Immersion in environmental policy; new gift supports the Environmental Leadership Program

Students in the Eisenhower Institute's Environmental Leadership Program go to great lengths-and depths-to understand environmental policy.
Immersion

Ken Mott P’07, professor of political science and the former Harold G. Evans Chair of Eisenhower Leadership Studies, has a bone to pick with undergraduate public policy programs. “What bothers me about most programs is that they have no true academic content, and their students invariably play a passive role as spectators at talks.”

But take the eleven students who found themselves not only immersed in environmental policy—but also in the Bullets Pool. Besides months of classroom sessions on public policy issues and their individual research projects, the group took scuba training to prepare for their spring break assignment: to conduct the first-ever sustainability study on the Caribbean island of Bonaire.


Gettysburg College’s Seiden-Levi Fellow of Public Policy Prof. Howard Ernst is a senior scholar at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and political science professor at the United States Naval Academy.

The Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) is one of five Expert-in-Residence programs at Gettysburg College’s Eisenhower Institute. Now in its fourth year, the ELP is led by Dr. Howard Ernst, Seiden-Levi Fellow of Public Policy, senior scholar at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, political science professor at the United States Naval Academy, and widely-published expert on environmental policy and politics.

The ELP attracts students from a variety of majors, backgrounds, and professional ambitions—and with only ten to twelve openings each year, it is highly competitive. “I’m always impressed with the students at Gettysburg College,” said Ernst. “There’s a waiting list of students to participate in the program [even though] they get no academic credit. They’re interested in the topic, and want to advance their academic studies and prepare for that next level of their career.”

During the fall semester, students meet with Ernst to develop an academic foundation in topics such as sustainability, environmental economics, market failure, and environmental policy. In the spring, they conduct individual research and plan for their culminating experience—a weeklong immersion trip over spring break.

“Working with someone who has hands-on experience in policy provides unique insight...”—Athena Mandros ’14

Over the past three years, participants have traveled to Washington, D.C. to learn about environmental leadership from policymakers and conservationists; to southern Florida to study water pollution with those working to restore the South Florida Everglades and the Loxahatchee River; and to New Orleans to observe post-Katrina reconstruction efforts and discuss the BP oil spill and environmental security issues with scientists, activists, and lawyers. These experiences provide students knowledge, skills in organization and planning, wide-ranging perspectives, and networking and career opportunities.

Mott Seiden

“Let’s build this up.”

“Public policy has always been a big interest for my family and me,” said Peter Seiden.

As a student, Seiden was mentored by political science professor, Ken Mott, and over the years, this mentorship has evolved into a friendship. The two often discuss how to provide engaging public policy opportunities for students.

Seiden and his family’s I.W. Foundation have supported public policy experiences since 1993—most notably through the Seiden/Levi Public Policy Seminar. In 2012, through Gettysburg Great: The Campaign for Our College, they gave $750,000 to endow one of The Eisenhower Institute’s Experts-in-Residence programs.

While the gift currently supports the Environmental Leadership Program, Seiden anticipates growth into other fields. “Health, welfare, homelessness…there are all sorts of things that the students and the College could be looking at,” he said.

Seiden calls upon his fellow alumni to join him. “Gettysburg College needs to be at the forefront of this—and people need to understand that it takes money,” he said. “We’re not only, hopefully, enhancing society—but also the students and the value of a Gettysburg College degree. It should be a no-brainer; let’s build this up.”

The program theme for 2013-2014 was “environmental sustainability,” culminating with a trip to Bonaire in March. The fall’s classroom sessions explored the meaning of sustainability, and students examined case studies in sustainable economics, business practices, communities, buildings, and designs. Each student researched one component of sustainability on the island—including its governance, food issues, salt production industry, transportation needs, waste and recycling practices, imports and exports, and energy needs—and organized interviews with experts on the island.

The group’s sustainability study also included an assessment of Bonaire’s tourism industry, which caters primarily to visitors seeking to explore its easily accessible coral reef. This portion of the study is particularly timely, as Ernst’s forthcoming book from Johns Hopkins University Press focuses on coral reef management.

ELP participants extol the value of Ernst’s expertise. “Dr. Ernst brings real-world insight into the program and a slightly different viewpoint than what we receive in class,” says Athena Mandros ’14. “Working with someone who has hands-on experience in policy provides unique insight on why certain marketing and advocacy tactics work and why others don’t.”

By providing what The Eisenhower Institute’s Executive Director Jeffrey Blavatt ’88 calls “interactive learning with a purpose,” Ernst and the Institute’s other Experts-In-Residence help students expand upon what they learn in the classroom.

Jessica Zupancic ’14, an environmental studies major and business minor, highlighted the program’s impact on her—both as a student and as a scientist. “With new perspectives and greater awareness of the current issues, I am better able to ask questions and contribute during class discussion,” she said. “One of the largest take-home messages that has stuck with me was the idea that as a member of the science community, it is not simply enough for me to just ‘do’ science; I must work to bring greater public awareness to what I have learned.”

“To give students not only an academic framework, but also practical experience and insight makes the College and the students stronger.”—Peter Seiden ’73

Physics major Alex Indelicato ’15 agreed. “I chose to apply for this program because I have a strong interest in the environment and global issues,” he said. “The ELP has allowed me to learn more about sustainable energy. I can apply it to physics and engineering.”

Many of the program’s alumni have translated their experiences into careers. Valerie Leone ’13 and her ELP group spent their 2013 spring break in Washington, D.C. meeting environmental policy leaders, congressional staffers, and sewage treatment center managers in the Anacostia Watershed. Combining their research with her senior capstone project, Leone led the group in collecting data to explore how demographic variables influence worldviews.

Leone says the experience helped guide her professional path. “This research provided me with a greater understanding of policy development and with direction in my career.” As an environmental consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, Leone now advises the U.S. Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Installations, and Environment on environmental regulations and policies.

Engaged learning opportunities such as ELP help students make connections between theory and practice—connections that affect their success after college as citizens and leaders. Although many engaged learning opportunities are in place, funds are limited and student interest exceeds the College’s ability to support more experience-based programs.

Trustee Peter Seiden ’73 is an avid supporter of The Eisenhower Institute’s Expert-in-Residence programs. “I think it is important to be able to open up an area to students and allow them to work with people who are ‘doing’ in the world,” said Seiden.

“To give students not only an academic framework, but also practical experience and insight makes the College and the students stronger.”

—by Christine Shanaberger

Posted: Tue, 22 Apr 2014

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