In January 2011, when the first cohort of twenty students started the Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program at Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, the learning curve for our faculty was steep. We had a core group of experienced professors, but we were an interdisciplinary lot. Many of us had not worked together before. None of us had previously developed and delivered an education program quite like this one: a cohort-based, executive-style graduate curriculum specifically for working professionals. This was a new and exciting opportunity and we were determined to succeed!

Eight years later, the faculty is still learning, and we’ve had many successes. When we have failed, we’ve failed forward (an important lesson we impart to students when encouraging them to take risks and try new things in the safe space of the classroom and in their careers).

To date, eight cohorts totaling more than 220 students have graduated from the XMNR program. These alumni hold leadership positions in business, government, and civil society organizations throughout the United States and around the world. Every day, they apply knowledge and skills they learned in our classroom to “lead from where they are” and have greater influence in the workplace and in their communities.

Most recently, in January 2019, thirty-five new students began the XMNR program. The XMNR Class of 2019 (aka X19) is the largest and most diverse group of students that we’ve ever had in the program. The cohort has more than 500 years of combined work experience, and they commute from fifteen states to attend our class meetings one weekend each month in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

While this ninth cohort has just begun their coursework, they are already engaged in peer-to-peer learning and are on an educational journey that will culminate in an International Residency (IR), and a travel and fieldwork experience in the Nile River Basin. The students will complete a series of projects focused on opportunities for sustainable development in Egypt, including urbanization and development related to water, climate, and agriculture systems. Each of these students has their own career goals, and our job as faculty is to help them succeed by developing their competencies, confidence, and connections as global sustainability leaders.

Join me in welcoming this most recent XMNR cohort and supporting them in their graduate education! I fully expect every one of these students to graduate in December and join the ranks of our alumni.

Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the XMNR program. Already we are planning activities for our alumni network—which will include over 250 professionals—to celebrate our shared accomplishments! Stay tuned for more information in the months ahead and get in touch with us if you have questions or ideas!


David Robertson

Dr. David Robertson directs Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources program, advises students, and teaches courses in sustainable development and urban ecology. Also, he conducts research on green infrastructure systems and sustainable development strategies and has published research in journals such as Society & Natural ResourcesConservation BiologyEcology & SocietyEnvironmental Management, and Environmental Science & Policy.