Updated: Sep 3, 2020
Our latest True North podcast features the National Wildlife Federation’s EcoLeaders program, an online community that provides a number of excellent career management tools and resources for people who want to move into or advance in the sustainability field.
Joining us for this podcast (about 23 minutes) is David Corsar, the Manager of Career Development Programs at the National Wildlife Federation. He is responsible for building and maintaining the online career center portion of the EcoLeaders community and managing the annual EcoCareers Conference.
Before joining NWF, David completed a full 2-year Peace Corps service in the Republic of Armenia where he focused on professional and organizational development for youth and local community-based NGOs.
Prior to his Peace Corps service, David worked as an environmental engineer and project manager at a global engineering consulting firm, CDM Smith. David received his Bachelor of Science and Master of Engineering in Environmental Engineering degrees from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, and a Master of Public Administration degree from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.
David, thanks so much for sitting down with me today to talk about the impressive work that the National Wildlife Federation does in our field of EcoCareers.
Could you give us a little bit of background about the Federation and their mission and purpose?
Thank you so much, Beth, for having me today on your podcast. I appreciate working with you in the past and I'm happy to be a guest and talk about the work that the National Wildlife Federation does to support EcoCareers.
The National Wildlife Federation was formed in 1936 as a coalition of conservationists, from hunters and anglers, garden clubs, people who are interested in supporting conservation all across the country, and came together as a conference, and after that went back to their individual states informed individual organizations.
And so the National Wildlife Federation -- the F, Federation -- is important because it really embodies the way that we do our work. We're made up of affiliate organizations in each of the different states and territories who each year decide what the priorities are. That helps us maintain a diverse amount of perspectives on what conservation priorities we should be pursuing across the country and enables us to bring together voices from different parts of the conservation movement.
Now for my work, I work in our Higher Education Department. The National Wildlife Federation has been working in higher education since 1989. And we work in three different categories of conservation work in higher education. And that's supporting student leadership development, career planning, and campus greening, and I can talk a little bit more about each of those initiatives as we go on.
Wonderful. Wow. Well, those three focus areas are definitely places where we see needs across the community at large and in specific areas. Could you give us a little bit more detail about the EcoLeaders program in each of those areas?
Sure thing. EcoLeaders was launched in 2014 and was built off of our decades of work in campus ecology and at its core, it’s a sustainability leadership and career development program for college students as well as high school juniors and seniors, and young professionals.
It's an online community made up of over 4,000 members who are coming from nearly 800 different educational institutions to come together and learn more about sustainability, about project design and management, and prepare for their careers their future careers in the green workforce.
David, tell us a little bit about what really draws people to the EcoLeaders program. What sets it apart from the other options that are available to people who have an interest in the conservation field?
Sure. The EcoLeaders program is designed initially with college students in mind, and it came out of focus groups that we had with undergraduate and graduate students, fellows over the years and they saw the work that we were doing in supporting them in designing and launching sustainability projects on their campuses and a way to broaden that message and bring that [to] the college students all across the country -- basically expand our reach. The way that individuals find out about it are through our social networks and through our connections at colleges and universities across the country.
But we also have individuals that just find out about it that want to advance sustainability, that care about wildlife and conservation within their communities and on their campuses. And the level of involvement is kind of up to the individual. They can go on there and just browse, just learn about what other students and young leaders are doing on their campuses and in their communities, in order to learn some ideas, the lessons learned from leaders.
It's an opportunity for young people to share their experiences, share their project templates, and reports, and like I said, lessons learned to help other people implement those projects. And on top of that, we offer a certification for these young people and this is kind of a unique certification. We aren't certifying specific technical knowledge. What we're certifying are those soft skills and people skills that employers are always saying they want to see in new graduates and have a hard time kind of teasing out the different elements of those of those soft skills.
The certifications that we provide are called either Campus EcoLeader Certification or Community EcoLeader Certification, depending on whether it's a college student or not. We’re certifying the understanding of project design and management, the importance of budgeting and accounting, and a basic understanding of monitoring and evaluation, building consensus keeping your community informed about the type of work that you're doing, and basically just becoming a well-rounded green leader.
Wow, what a great set of skills to have going into this field and very needed for sure. I really appreciate the community and the website that you have is quite robust, David. I think one of the elements that I especially appreciate, with those case studies that you talked about is you can really get a sense for where you might want to land within the conservation field.
Could you speak a little bit to that aspect of the community and what's available to people?
The way that we organize the different resources and information that we provide college students and young professionals are into EcoTopics and Career Sector Outlooks. And so those are buildings, water, waste reduction, environmental justice education.
And it's in line with your passions, your interest within the green movement and within the green job sectors and the information that we provide -- in EcoTopic Pages, you'll find ideas for learning more about that particular topic, successful projects that other EcoLeaders has completed on campuses or in communities in other places that you may be able to get in contact with and learn from. And then in the Career Sector Outlooks we have information on hiring, trends, different academic programs that you may want to consider in seeking a career in that sector, insights from professionals.
I've done 75 informational interviews with professionals across different sectors to give different ideas about what a job in that sector look looks like and what advice they have for young people that may wish to seek a job like theirs or follow in their footsteps.
David, one of the elements that I think is really especially impressive about EcoLeaders is that it's a resource for professors and campus career center leaders to support students on their green career path.
Could you talk about the connections that you make with those professionals in support of the green movement?
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. The EcoLeaders community is very much designed with the college student in mind and the high school juniors and seniors that are interested in becoming leaders themselves. We found in our work with both high schools and with college professors and college career services offices that there's an opportunity for us to bring these resources to those audiences as well so that they can then use them in their classes or when meeting with students.
One of the things that we're working on this year is a series of toolkits to house those different audiences – teachers, professors, guidance counselors, residence assistants, and various other stakeholders that work with young people that want to be green leaders – in implementing and utilizing the tools and resources that we’re developing. The first toolkit that we've actually launched is the career services toolkit, and I'm really proud of it.
And it really is a nice package to be able to give to either high school guidance counselors or college career services or even teachers or professors themselves to help them walk through what's present in the career center portion of the EcoLeaders community and give them all sorts of ideas and tools to plan, using those tools and resources within their classrooms or in their meetings with students.
It starts with a presentation, and that can be either a presentation that they walk through themselves or that someone from our higher education team would be happy to provide over Zoom to college career services or [a] guidance counselor, and then goes into planning strategy worksheet that walks through all of the different resources and gives ideas. This is one of those things that's really important to look at the appendices because that's all of these great ideas and examples for bringing these tools and resources into your existing either classes or counseling programs.
Wow, what a great library of resources that you provide to this community and I want to build on that too because one of the things as we all know, there's an increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion.
Can you talk a little bit about the way that NWF has focused on that for a long time, I understand?
Yeah, absolutely. And this being 2020, we are also like all other environmental organizations really taking a moment to look within ourselves and confront our own history, positive and negative. The environmental movement has a long history of explicit and implicit racism and support of white supremacy and it's something that absolutely needs to be combatted, from the top to the bottom of each of these green organizations.
We have a really fantastic Equity and Justice Committee that's been providing our -- the Federation staff -- with trainings and resources for us to do our own learning on implicit biases and ways in which all of us at the Federation can transition NWF into an actively anti-racist organization, which is where we absolutely want to go. For the work that we're doing externally, what that looks like is continuing to center diverse voices, but moving from diversity to inclusion and really bringing in those voices from to the planning stages.
One of the things we haven't talked about yet is our annual EcoCareers Conference and that's a real opportunity for myself as a planner to be able to bring diverse voices to our keynotes and panels but also to bring diverse perspectives into the planning and implementation of the conference itself.
Additionally, our higher education team is currently reaching out to organizations that work at the various intersections of higher education, sustainability and equity and justice to learn, to continue to identify the blind spots that we have in the work that we do, the biases that we may, unfortunately, lean on, and ideas for how to continue to challenge white supremacy and uplift justice in the work that we do.
Beautiful, beautiful. Well, and a great example of really looking at these questions deeply and moving past problems in the past so that we can all be a part of this movement. It's so needed.
And you mentioned the EcoCareers Conference. Could you talk a little bit more about that? Because I think that's a wonderful opportunity for people who are thinking about moving into this field or folks who've always been passionate about it, to figure out the next step that they'd like to take.
Absolutely. Thank you. So the EcoCareers Conference --we just had our fourth annual conference this past April and it is an annual online global green careers conference. It actually started as an online virtual offering four years ago, well before the pandemic and the reasons that we chose to make it virtual were twofold.
We were primarily looking to bring this information to college students who may not have the budget to travel and so by making it virtually we were able to bring this to individuals across all 50 states and I think about a dozen countries now have participated, as well as to make a statement about the carbon footprint of conferences.
Being able to avoid travel with respect to conferences is something that we think is a commendable thing. Now that said, there are certainly some pros and cons to hosting a virtual conference, and to try to counteract some of those cons, that lack of that interpersonal face-to-face time, we've tried to introduce different ways into the conference, to help people make those connections. So we've had networking sessions, full group sessions small group sessions, interactive workshops, pre-work and polling, and other opportunities before and after the conference to connect with other conference-goers and to connect with the speakers and the panelists to help build your network.
David, how does someone go about signing up for the conference?
Sure, we'll open registration for the 2021 conference in the Fall semester this year and there are different price points for different audiences.
Faculty and staff at colleges, universities, young professionals, college students. Everyone has the opportunity to access the conference for free as well, simply by creating a free profile within the EcoLeaders community.
Wonderful. Wow, and the website is -- could you share that with us?
Yes, it's https://www.nwfecoleaders.org.
Wonderful. Thank you so much. Do you have any tips and insights for students and job seekers who want to move into our community?
Absolutely, and I regularly present to both high school students and college students about our programming and I always finish off with my last couple slides of my tips and insights that I always go to.
One of them for young people is to be on LinkedIn. I often share the story, I was at Taco Bell getting lunch and overheard two hiring managers discussing hires for a position in IT. And one of them said to the other that they looked up this applicant who was a strong applicant, but that they did not have a LinkedIn profile. And that in itself was enough for them to say, should we even consider advancing them to the next stage? The fact that someone wouldn't be putting themselves out there and displaying their professional selves to the world and potential employers. So absolutely, being on LinkedIn, and then LinkedIn has come a long way in the last few years.
There's a lot of really great resources. There's ways to join groups and interact, follow different thought leaders, share articles. You know, don't just join and create a profile but be active and especially for high school seniors, and for college students that may not have a lot of work experience, it really offers a better way than resumes to supplement that lack of work experience with project examples. [You] can link to reports and different ways to bulk up your experience and really make yourself a stronger competitor.
The other thing that I am always, always trying to hammer into the heads of high school students, in particular, is to start doing informational interviews. I bring in these presentations, I talk about my own experiences and the ways in which I went about not planning my career at the early part of my professional life and try to help people avoid that mistake. And so just reaching out.
I think a lot of professionals especially within – especially if you're not talking to the CEO, but just anyone within an organization and hears from a high school student that says, “hey, saw you on LinkedIn and I thought that the work that you do sounds really interesting. You know, can I chat you up on Zoom for 15 minutes?” You know, it's such an honor to be able to provide some information to young people that may be interested in a job like yours.
So I definitely encourage people to cast a wide net and check out the informational interviews that I did with as part of the EcoLeaders career center for ideas on what types of questions that could be asked. Some of the other tips that I have for young people are to build on their strengths and expand their experiences. We as a society tend to focus on our weaker points and try to always focus on recovering or building up and becoming strong where we are weak.
But we, I really think that a strengths perspective is one that young people can benefit from.
Of course, with EcoLeaders, we encourage – it’s really based upon a project-based learning and leadership theory – so continue to work on projects and don't just join projects but step into leadership positions. Create your own leadership position if necessary, give yourself a title. All of that goes into being able to paint a picture of what it is that you are good at, what you enjoy, what you’re passionate about.
And another piece of advice that I like to leave off with is to think like an entrepreneur. I myself, I can look at back at myself as a young person and I would have balked at that. I would have said that's not me, I'm not that type of person. But one thing that we realized nowadays is that job paths, career paths are far less linear than they used to be and you always need to be thinking of yourself and planning your career and your professional pathway.
And that may be actual entrepreneurship or it may simply be thinking when you go into an organization, “What can I excel at, what initiative can I push and show leadership in? And what are the steps that I want to take after this position? What where do I want to go with this and what do I want to learn?” Think about – when you're working in a position – think about the transferable skills that you may be able to pick up in that organization in that position and take with you to your next position. So that's a mindset, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship is one that I think young people really should become more comfortable with.
Wonderful. Excellent advice all the way around. David, thank you so much for your time and the work that NWF is doing on all levels and through its EcoLeaders program. It’s impressive and inspiring. Thank you for your leadership.
Beth, thank you so much for inviting me to speak. I really appreciated working with you on the past EcoCareers Conference for a career planning workshop and always look forward to working with you in the future. So, thanks again.
“This toolkit is designed for career services professionals, guidance counselors, teachers, and other educational professionals to provide a framework and process for utilizing the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) EcoCareers resources in their classes, on their campuses, and in coordination with other academic and career development programming. While all of the tools, resources, and events provided by the NWF EcoLeaders Career Center are available for individual students and young leaders to use on their own, this toolkit is intended to support advocates in bringing these resources to classes or other groups of young people.”
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