapping up, we’re honored to present the next group of four inspiring young EcoProfessionals as part of our “NWF EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations of 2016” series.

Throughout 2016, the EcoLeaders Career Center, hosted by the National Wildlife Federation and our partners, is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’re calling this group of change-makers and rising stars “The EcoLeaders List” and are announcing a new group of inspirational leaders each month this year.

EcoLeaders Top 50 Batch 3Our third group of four EcoProfessionals each described mentors that influenced them and what made their mentorship relationships work. The characteristics that they describe as essential to a positive and fulfilling mentorship can be grouped into professional and relational dimensions, such as:

  • Professional characteristics: Knowledgeable; able to provide career advice and networking opportunities; develops leadership in others; and maintains and promotes positive work habits
  • Relational characteristics: Openness to connect and to share; good communication and good listening habits; honesty; a role model; and perhaps the most difficult, yet crucial, quality to find in a mentor: relatability and interpersonal chemistry.


Featured EcoProfessionals for April

Alison speaking at a Dept. of Energy Solid State Lighting Workshop. Photo by Alison Erlenbach

Alison Erlenbach: Alison is a Program Manager of Government and Community Partnerships at Pacific Gas and Electric. Prior to this position, she worked with Bay Area Climate Collaborative and Prospect Silicon Valley to support the development and adoption of clean tech products. As a Campus Ecology Fellow in 2008, she supported the goal of carbon neutrality at the University of Florida by 2030. Read Alison’s full interview here.

“One of the most influential mentors that I have had in my career was Dedee DeLongpré Johnston. She was able to give me very good advice about my career, my work habits, and how to be a good leader. It was significant to me to see an intelligent and powerful woman in an influential career in this field.” – Alison Erlenbach

Mary Ellen Kustin (right) with her mentor, Heather White at the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument dedication ceremony. Photo by Susan Diamond

Mary Ellen Kustin: Mary Ellen is the Director of Policy for Public Lands at the influential Center for American Progress. She is also a board member and acting president of EcoWomen, a “community of women inspiring each other to create a healthy and equitable society.” In 2009-2010, she was an intern with NWF working on various advocacy initiatives. Read Mary Ellen’s full interview here.

“Comparing this to dating is a little odd, but there is chemistry there. There’s something more than just a pen-and-paper checklist of their [the mentor’s] resume, and their schedule, and their proximity. It’s also, ‘does it work when you sit down and talk to each other? Is this fun? Do you both like this? Do you both get something out of it?’” – Mary Ellen Kustin

Photo Courtesy of Bilal Key
Photo by Bilal Key

Bilal Key: Bilal is a Certified EcoLeader and an after-school counselor at YMCA in Queens, NY. The project for which Bilal received certification was a 2013-2014 Toyota Green Ambassadorship at Lincoln University promoting the program through contests, social media, and collecting 1,350 green pledges. Read Bilal’s full interview here.

“Being down to earth, honest, and upfront are major keys to developing a healthy mentor to mentee relationship. Share the experiences that you had when you were in college or from your professional field – from your life. The youth are hungry for a relatable story, an example of someone who didn’t give up, a person who stuck in the fight and fought for his or her career.” – Bilal Key

Photo by Jonitka Hall

Jonitka Hall: Jonitka works in the marketing department for Whole Foods Market and serves as a mentor in a program by Neighbor 2 Neighbor. She also recently served as a Co-Chair of the NWF Emerging Leaders Council and is an active member of the NWF EcoLeaders community. Read Jonitka’s full interview here.

“I found it to be really important to find someone who… thinks in a different “box” than the one you think in… depending on their demographics or personal experiences, and finding someone whose box doesn’t look like yours broadens your horizons. However, for the relationship to work you must have a good communication foundation.” – Jonitka Hall

Read full interviews in the NWF EcoLeaders Career Center. EcoLeaders is the nation’s first project-based leadership development program for sustainability, leading to certification for college students and young professionals. EcoLeaders provides a career edge that helps the planet while helping thousands of emerging leaders do well by doing good for their communities. Read more about the perks, history and how to get involved here.

If you think that you, or someone you know, would be a great addition to this list as it grows throughout the year and beyond, please send us a brief email with contact information and a quick bio at ecoleaders@nwf.org.