March 2021
Director's Corner
It's been a year
by Jonathan Dain, NRLI Director

Twelve months ago, in this same newsletter, I noted that my phone rang shortly after noon. It was March 13th. I was leaving a meeting at FDACS in Tallahassee and looking forward to lunch with some NRLI alumni and a prospective Fellow. It was one week before our sixth NRLI session (Class XIX) of the year and shortly before Module III of our training program for DEP. We were putting the final touches on an exciting alumni gathering/event which would be held in five days. Floridians were just beginning to understand (sorta-kinda-maybe) how bad the pandemic was, in fact the COVID-19 outbreak was officially named a “global pandemic” on March 11th.  In hindsight we (at least I) had no idea what was coming. As I looked down at my phone, I saw that Program Coordinator Jocelyn Peskin was calling.  I answered and immediately heard an urgent “Jon, we have to make a decision”. Oh, what a difference a year makes.  

That conversation seems like it took place a lifetime ago, not 12 months. As I reflect on the difficult year that has passed, I am amazed at the ways in which the NRLI program has adjusted. The remarkable resilience and creativity of the NRLI project team (shout out to Joy Hazell, Jocelyn Peskin, and Wendy-Lin Bartels) and the patience and engagement of those participants - and partners - in our programs have been key. Below you will read Diana Turner’s thoughts on her current on-line training. Diana is a member of the fourth cohort of Florida DEP staff taking part in a program titled Effectively Engaging DEP Stakeholders or “DEP NRLI”. Developed as an in-person training program 3+ years ago, it transitioned to a 100% on-line program just days after Jocelyn’s call. You will also read Mysha Clark and Michael Simmons’ (NRLI Class XX) description of an in-person session in the time of COVID. There are costs and benefits associated with this kind of training on-line and this kind of training in-person, both of which are very different from anything we’ve tried before. As a result, we have been engaged in a form of adaptive management, learning-by-doing while learning with people like Diana, Mysha, and Michael. It is not always easy, but participants in both programs have helped us better understand what works and what doesn’t, as well as what is important to groups in these uncertain times. In the articles below, the authors reference the practical training they are getting but also the importance of being part of a cohort, a social group of people with complementary needs and interests. It is not surprising that during a year of quarantines and social isolation, people want to interact, but both groups helped us realize that this year it was something we – and they - needed to pay attention to in a different way. This supports the portion of our curriculum this month that focused on group dynamics and decision-making; effective groups need to pay attention to what they are trying to accomplish and to the relationships that make completing that task possible in an effective and inclusive way (“task vs. maintenance functions”, C. Mill 1976). 

In referencing groups and the need for supportive social interaction, I am keenly aware that hope is around the corner here in Florida, something that has been absent for too long. Vaccines are increasingly available*, and the sooner the majority of us are vaccinated (both here and abroad) the sooner we can return to the supportive social life that most of us crave. It will not happen overnight, it will not be perfect, but it will happen. Since that telephone call in March 2020, our goal has been to adapt while continuing to provide practical and safe training to those who manage and care for our natural resources. Some of that has been on-line and some of it outdoors - socially distanced and masked. We have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t, what is possible and what is not. It has been a year. 

*My wife Karen and I received our first vaccine on Tuesday, thanks to the US Navy and FEMA operation in Jacksonville.
8-Month Flagship Program | Session 5
Fort Myers Fishbowl Forum
By Mysha Clarke and Michael Simmons, NRLI Class XX Fellows

After a few months apart, we were eager and excited to reunite with our masked NRLI Class XX Fellows in Fort Myers, home of progressive thinkers Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. As we shuffled our chairs to be at least six feet apart we understood the importance of our convening and enjoyed the presence, masked smiles, and muffled check-ins and greetings of the other Fellows waving to each other. The welcoming breeze, lush tree canopy, and soft grass that hugged our feet outside the hotel provided an excellent backdrop for critically thinking about south Florida’s water quality issues with a focus on group dynamics and facilitation. Session 5 harnessed the non-virtual excitement and energy of the NRLI class and instructors to build upon the facilitation foundation from the past session.
Effectively Engaging DEP Stakeholders - 2021
A NRLI Perspective
by Diana Turner, DEP Cohort 4

I will freely admit that while I had heard many good things about this class, I was still somewhat skeptical – how would this class be any different from any other [insert Pedro Pascal’s “Life is good, but it could be better” line from Wonder Woman 1984]?
But, I can say with certainty that this class is different, and I’ve only attended two sessions! I have already learned so much and I think what has struck me the most so far about the content is how multi-layered every conflict is. I think we all know that most conflicts have a certain complexity about them, but, for me, it has been somewhat eye-opening to see just how deep and varied those layers can be.

Although it’s something I’m still working on identifying and acknowledging during my own meetings at work, just seeing the Circle of Conflict drawn out on paper has broadened my perspective. It has already greatly improved how I prepare for meetings. It’s one thing to prepare content, but it’s quite another to reflect on the positions and interests of each party in order to better anticipate concerns that may arise and go into a meeting with an idea of how to address those concerns. It allows for a more productive back-and-forth between all parties, and consensus building becomes, not easy, but less frustrating.

The other thing that has struck the most about the class so far has been the cohort building – both during group activities and, obviously, during the designated cohort building times. I’m an introvert’s introvert, and these small group activities have been great for me to make more connections throughout the agency. Even within the larger group, cohort building has seemed easy. Jonathan, Joy, and Jocelyn have helped to create an atmosphere of comradery and make it easy for even an introvert’s introvert to speak up.

I came into this class not knowing exactly what to expect, but this class has already presented me with ideas and strategies that I am able to put into practice right away, even though I know it will take some time to master them. I am looking forward to the rest of the class, and I am excited to be able to put even more ideas to work for me.
Alumni News
Need Facilitation and Training Services? Consider hiring NRLI Alumni!

Upon graduation, all NRLI alumni are better positioned to facilitate meetings and design workshops within their organizations or among multiple agencies. However, under conditions of low trust or when alumni are called to actively participate in discussions themselves, organizations are better off considering an outside facilitator. This month we feature three NRLI alumni who harnessed their capacity and passion for facilitation to begin their own businesses. In this article, Carol, Jessica, and Ben share the most rewarding aspects of their work, demonstrate how they use NRLI skills, and offer insights from the field. Their services are available to all NLRI alumni. 
Applications for Class XXI
We are starting to receive applications for NRLI Class 21 and look forward to receiving more NRLI-recommended applicants.

Please encourage potential applicants to get their materials in as soon as possible, and thank you all for helping spread the word - we appreciate all you do to help recruit the best of the best!

Here are some links to share:

The deadline to apply is April 30, 2021.
Getting to Know Class XX Fellows
Jason Davison
Director of Field Services, Florida Farm Bureau Federation

Jason Davison is the Director of Field Services for the Florida Farm Bureau Federation. He is a double Gator graduate with a master’s degree in agricultural education and communication with an emphasis in leadership development. After a previous career working in the site development and asphalt paving industry, Jason joined Florida Farm Bureau in 2012 as the District Field Representative serving the counties of Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sumter.

Jason was promoted to his present position in 2016 and leads the District Field Representatives, leadership programs and membership efforts of the organization. He has successfully developed a cohesive team of high achieving individuals who challenge the status quo to make a positive difference for our state’s family farms, ranches, and communities. Jason enjoys spending time with his wife, Katie, four daughters and three stepsons on the family farm, and supporting all Florida Gator athletics to victory.
Susana Hervas Avila
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences Program, University of Florida

Susana Hervas Avila is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Florida’s fisheries and aquatic sciences program. She works as project coordinator in a multi-stakeholder reef conservation project for Southeast Florida. This requires building trust and community, facilitating difficult conversations, and bridging communication between different actors and voices. 

The path towards this project came through different avenues, starting with a biology degree and ending with a PhD on human dimensions and conflict management of the Gulf red snapper fishery. On the way she also managed a biodiesel recycling facility in London, and coordinated a gender and education project in Bangladesh among others. Having lived in five countries, carrying out different roles, and witnessing alternate pathways to solving issues, she ultimately feels most inspired when she supports groups or individuals bridge communication in conflict situations – with others or themselves - which can be through research, facilitation, mediation or coaching.
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