January 2021
Director's Corner
Happy New Year?
by Jonathan Dain, NRLI Director

Like most people, I was hoping for a fresh start in 2021, some light at the end of a dismal 2020 tunnel. Not a miraculous, suddenly-everything-is-OK type of light, but a small sign or two of illumination, of optimism for the new year. For me, 2021 began that way, with hope that my elderly parents would soon be vaccinated, with friends announcing that they are expecting a baby, with glorious Florida weather. 

Then came January 6th and the siege of the US capital.

As I have written on many occasions, the NRLI program is focused on natural resource issues, on helping Floridians collectively and collaboratively protect and manage the natural resource base that enables and sustains their lives and livelihoods. But at its core, it is also about democratic ideals and leadership. It is about becoming a more engaged and effective citizen and interacting constructively with others - even when we vehemently disagree with or dislike them. Disagreement is part and parcel of good citizenship; it is OK to disagree. Healthy disagreement can serve as a catalyst for new perspectives, new relationships and even solutions to vexing problems. To disagree is to be human and to dissent constructively is to care. Constructive dissent and protest are fundamental to functioning democracies. Constructive dissent, “seeks to understand problems, critique and highlight injustice, and spark discussion between people with different views. It bases claims on evidence and employs democratic processes*”. Last Wednesday we did not witness constructive dissent. Last Wednesday met none of this definition.

When I sat down to write this Director’s Corner, I returned to the agenda from the NRLI session held in mid-December.  I also re-read the essay by Fellows Darlene Vazquez and Alicia Betancourt which you will find below - their words were written well before the New Year. In the December session we began by reviewing some of the oft-hidden roots of conflict including relationship histories, data issues, structural issues and issues related to people’s values and/or identity. Using the “Situation Assessment” tool, Fellows applied these concepts to disputes encountered in their work and subsequently learned about “asking good questions”, an important skill for understanding people’s true needs and interests. A final focus of the December session was on “Framing”, the use of language to characterize people and situations. The underlying message? We must give thought to the consequences of the words we use. Together these concepts, skills and tools are part of a package that helps us to think and act constructively when faced with challenging circumstances. They help us be better citizens.

These are very serious times. As we deal the challenges of water quality and quantity. As we deal with land use change. As we think about oceans and energy, farms and forests, economics and politics. And as we think about who and what we mean when we say “we”. When disagreement threatens to spiral into intractable and destructive societal polarization, it is time to act. Change begins in our workspaces, our places of worship, our living rooms, and in places where neighbors and communities gather. In this new year, I challenge us to see these spaces and others as opportunities for listening to those whose experiences may be different from ours. We must work to help more people feel heard and understood if we are to break the polarization cycle. Feeling heard does not mean people agree with us, it means they respect us enough to listen. Good citizens listen to understand. 

Next week my elderly parents will be vaccinated. In another 9-12 months, most of those reading this will be vaccinated as well. My friends are still exuding joy as they await the birth of their first child. Next week we have another NRLI session which I really look forward to. And the weather is still pretty nice in Florida. Happy New Year everyone.
*D. Shonfeld et. al. in The Conversation. Jan 11, 2021
8-Month Flagship Program | Session 3
Naming and Framing
By Darlene Velez and Alicia Betancourt, NRLI Class XX Fellows

‘What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. Indeed, it would but as we embark on session three we will consider the importance of framing and how powerful the words we choose can be. Class XX, session 3 marks a new chapter for NRLI, the first ever intentional Zoom class focusing not only on NRLI skills, but also how those skills can be adapted to be effective online and still have robust conversation and connecting with each other. On the chilliest day of the year so far, Class XX found themselves surprised to finally see all the friendly mask-less faces of the folks we are getting to know. Frozen iguanas and frost on the crops were on the minds of everyone who was calling into the session from home or back in the office. As sad as we were not to be in person, we were grateful for the thoughtfulness to safety, the opportunity to be part of this new on-line chapter of NRLI, and to be warm and cozy inside instead of shivering in a socially distanced circle on a frozen field.

Day one started off with a lesson on using zoom and icebreakers that helped us practice using the renaming and annotation features while continuing to learn more about our fellow classmates. As usual we looked back and looked forward including tools for gathering information about interests and positions. Before NRLI, I did not really grasp how conflict can stem from many different roots. This session we set out to learn all about those roots, how to look deeper at underlying causes of conflict, and possible ways to start addressing those concerns. Can we learn to solve a conflict? Maybe not- but we did learn strategies to reduce and manage conflict. Many strategies involve increasing trust, building relationships, asking good questions and listening for understanding.

Then on to the hard and somewhat scary part… starting to put these skills, tools, and strategies into practice! Class XX was grouped into Communities of Practice (CoP) to further engage and support each other in development of our practicum. A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. This definition reflects the fundamentally social nature of human learning. The first step to our class practicum was choosing an issue or conflict to analyze through the situational assessment matrix. This tool allows us to think through who the stakeholders are, what their position is and what the possible roots of conflict. Many of us had a hard time deciding which of the many conflicts to choose from: start with a hard one that will be most useful but may snowball quickly or start off with something smaller to work through this process for the first time. Not to worry! CoP to the rescue! Using zoom break out groups we were able to meet in our smaller CoP groups to bounce ideas around and start narrowing down the scope of our practicum.

Day two was no less action packed. After a quick review of day 1 we dove in head first discussing the conflicts most of us try to avoid: PANDEMIC, ELECTION RESULTS, ALGAE BLOOMS! Is there no issue NRLI won’t discuss?!? No, we weren’t there to debate the issues themselves, instead we were tasked to go beyond our knee-jerk reaction to the topic and think critically about how people talk about these issues, the words they use and the power behind them. After minor technical difficulties and a quickly implemented alternate solution (NRLI adaptability skills at work… thanks Jocelyn Peskin) we watched a video reporting on the issue of algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee and analyzed how the reporter intentionally used wording and framing of the issue to illicit emotional responses from the viewers. It was interesting to see how our reactions to the video were different depending on our level of familiarity about the topic. It drove home the need to challenge ourselves and each other when dealing with conflict to become detectives, ask good questions to better understand the whole situation, look beyond our biases, and remember to pay attention to whether all stakeholders in the conflict are represented or if we are only getting one side of the issue.
After a break (yes those are still important when on a remote meeting) we continued our detective skills by learning how to ask good questions and reviewed how our homework assignments of interviewing a NRLI alum went and how we could have done better as interviewers. Class XX really appreciates every alum that took the time to talk to us and who welcomed us into the NRLI network of leaders.

In our debriefing session, Vincent Vitale beautifully summed up day two with one of his favorite Dumbledore quotes from the Harry Potter series, “Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” Whether it’s how we frame an issue or how we ask questions, the words we choose are powerful and can make a difference on our ability to connect with others and building the relationships necessary to bring stakeholders together. As we continue this journey together, we look forward to continuing developing our leadership and communication skills in order to have the confidence to tackle even the most difficult natural resource management challenges.
Alumni News
Exciting New Research Begins to Explore NRLI Impacts Across Alumni

In December 2020, Dr. Wendy-Lin Bartels convened two focus groups with 20 NRLI alumni. The goal was to engage them in shaping impact assessment for the program. Dr. Paul Monaghan moderated the two-hour discussions, each of which assembled 10 participants who were selected to represent the diverse array of NRLI organizations, institutions, and classes. These focus groups are the first step in a broader research study that will involve all NRLI alumni via different data collection methods. Wendy-Lin is currently analyzing focus group transcripts to inform the next steps of the study. She looks forward to contacting YOU, soon!
Each focus group participant received a hot-off-the-presses NRLI lapel pin (pictured) - and so will you - in the next phases of data collection.
Getting to Know Class XX Fellows
Nicole Casuso
Biological Scientist and Containment Officer, Division of Plant Industry, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Since April 2019, Dr. Nicole Casuso has served as a Biological Scientist and Containment Officer for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industry (DPI). She assists the DPI Permit Unit with reviewing and issuing permits to move regulated organisms as well as harvest commercially-exploited saw palmetto berry. Dr. Casuso is also a lead facilitator of the State's commercial hemp cultivation license program. As a Containment Officer, she helps oversee the Florida Biological Control Laboratory and Plant Pathology Quarantine facilities at DPI and conducts inspections of other state or federally-permitted containment facilities harboring plant pests, pathogens, or noxious weeds.

Dr. Nicole Casuso is a proud double Gator having obtained her B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in Soil and Water Science and her Doctor of Plant Medicine Degree from the University of Florida. After graduating from the DPM Program, Dr. Casuso spent 2 years as a middle school Agriscience teacher and FFA advisor in Marion County.

In her spare time, Dr. Casuso enjoys spending time with her significant other tending to their microfarm complete with goats, ducks, and chickens. She hopes to launch a new small farm-table/nursery business this year. When not enjoying the great outdoors through hiking, fishing, or archery, she loves experimenting in the kitchen, learning new flow arts, and teaching aerial fitness classes.
Yilin Zhuang
Water Resources Regional Specialized Agent, UF/IFAS

Yilin Zhuang is the Water Resources Regional Specialized Agent in the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension. Her major Extension programs include water conservation, water quality protection, and K-12 water and natural resources education. She is passionate about helping people understand the importance of water quality and quantity and make water safe and readily available to everyone. Yilin holds a PhD in Civil Engineering from University of South Florida. She is a LEED® accredited professional with a building design and construction specialty, Florida Water StarSM certifier, and a Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) pilot.
Class XX Fellows & Schedule
Alicia Betancourt Monroe County Extension Director, UF/IFAS Extension
Buck Carpenter Owner/Operator, Southern Pioneer Farms, LLC
Nicole Casuso Biological Scientist IV, Division of Plant Industry, FDACS
Mysha Clarke Assistant Professor of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, UF
Jason Davison Director of Field Services, Florida Farm Bureau Federation
Jorge Guevara Forest Hydrologist, U.S. Forest Service
Madeline Hart Environmental Consultant, FDACS
Susana Hervas Postdoctoral Research Associate, UF
Sandra Oxenrider Land Resource Specialist, St Johns River Water Management District
Dawn Ritter Natural Resource Manager, Highlands County Board of County Commissioners
Michael Simmons Natural Resource Specialist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Brandon Smith Environmental Specialist, Brevard County Natural Resources Mgmt Dept
Darlene Velez Water Resources Chief, Suwannee River Water Management District
Vincent Vitale Conservation Education Specialist, White Oak Conservation Foundation
Allyson Webb Senior Resource Manager, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida Audubon
Yilin Zhuang Regional Specialized Agent, Water Resources, UF/IFAS Extension