Sustainability Leader Works to Improve Community Through Education
The 21st century ushered in the sustainability era as scientists reported the effects of climate change with greater emphasis and as sea levels began an unprecedented rise. To lead southeastern Florida in the protection of human health and jobs, the economy, the water bodies and landscapes, Linda Seals is at work.
Seals is a sustainability practitioner for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
After 16 years of developing and implementing impactful educational programs, including five years as director for UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County, Seals was recently promoted to community resource development regional specialized agent. In Seals’ new role, she will provide training and assistance to UF/IFAS Extension agents as they engage local stakeholders and citizens to promote sustainability along Florida’s lower east coast and inland counties.
“Linda has developed a strong sustainability skill set that enhances her ability to provide leadership for capacity building within a community,” said Anita Neal, director for UF/IFAS Extension Southeast District. “We look forward to witnessing the impacts she creates with agents and their respective communities.”
Seals joins 12 faculty members at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC) in Fort Pierce, where scientists research citrus production, plant pathology, water and soil quality, root science, biological control, postharvest technology and aquaculture. A second regional faculty member, Lisa Krimsky, is one of five in the state who lead programs to sustain the state’s water resources.
“We are very pleased to have Linda among our IRREC faculty,” said Ronald Cave, director of the IRREC. “She brings a lot of experience and knowledge that will substantially enhance the overall Extension program at the center.”
Cave said Seals’ innovative skills as an effective facilitator and partnership maker led to her recent position. During her tenure with UF/IFAS Extension Brevard County, Seals planned and implemented three successful programs to advance sustainability in the county. Recognized as a conversational style facilitator, Seals has a talent for engaging others to identify problems and to develop solutions.
“Using group discussion to encourage meaningful conversations is one of my favorite ways to engage adults,” said Seals. “In this situation, adult learners think about new information as it relates to their own experiences. They share feelings, better retain new information and share what they have learned with others.”
To promote community vitality, Seals initiated a local Sustainable Floridians SM. in Brevard County, comprising 20-member cohort groups of community service leaders and concerned citizens. To teach sustainability practices, Seals launches conversations that compel group members to define environmental, social, and cultural issues in their neighborhoods that give rise to sustainable action.
All of the graduates of a 2017 cohort reported they had shared their knowledge about climate change and sea level rise with others. Some members spoke with Brevard County Board of County Commissioners about banning single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam and plastic straws, all of which harm wildlife. Others advocated for a ½ cent sales tax to support Indian River Lagoon restoration, according to UF/IFAS Extension records. Some members serve on municipal sustainability boards.
Seals spearheaded a second program for sustainability advocacy, a Citizens Academy. The 12-week course involves presentations by every county government department director and some constitutional officers where leaders provide overviews of their departmental budget and operations. Members of the 2018 cohort included candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Florida Legislature, and a city council candidate.
At this time, Seals is scaling a third program across the state.
“In my new role, I am part of the leadership team responsible for developing a new statewide program called CIVIC – Community Voices, Informed Choices seeks to train faculty to facilitate deliberative forums, listening sessions, or community conversations on vexing or challenging issues,” said Seals.
The program CIVIC has attracted national attention in part to its collaboration with the University of Florida and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee. Those who have participated in CIVIC debate topics such as water quality, microplastics, land use, and affordable housing. As part of CIVIC, Seals will lead a community conversation on school shootings in Broward County next month.
“The CIVIC program won a national award through Extension’s Impact Collaborative last October as the most fundable program,” said Neal.