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UF/IFAS Natural Resources Leadership Institute, Class XIV, graduates today

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As cap and gown season kicks off, one group of people is being recognized for its dedication to Florida’s environment.  The University of Florida’s Natural Resources Leadership Institute, Class XIV, ends this weekend, with a graduation and practicum presentation scheduled for today.

NRLI is an eight month professional development program. Each intensive, three-day session is held in a different part of the state. Class XIV focused on the topic of “Water and Land Use: Managing Water in a Changing Landscape.” 

NRLI Class XIV began in August 2014 with a session focused on estuary decline in the Indian River Lagoon. Fellows in the program also traveled to:

  • Pensacola to study beaches, hurricanes and sea level rise;
  • Tampa Bay to study improving water quality in an urban setting;
  • Immokalee to study the endangered Florida panther;
  • Key Largo to study sea level rise;
  • The Tri-County Agricultural Area in South Florida to study best management practices and water quality/quantity
  • And Wakulla Springs to study faltering spring health.

“Graduates of NRLI Class XIV will be well equipped to engage in constructive discussion of water and land use issues and to apply skills related to conflict management and collaborative problem-solving in their communities and their workplaces,” said Jessica Ireland, NRLI program coordinator.

The class met monthly from August 2014 through April 2015, with the exception of December. During the course, each Fellow developed a project that allowed them to apply skills and concepts learned in NRLI to actual conflict, decision making or leadership situations in their organizations or communities.

During the final graduation session, Fellows are set to present the results of their practicum project, including a summary of the situation, a description of the stakeholders involved, an overview of the NRLI competencies, skills, tools, and techniques used throughout the practicum, outcome, lessons learned, and next steps to take.

“Overall, NRLI has been an outstanding experience- it has greatly expanded my professional horizons and is one that will resonate throughout my career,” said Jessica Mendes, a research analyst with Lee County Environmental Policy Management.  “It has given tangible tools I can use to design and facilitate effective meetings, engage diverse stakeholders, collaborate, negotiate, and move through contentious issues. The project team is impressive with the amount of experience and knowledge they bring to the table – I’ve had the privilege of being part of a network of individuals who value effective dialogue and collaboration.”

Past graduates of the program include state, county and city leaders.  The NRLI Class XIV Fellows are:

Alison Adams, assistant professor, University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation

Matthew Arsenault, policy analyst, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Energy

Stacie Auvenshine, biologist, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Planning and Policy Division

Scott Calleson, biological scientist, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Habitat and Species Conservation,

Clay Coarsey, engineer, Suwannee River Water Management District

Beth Dieveney, deputy superintendent for science and policy, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary/NOAA

James Erskine, acting director, Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida Water Resources Department,

Gregory Gibson, independently employed

Patricia Hutfles, senior project manager, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc.

Tamela Kinsey, environmental engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Planning and Policy Division

Gene McAvoy, UF/IFAS Hendry County Extension director and regional vegetable agent

Jessica Mendes, research analyst, Lee County Environmental Policy Management

Jeremy Olson, land manager, St. Johns River Water Management District

Allen Scheffer, district representative, Florida Farm Bureau Federation District I

Carrie Stevenson, coastal sustainability agent, UF/IFAS Escambia County Extension

Kimberly Sykes, deputy manager, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Bonnie Wolff Pelaez, environmental administrator, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Office of Agricultural Water Policy

Learn more about the program at

By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302,

Source: Jessica Ireland, 352-294-7643,