By Alec Masella 

Our smallest everyday choices can have a significant impact on our environment. Knowing how to make smarter choices can help us make better decisions on how to use the planet’s limited resources wisely. Starting in the Fall semester of 2020, Dr. Michelle Hilleary will lead the course Environmental Decision-Making for the Anthropocene, as part of the curriculum for the Online Master of Natural Resources degree at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS).

“As our technologies develop and our population increases, it becomes increasingly important to recognize the impact we are making,” Michelle says. “The choices we make, both at the individual and societal levels, impact not only our personal lives, but the lives of others and the availability of our resources. This course will help students understand how to make decisions effectively to achieve their desired outcomes.”

Learning and applying decision-making models: Environmental Decision-Making for the Anthropocene will provide students the confidence to take on a multitude of challenging individual and joint decisions. The course’s design is based on open discussion so that students’ diverse backgrounds will offer different angles from which to approach a given problem. Topics will include environmental issues such as water resources and climate change, among others. Students will apply decision-making models to a variety of scenarios.

Michelle explains, “It is an extremely practical course, and it requires that students bring their own experiences into the class discussions. The value of learning numerous approaches to an environmental problem is that it balances what we want and the technical aspects of our opportunities. The method enables decision-makers to deconstruct the components of a decision: the decision frame, the objectives, the alternatives, the consequences, and the trade-offs. It facilitates clarity of choice, provides a better understanding of which uncertainties lead to selection of a different action, and empowers more effective communication around decision-making.”

Creating decision roadmaps for future work: During the course, students will be asked to apply these models to real-world situations. The resulting cases will be captured in a decision journal, which they can use throughout their careers. By the end of the term, students will have a record of problems they have solved, along with the roadmaps of how they were able to reach each decision. They can also reflect on how these issues affect different environmental stakeholders.

“While the course is about people and decisions in general, it focuses on the natural resource management professional,” Michelle says. “Even when I play a technical role and provide input into an environmental decision made by others, I find that knowing this process helps better support decision-makers and clarify our relevant roles. These models make us think about sustainability problems in different ways, and they help us construct our objectives. This process, and past decision-making experiences, are what help us make informed decisions while reducing negative impact moving forward.”

Dr. Hilleary

Dr. Hilleary is an ecologist, decision analyst, professional coach, international cooperation specialist and a water and natural resource management expert. She has worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a variety of roles, developing training programs, managing international capacity development projects, leading bilateral cooperation, and supervising a team of experts to deliver international species conservation programs. Dr. Hilleary has also provided leadership coaching as a Federal Internal Coach and consultant. Dr. Hilleary received her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Botany, researching impacts of climate and policy changes on Tibetan yak herding livelihoods and alpine meadow plant biodiversity in Northwest Yunnan province, China.