An unforgettable adventure with the CALS Leadership Institute

Dr. Natalie Coers and Dr. Charlotte Emerson work together every year to make the CALS Leadership Institute (LI) a success. Since 2009, the program has produced 10 cohorts of exceptional CALS students from majors including, but not limited to: Agricultural Education and Communication, Food and Resource Economics, Forest Resources and Conservation, Horticultural Sciences, Microbiology and Cell Science, Nutritional Sciences, and Wildlife Ecology and Conservation.

CALS LI is a collaborative classroom experience that aims to prepare its students to be successful in a global society through an understanding of leadership organization and discussing the importance of the agricultural and life sciences in a global context.

When asked what it is like to work together to facilitate a meaningful and memorable experience, Emerson said, “Dr. Coers and I work very well together. We are very different in a lot of ways, but very similar in others. Foundationally, we are both committed to giving students a CALS LI experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

Coers agreed, saying, “We both share a heartfelt commitment to providing an impactful CALS LI experience and hope for connections that last well beyond the program.”

Over the course of 17 months, students in the program engage in leadership coursework, conduct community service, and are paired with a mentor within the college and its networks. Each year, the current cohort engages in an international travel experience.

“As a lover of travel and outdoor adventure, I have a lot of favorite CALS LI experiences,” Coers said. “From hiking nearly 13 miles up the side of a volcano in Chile and lying under the stars in the Sahara, to trekking through Machu Picchu and starting a fire to have hot water for a shower in Argentina, it is a blessing to experience the world with CALS students.”

Coers said the most memorable part for her is the homestay experience. As part of each trip, Coers, Emerson and the students gain a glimpse into what rural life is like. This opportunity typically forces them all to face communication barriers and adapt to living with only the basics for a few days. It’s an opportunity to disconnect from technology and build relationships with their hosts and one another.

“And, it was one of those homestay experiences in which I almost lost my job!” Coers said with a laugh. Both Coers and Emerson said this is their favorite CALS LI story — one in which Emerson was offered the opportunity to really camp.

In 2014, Cohort 5 had the opportunity to visit Peru as their International Service and Learning Experience. “Before we left Cusco, we were asked to pack only the essentials in a very small duffle bag which was my first challenge,” Emerson recounted. “When we arrived in Chari, Peru there was singing, dancing, flowers and heartfelt handshakes. After the greeting ceremony concluded we began to unpack the bus, the duffle bags were thrown off the top of the bus into our waiting hands. After each of us had gotten our duffle bags, Rolando the guide, continued to toss bags to the ground one after another. What was in the bags you ask? Why it was a whole pile of two-man tents, eight in fact. It was at that moment I realized we would NOT be staying in homes but in tents for the next five nights!”

Coers shared her perspective of the camping adventure: “It was an amazing experience to wake up, crawl out of the sleeping bag from under the alpaca blanket, and open the tent door to a view of the Andes Mountains with a little frost on the top of the tent – such incredible beauty! Let’s just say that not everyone (i.e. Dr. E) loves sleeping in a tent in the great outdoors or the cooler temperatures. Thankfully, I kept my job and Dr. E continues to agree to travel with me for these CALS LI adventures and has an ‘I survived Chari’ shirt!”

This coming December, Cohort 10 will be exploring Ecuador. If you are interested in an unforgettable experience similar to that of Coers and Emerson, then we encourage you to apply to CALS LI Cohort 11. Applications for Cohort 11 are now open. Students who meet the eligibility requirements should submit all of their application materials by 5 p.m. on October 18, 2019 to McCarty Hall D Room 2020.

If you have any questions about the application or the program in general, contact Coers at


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Posted: September 17, 2019

Category: Professional Development, UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: CALS, College Of Agricultural And Life Sciences, College Organization, Involvement, Leadership, Professional Development, Study Abroad, Uf/ifas

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