This is the last NRLI Newsletter of the 2016-17 academic year. Please allow me to congratulate and welcome back Program Coordinator Jessica Ireland who returns from maternity leave - she was sorely missed!
NRLI celebrated the graduation of 21 Fellows on April 7th, bringing the total number of program alumni to nearly 300. Like all NRLI cohorts, Class XVI was organizationally diverse with representatives from seventeen organizations, including state and federal agencies, non-profits, academia, industry, agriculture, extension, water management districts, county government, and a soil and water conservation district. This diversity means that issues like port dredging, water quality and quantity, endangered species, and the Rodman dam were explored, discussed, and debated from a variety of informed perspectives. The 21 graduates of Class XVI are now part of a network that stretches from Miami in the southeast to Bagdad (Florida) in the northwest.
What does it mean to graduate from NRLI? The word graduate comes from the Latin "gradus" or "step", and the NRLI program could indeed be described as a series of steps. Like those before them, this year's class completed eight intensive three-day sessions. Each session built upon its predecessor and consisted of skills training, living case studies, and conversations with a multiplicity of stakeholders. Each Fellow also completed a ninth step, a practicum project where they applied what they learned to a real issue or project (see descriptions in this issue). The NRLI "steps" are designed to cultivate thoughtful, committed, and humble leaders who strive to listen and effectively engage others. The organizations they work for can expect from them a mindset of joint problem solving and an ability to work with a wide variety of people, situations, and interests.
The next challenge for Class XVI-and for all graduates of NRLI-might be called the tenth step: To maintain and share the mindset and skills they have developed; to continue learning.
Please allow me to share an excerpt of the University of Florida spring commencement address* given by President Dr. W. Kent Fuchs. He eloquently conveys the tenth step challenge.
Graduates, the knowledge and expertise you have honed here will serve you so well. But I want to stress that even though it will be important for you to have the answers, it will be equally important for you to understand when you do not have the answers. It will be important for you to recognize, and even to embrace, the moments when you have more to learn - or when you understand that your answers may be wrong or incomplete. We benefit from knowing what we do not know...For when we know that we know very little, it's easy to believe that others may add to our storehouse. When we're aware that we don't have it all worked out, it's easy to believe that they may have a point. This leads to conversation, learning, understanding and actual progress. For many of you, as you start this next stage, you are going to feel like you know very little...I have every faith that you will quickly get your bearings and realize you are prepared to overcome any challenge...For if you remain willing to embrace your intellectual humility, you will always continue to learn. You will always stay open to other ideas and perspectives - ready to pursue the truths and the triumphs that are only achievable when human beings choose
Humility over hubris ...
Inquiry over insistence ...
And listening over lecturing.
Congratulations Class XVI!
And we look forward to meeting Class XVII in August!