Unveiling the Final Group of NWF’s Top 50 Inspirations

A year ago, the EcoLeaders Career Center, hosted by the National Wildlife Federation and our partners, has been celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’ve called this group of change-makers “The EcoLeaders List.” We’re honored to present the final group of inspiring EcoProfessionals!

Leadership Certification, Mentorships, and More!

Our last group of EcoProfessionals were recently interviewed for the national EcoLeader Career Center. These featured thirteen below spoke to a variety of topics. In the interview excerpts below, Alex Harker and Ursula Ible identify the importance of incorporating social and economic justice in environmental sustainability; Anthony Cooper, Hala Elbarmil, and Amira Odeh describe what having an NWF Campus EcoLeader Certification means to them; Phoebe Romero, Gina Schrader, and Katharine Pelzer comment on what makes a mentorship relationship effective, and Tessa Haagenson, Ivy Dunlap, Kellan Lyman, Sean Armstrong, and Christina Rinas all support the development of project-based leadership skills in new and recent graduates.

Alex Harker: Alex is a Landscape Architect at Creo Landscape Architecture, where she has worked on a variety of projects, such as multi-use infill development in urban areas, as well as gardens and water reuse projects. As a Campus Ecology Fellow in 2006-2007, Ales evaluated options for a transit center serving the student body of the Colorado School of Mines. Read Alex’s full interview here.

“It’s important to keep in mind that environmental sustainability is only one facet of sustainability. Environmentally sustainable solutions that don’t address… economic and social sustainability aren’t all that helpful. Sometimes the most innovative projects in terms of environmental sustainability manifested because they solved an economic problem as well.” – Alex Harker

Ursula Ible: Ursula is currently working with Vote Mob, which is a nonprofit organization that is focused on voter registration and education. As a Campus Ecology Fellow in 2010 and 2011, Ursula helped support the Power Vote 2010 campaign. Read Ursula’s full interview here.

“Nothing happens in silence; you cannot expect to champion a movement operating in silos. You absolutely have to recognize the intersectionality of all of these issues. They affect everyone no matter their demographic, their race, their class, their gender, their sexual orientation, any of those things – it affects us all at the end of the day.” – Ursula Ible

Anthony Cooper: Anthony is an Alumnus of Florida A&M University, where he majored in Environmental Studies. Anthony is a Certified EcoLeader; the project for which he received certification focused on educating citizens and collecting petitions to allow Floridians more choice in installing solar energy at their homes and businesses. Read Anthony’s full interview here.

“I would describe the [Campus EcoLeader] certification as something that sets you apart from others in the field. It allows potential future employers to know that you have the motivation to go after your goals and make them happen.” – Anthony Cooper

Hala Elbarmil: Hala is doing marketing, programming, volunteer outreach, and more for the Fairfax County Farmers Markets, and she is working at Fairfax County Public Schools as a substitute teacher and on greening school courtyards and implementing permaculture designs at West Potomac High School and Quander Road School. Hala is a Certified EcoLeader; the project for which she received certification focused on promoting bicycle transportation at George Mason University. Read Hala’s full interview here.

“The environmental field is really big, you can go into wildlife conservation, policy, science, anything really. And being an EcoLeader – doing the project and getting certification – has helped me find out more about my passions and what works best for me.” – Hala Elbarmil

Amira Odeh: Amira is a Graduate Student at the Universidad Austral de Chile, where she is studying water resources, in particular as it pertains to future availability of water in Puerto Rico. Amira is a Certified EcoLeader; the project for which she received certification was called No Mas Botellas, and it focused on reducing plastic bottle sales by increasing drinking fountains and reusable bottle usage on campus. Read Amira’s full interview here.

“I would describe the [Campus EcoLeader] certification as a confirmation by a group of people who are supporting you and can certify that you’ve sought to make a real difference in the world and in your community.” – Amira Odeh

Phoebe Romero: Phoebe Romero is an Energy Efficiency Consultant at ‎CLEAResult, which works with ith large utility companies to implement energy efficiency programs. Phoebe is a Certified EcoLeader; the project for which she received certification had focused on the research and proposal of a rainwater harvesting system for St. Edwards University in Austin Texas. Read Phoebe’s full interview here.

“What made it a successful mentorship was just being fully transparent on what it is that I wanted to do and what my full ambitions were. It really came down to just being able to ask for suggestions and ask for critiques.” – Phoebe Romero

Gina Schrader: Gina is Director of Business Model Innovation at NextEnergy, where she works with entrepreneurs and industries to accelerate innovation in the energy and mobility sectors. As a NWF Conservation Intern in 2000-2001, Gina researched federal policy and developed outreach materials for several campaigns. Read Gina’s full interview here.

“I have found that both mentors from my network as well as hired career coaches have inspired me and proven to offer thoughtful feedback. On one side, my mentors know me. They know what I love, and they can help build on the excitement that I have already created. On the flip side, I’ve found that career coaches offer a welcome unbiased view on a given situation.” – Gina Schrader

Katharine Pelzer: Katharine is a Director of Strategic Partnership at Nextility, which is a startup that helps small businesses implement green energy solutions. As a NWF Climate and Energy Intern in 2010-2011, Katharine was responsible for planning events, participating in lobbying efforts, and meeting with a variety of professionals and stakeholders on a variety of sustainability policy initiatives. Read Katherine’s full interview here.

“It’s important with any mentor, and anyone that you are coming to meet in a professional setting, to first think about what you can do for them… Exercise that muscle, so that in any sort of networking situation, you’re already thinking about how you can connect with this person and help them.” – Katharine Pelzer

Tessa Haagenson: Tessa is a Principal Planning Analyst at Great River Energy, where she runs a resource forecasting model to help make long-term resource decisions and tracks renewable energy standard obligations. As a Campus Ecology Fellow in 2005-2006, Tessa sought to educate her campus and community on climate change and renewable energy and to institute a student fee to support wind energy. Read Tessa’s full interview here.

“[Obtaining project-based leadership experience is] extremely important – right behind developing communication skills, including public speaking abilities.” – Tessa Haagenson

Ivy Dunlap: Ivy is an Environmental Specialist and Landscape Architect at City of Portland, Bureau of Environmental Services, where she works in landscape sustainability, in particular stormwater design and policy work. As a Campus Ecology Fellow in 2001-2002, Ivy developed a scorecard to evaluate the sustainability of proposed campus landscape designs. Read Ivy’s full interview here.

“Look for different volunteer opportunities as a way to learn more and get some experience. That can be hard as well because it can be difficult to manage volunteers, so I think you would need to find an organization that is well equipped for working with volunteers or takes on interns to do smaller project tasks.” – Ivy Dunlap

Kellan Lyman: Kellan is currently based in the Philippines working with a Filipino-founded sustainable grassroots development organization that promotes organic agriculture. As a Campus Ecology Emerging Leaders Fellow in 2014, Kellan researched and wrote about curtailing oil refinery pollution. Read Kellan’s full interview here.

“Environmental advocacy work, by nature, is project-centered… and sustainability issues are large and complex, requiring teamwork to address them. With leadership experience and skills, one is empowered to mobilize resources and energize a team to work in coordination in creating a culture of sustainability.” – Kellan Lyman

Sean Armstrong: Sean is a Project Manager at Redwood Energy, a Zero Net Energy residential design firm that focuses on low-income subsidized housing for working families, senior citizens, veterans and the homeless. As a Campus Ecology Fellow in 2000 and 2001, Sean conducted research and writing about the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology – a net-zero demonstration house at Humboldt State University. Read Sean’s full interview here.

“Two things: One is to get practical experience; go intern with a solar installer; go build something… go get real experience, stop reading a book about it… And then second, I would recommend that people learn what things cost. The cost of a forest, the cost of an animal, the cost of air.” – Sean Armstrong

Christina Rinas: Christina Rinas is a PhD Student at the University of Sherbrooke, studying lichen and moss ecology. As a Campus Ecology Fellow in 2013, Christina studied vegetation changes in Alaskan alpine tundra. Read Christina’s full interview here.

“Having leadership experience makes you better understand how to accomplish goals on time and take responsibility for delivering the product you promised. When it’s not your turn to lead it makes you more understanding and sympathetic to your supervisors.” – Christina Rinas

See all 50 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.

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.