Land Stewardship Leadership Academy Holds Inaugural Graduation

Cohort of conservationists complete nine months of in-depth training

October 14, 2022, 12:24 pm | Adam Janke, Julia Baker, Catherine DeLong

AMES, Iowa – Twenty natural resource professionals from across Iowa were part of the first-ever Land Stewardship Leadership Academy graduation ceremony held Oct. 13 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.

The goal of the program was 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 February, the group logged six days of in-field and classroom experience, 13 hours of online learning, and 18 hours of virtual discussion, with instruction from 35 different instructors, including farmers and educators from Iowa State University and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“We know that the world is changing and what people are looking for farmers to do on their land is changing,” said Lisa Schulte Moore, professor in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management at Iowa State, who met with the cohort in February during early orientation sessions. “Our hope is that the program offered you more tools and options for engaging with landowners as you advance conservation across Iowa.”

The 2022 cohort graduates were Jason Andersen, wildlife biologist; Josh Balk, watershed coordinator with IDNR; Sara Carmichael, watershed coordinator for Story County; Blake Charboneau, farm bill wildlife biologist; Emery Davis, conservation agronomist with Heartland Co-op; Megan Giorgenti, watershed coordinator with IDNR; Laura James, watershed project coordinator with Beaver Creek WMA; Faith Luce, watershed coordinator with Grundy Soil and Water Conservation District; Emily Ludwig, resource conservationist with NRCS; Cara Marker-Morgan, executive director at Golden Hills RC&D; Emily Martin, conservation programs coordinator at Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation; Kathy Moen, resource conservationist with NRCS; Taylor O’Bryan, soil conservationist with NRCS; Cassidy Robinson, district forester with IDNR; Inga Roen, natural resources technician II with IDNR; Adam Rupe, watershed planner with JEO Consulting Group; Megann Schmidt, private lands biologist with IDNR; Hunter Slifka, watershed project coordinator with Howard Soil and Water Conservation District; Matt Theisen, private lands wildlife specialist with the Conservation Districts of Iowa; and Ethan Thies, environmental specialist with IDNR.

Each graduate shared a summary of what they plan to “switch,” now that they have completed the program. Their response was based on what they learned from the program, which included reading the book “Switch: How to change when change is hard.”

Laura James said she will “focus more on building individual relationships with landowners and farmers so that I can inspire them to feel like important parts of a community with the power to care for the land they depend on.”

Emery Davis said he will “empower farmers to adopt more conservation practices by acting and identifying as conservationists.”

Sara Carmichael said she will “increase the amount of edge-of-field conservation practices being installed in Story County and become a go-to resource on water quality needs for all county residents.”

Funding for the academy was provided with support from ISU Extension and Outreach, the C-CHANGE initiative at Iowa State, and the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation.

Future cohorts of the Land Stewardship Leadership Academy are expected to be recruited in December of each year and convened for the nine-month program in January. Follow the academy website for upcoming information about future applications.

Shareable photos: 1. Graduates of the 2022 Land Stewardship Leadership Academy. 2. Note: Individual photos are hyperlinked to the names of graduates listed above. Photos are only available for graduates who were present at the graduation.

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