November 2020
Director's Corner
NRLI in the Time of COVID
by Jonathan Dain, NRLI Director

Welcome NRLI Class XX!” 

It felt so strange to utter those words, in person, through a microphone, on the afternoon of October 14th. As I looked out at the group of Fellows spread out before me, all wearing masks and arranged in a giant horseshoe under the shade of majestic oaks and pines, I felt awkward and uncertain. Was this a huge mistake? Those farthest from me across the circle were sitting more than 50 feet away. I could not even see their faces - I could not see anyone’s face behind the masks.  

Imagine trying to explain NRLI to an epidemiologist concerned about COVID-19 in Florida:
“Well, it’s a program where a 4-person project team brings together 20+ people from all over the state for intensive and experiential 3-day training sessions. We do lots of small group work and make sure that everybody talks to and interacts closely with everyone else. At each of our eight sessions, we pile into 15-passenger vans for field trips and drive 20-40 minutes to visit natural resource sites where we get on small boats together or swamp buggies or maybe walk around in groups. Program Fellows room together in pairs, and we have group meals at long tables in restaurants, everyone together. Oh yes, I forgot, we also bring in additional people – local stakeholders and guest speakers – to talk to the group while we sit together in small conference rooms and have intense discussions. It’s a lot, I know, but when people are tired, we use “energizers” to get the group mingling, moving and interacting. That interaction is key. And at the end of 3 days we send these 20+ individuals back out around the state, to their families, homes and jobs. One month later we do it all over again in different part of Florida!”. Um, really…? 
8-Month Flagship Program | Session 1
A New Class, a New Journey for NRLI in 2020
By Buck Carpenter & Madeline Hart, NRLI Class XX Fellows

Class XX of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute was finally able to meet October 14th in Gainesville, Florida. From navigating a group training session during a global pandemic, planning around the unpredictably-Floridian conditions outdoors, and diving headfirst into new topics we were able to come safely come together and begin learning how to be more effective leaders for our environment.

While face masks and social distancing may make communication a little harder, the expectations of the new team members were heard loud and clear. The common theme among team members is we want to become better collaborators, learn more effective strategies and place more “tools in our toolbox” to achieve effective results. The new protocols were freely accepted by team members and will allow for everyone to enjoy the NRLI experience safely.
2020 Fall Alumni Gathering - Highlights
Maintaining the Magic in Virtual Reality
By Wendy-Lin Bartels, Research Scientist & NRLI Project Team Member, SFRC - UF/IFAS

Over 50 alumni, representing all but one class, attended the virtual 2020 Fall Training that focused on facilitation approaches for working in a virtual world. The gathering, as always, offered a space for alumni to catch up and network, as well as refresh NRLI concepts and tools. We featured two NRLI alumni - Erika Zambello (Class XVI) offered a case study on Audubon FL highlighting lessons learned in virtual engagement, and Ben Christ (Class XIX) coached the audience in “maintaining the magic” online while expanding the facilitation toolbox. 
Thirty participants offered feedback via an online survey indicating overall satisfaction (and high degrees of glee!!!) with the training. Respondents highlighted several tools that they intend to apply in their jobs including: Zoom annotate feature, run of show (introduced by Ben & Impact By Design), Jamboard, polls, Mentimeter, Mural, 'coffee hour' at the beginning of staff meetings for informal mingling, remembering to provide breaks!, group norms, breakout sessions, and ice breakers.

You can watch all of the presentations from the alumni gathering on NRLI's YouTube channel.

We welcome your ideas and continued involvement in organizing alumni trainings. Please contact if you would like to contribute to the Spring 2021 NRLI Alumni Gathering.
2020-2021 Scholarship Recipients (part 1)
Farm Credit of Florida Agricultural & Natural Resources Leadership Scholarship

Buck Carpenter
Owner/Operator, Southern Pioneer Farms, LLC

Buck M. Carpenter is a first-generation farmer in Madison County, Florida where he grows perennial peanut hay - a perennial forage crop ideally suited for the equine industry. Buck currently serves as a Supervisor with the Madison Soil & Water Conservation District assisting farmers of all commodity groups in the implementation of Agricultural Water Quality Best Management Practices (BMP’s). Prior to this, Buck served in the United States Air Force specializing in Radio Frequency Transmission Systems technology where he deployed twice in support of America's interests abroad. Buck is married to his wife of eleven years, NoraBeth and together they have three children: CarrieLee (10), AnnaBelle (7), and Buck, Jr. (Buddy) (6). Buck and his family are working to build a future and have established their agricultural foundation on a simple Bible verse: “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.” – Deuteronomy 8:10
General Joe Joyce Scholarship for Natural Resources Leadership

Dawn Ritter
Natural Resources Manager, Highlands County

As a Florida native who loves and appreciates outdoor environments, I chose a career engulfed in protecting and conserving Florida’s natural resources. I have worked in academic institutions, the private sector, and local governments; giving me a strong background in diagnostic limnology and scientific knowledge of Florida’s freshwater systems. My passion includes, protecting and improving our natural resources and educating the youth in our community.

I have encountered Florida’s vast range of aquatic systems from the Florida springs, rivers, and lakes studying their different trophic states and environments. Conducting research and projects in both the freshwater and salt water habitats. Focusing on fish population and monitoring, water quality, macrophytes, and phytoplankton analysis. In addition, surveying and mapping the sea floor, coral reef restoration, and research on environmental impacts such as underwater oil pipelines.

Currently, I am the Natural Resources Manager for Highlands County. Our team assess and manages the many lakes, rivers, and conservation areas. We are involved in implementing specialized water resource management techniques such as addressing the total maximum daily loads, waterbody impairments, and storm water run-off. In addition to, working closely with other government agencies to cooperatively obtain watershed projects and best management practices throughout the area.

Time spent away from the office, I enjoy regular conversation and relaxation with family and friends. I also adore outdoor activities which includes scuba diving and playing recreational sports. However, my favorite hobby is traveling to new destinations with my husband and dinning on the local cuisine.
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