A Champion for Sustainable Agricultural Practices

By: Jeremy Orr

When Josh Nease set out in search of a master’s degree, he was looking for more than just your run-of-the-mill formal education provided by most universities. As the manager of Virginia Tech’s Catawba Sustainability Center (CSC), a nearly 400-acre farm in Catawba, Virginia, that researches sustainable farming practices, he sought a graduate school that offered both personal and professional growth. One that challenged his perceptions and broadened his understanding of natural resource management principles, especially at the global level.

This led him to the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS), where he is a master’s candidate in the 2014-2015 Cohort, expecting to graduate this May 2015. “The XMNR program combines my passion for sustainability and environmental conservation with my propensity for management, project planning and implementation. The program’s core competencies directly align with my day-to-day duties at the Catawba Sustainability Center, and the knowledge and skills that I am developing through the program will allow me to improve my workplace performance,” said Josh.

As manager of the Center, Josh is routinelyJosh Nease 2 thrust into a variety of roles. Daily he meets with partners to discuss the logistics of a project, meets with stakeholders to discuss the long-term planning of the center, and works closely with a local farmer to finalize the details of a contract, among other things. To be effective in doing so, Josh relies on the partnership-building and boundary-spanning leadership skills taught in the XMNR.

“The nature of my job requires that I constantly work with partners at the university and across sectors to build the capacity of the Center. These interactions and working relationships can be complex and the way that they are approached and managed is integral to their success,” he said.

In fact, Josh says that the XMNR has helped him grow as a leader from the first day of class, helping him identify his leadership strengths and those areas that need improvement. This has helped him develop a leadership “toolkit” that he uses on a case-by-case basis, selecting the leadership skill he feels is most relevant at the time.

“At the Catawba Sustainability Center we are renovating historic dairy farm structures that are in disrepair. In the initial stages of this process, it was necessary to establish direction and alignment by clearly laying out our needs and perspectives, finding common ground, and building trust.”

Josh Nease 1However, building his leadership and partnership capacity aren’t the only skills Josh has been honing throughout the XMNR. He has been introduced to resource management principles he had not previously been exposed to and has developed an interest in “green infrastructure” and payments for ecosystem services (PES), and considers ways to apply them at CSC.

“Overall, XMNR has broadened my understanding of sustainability and given me a global perspective. I now assess our projects at the farm for sustainability at both the local and global scales. This challenges me to think about land use, agriculture, and sustainability differently than I have in the past,” he concludes.

With these newfound skills, Josh is now ready to manage the CSC within a global context, as he eagerly awaits his graduation in May and new future challenges in store for him.