AMES, Iowa – Twenty-four natural resource professionals from across Iowa were part of the Land Stewardship Leadership Academy graduation ceremony held Sept. 28 at the Iowa State University Alumni Center.
The graduates included a cohort of professionals from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, state and federal conservation organizations, nonprofits and conservation consultants.
They were joined on Thursday by course instructors and conservation leaders for a lunch and reception.
The goal of the program, now in its second year, is to help early and mid-career professionals build stronger relationships with farmers and landowners, while advancing conservation practices that balance environmental stewardship with profitability and resiliency.
Since the start of the program in January, the group logged six days of in-field and classroom experience, 12 hours of online learning, and 25 hours of virtual discussion, with instruction from 30 different instructors, including farmers and educators from Iowa State and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Dan Robison, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State, gave the keynote address. He reminded the graduates to be creative in their roles and in their communities.
“Imagine the future, not only incrementally but also in transformative ways,” he said. “You are leaders in the field of natural resources and in conservation, and you need to be thinking creatively.”
Robison further encouraged the graduates to work at every scale in the broad environments of Iowa, to help the state and landowners pursue their objectives of sustainability, productivity, profitability and environmental quality. And he congratulated the graduates and their instructors on their commitment to this important work.
Adam Janke, wildlife extension specialist at Iowa State and one of the program organizers, said he was very pleased with the progress and outcomes of the graduates.
“It was such a pleasure to learn alongside this diverse and enthusiastic cohort this year,” said Janke. “Each of these conservation professionals went above and beyond their job duties to commit to learning more about farming and farmers so they can go back to their communities and be more effective in the critical work they do every day.”
The 2023 graduates were Justin Bisinger, soil conservationist with USDA-NRCS; Harley Butler, watershed coordinator with Palo Alto Shallow Lakes; Sophia Campbell, project coordinator with Winneshiek Soil and Water Conservation District; Amanda Cole, civil engineering technician with NRCS; Michele Crumrine, soil conservationist with USDA-NRCS; Brittany Decker, resource conservationist with NRCS; Patrick Grunwald, farm bill wildlife biologist with Pheasants Forever; Michael James, WQI coordinator with Polk Soil and Water Conservation District; Leigh Macemore, soil conservationist with NRCS; Erin Nichols, private lands wetland easement specialist; Zach Nie, district forester with Iowa DNR; Benjamin Porepp, conservation agronomist with the Iowa Soybean Association; Caleb Santiago-Vazquez, soil conservationist with NRCS; Jess Stevens, soil conservationist with NRCS; Devin Stortz, watershed project coordinator with the Mitchell County Soil and Water District; Nick Thompson, wildlife biologist with Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever; Hallie Uhlig, farm bill wildlife biologist with Pheasants Forever; Joy Van Wyngarden, South Skunk Watershed Project Coordinator with Mahaska Soil and Water Conservation District; Megan Volkens, environmental specialist the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship; Tori Ward, RCPP Project coordinator with Pathfinders RC&D; Austin Waters, soil conservationist with NRCS; Riley Wilson, water quality technician with Howard Soil and Water Conservation District; and Grace Yi, habitat viability coordinator with Practical Farmers of Iowa.
Shareable photos: 1. Harley Butler, watershed coordinator with Palo Alto Shallow Lakes, receiving his award of completion. 2. Dan Robison, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, conversing with Adam Janke, extension wildlife specialist at Iowa State. 3. Participants of the graduation ceremony in conversation. 5. Some of the graduates of the 2023 Land Stewardship Academy.