Lessons in Leadership: Jeremy Solin

“Change is not driven just by people in official leadership positions; anyone who is willing to step up and make something happen can be a leader.”
— Jeremy Solin

Recognizing the critical role of leaders in advancing education for environmental literacy and sustainability, The Wisconsin Environmental Education Foundation (WEEF) has been working to highlight individuals that are leading the way in Wisconsin.  Jeremy Solin agreed to speak with WEEF Program Director, Jesse Haney, about his role as an environmental education leader in Wisconsin.

Jeremy Solin describes himself as an educator and community sustainability organizer.  He directs the LEAF Program (Wisconsin’s K-12 Forestry Education Program) and is the interim Assistant Director of the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education (WCEE).  In his roles in the WCEE, he is helping to create an education for sustainability effort within the state.  He is currently working on the Wisconsin Green & Healthy Schools Program as an umbrella for education for sustainability efforts.  He co-founded the Central Rivers Farmshed organization, which works on the development of a sustainable community food system in the Stevens Point area and is involved with a number of other community sustainability efforts.  He is active with the North American Association for Environmental Education as a frequent presenter at their fall conference and as past co-chair of the Sustainability Education Commission.  Jeremy has worked in the environmental education field for over ten years in programs in Minnesota, Oregon, and Wisconsin.  He has a Master of Education degree in environmental education and a Bachelor of Science degree in water resources. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Sustainability Education from Prescott College where he is focusing on the intersection of sense of place, sustainable economics, and social change.

Q: Do you consider yourself a leader?

Yes, I suppose I do. It’s not a role that I desire – [leadership] is not comfortable for me, but it just kind of happens.  I can embrace it, but I don’t always want that role.  I don’t like conflict, and it can be inherent in leadership. What drives me to step up is my sense of responsibility for contributing to a vision for my community.  Conflict is bad, but not achieving the vision is worse.

Q: Why do you think others consider you a leader?

I don’t know.  It may be better to ask other people (laughs).  If I have to guess, it’s probably my personality and how I approach things.  I am not particularly aggressive, and people know that I’m not working to drive a selfish agenda.  People may also be drawn to me because I have a vision or because I am a good facilitator.  I think sometimes there may be some confusion between being a good facilitator and actual leadership.

Q: What is the change or difference you are working towards?  What is your ultimate goal?

Community sustainability.  I want to help create a healthy, engaged, vibrant community that lives in balance with the natural community.  Perhaps my goals are somewhat selfish; because that’s the community I want to live in with my family.

Q: What are the greatest challenges you see in getting to that goal?

Community sustainability can be a moving target.  We are constantly learning new things and need to readjust plans and expectations.  Also, it can be tough to maintain people’s sense of hope and empowerment; even though, in nearly every case, people do good things when given the opportunity.

Q: How do other people help?  How do you wish other people would help?

Share a vision and connect with people to build something better.  Remember it often takes a specific invitation or opportunity to get others to join you.  Lots of leaders are needed.  And we need to redefine what leadership is.  Change is not driven just by people in official leadership positions; anyone who is willing to step up and make something happen can be a leader.

Q: Do you have any advice for how others can be better leaders or ‘followers’?

Just do something; get engaged.  You have to have compassion and a desire to connect with people. Capitalize on your strengths and look for other perspectives.

For more Lessons in Leadership from Wisconsin environmental educators, visit the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education blog and look for WEEF’s guest blogger entries.  Do you know a leader in Wisconsin EE we should talk to?  Contact Jesse Haney at jehaney@uwsp.edu with your ideas.

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