The XMNR guest faculty network: field practitioners, internship and project sponsors, and career advisors
July 11, 2023
By David Robertson
Networking to make new connections and build relationships is one of the great benefits of professional graduate programs like Virginia Tech’s Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) focusing on leadership for sustainability.
Each year, the XMNR program hosts more than fifty guest faculty and partner organizations in the classroom. These guests are professionals in business, government, and non-profit organizations working on cutting edge initiatives to lead systems change and innovation in sustainable development, climate resilience, environmental justice, circular economy, biodiversity conservation, and related topics of interest to our students. Guest faculty serve in a variety of capacities ranging from panel speakers to project sponsors and career advisors for XMNR students.
In addition to sharing their deep subject matter expertise, our guest faculty take the time to describe their own career journeys and the new and emerging opportunities within their organizations and sectors. They become part of our students’ professional networks, helping them form new relationships and connecting them with other professionals including potential future employers. Many of these guest faculty develop strong connections with individual students through sponsored projects and internship engagements, serving as valued advisors for our students through graduation and beyond. It is often the case that XMNR students find their next career move or professional opportunity through an in-class connection with these guest faculty and their networks.
Meet some of our recent guest faculty, including many XMNR alums.
At the start of the program each year, we host a panel of guest experts on the topic of international development. This panel is a highlight with students, as it focuses on the real world experience of seasoned professionals working with diverse stakeholders in local communities around the world. Key lessons learned are the need for empathy and checking cultural assumptions when starting to work in new situations and unfamiliar contexts. Recent guests have included:
Sustainable business and circular economy
In the early months of the program, we introduce students to the power of sustainable business practices as a lever for change toward a greener and more circular economy with less waste and more social benefit. We host guest faculty from a variety of business sectors, from food to fashion to utilities, to help students understand the range of important actors in this space. Below are a few examples of the guests who visited the classroom this past year:
- Jeff Halvorson, Director of Sustainable Packaging Partnerships at PepsiCo
- *Nikki Mehta, Director of Energy & Sustainability at Honeywell
- *Meenu Hochwalt, Sustainability Data Analyst at Eileen Fisher
- *Joe Tannery, Director of Customer Experience Strategy & Analytics at Dominion Energy
- *Beth DeNoia-Feliciano, Senior Advisor at Ceres
*Individuals listed with an asterisk are XMNR alums who have come back to the classroom to share their post-graduate successes and accomplishments.
Water and green infrastructure
Throughout the XMNR curriculum, students work on a series of case projects with external partner organizations. These case projects are an opportunity for students to actively engage and develop relationships with numerous guest faculty. For example, during the past few years students have worked closely with the following guest faculty and partner organizations to better understand and make recommendations about best practices for systems change regarding water resources and green infrastructure, especially stormwater management and flooding in urban areas.
- Greg Cannito, Co-founder of Rainplan and Chairman of the Board at Corvias Infrastructure Solutions
- Dominique Leuckenhoff, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, EHS & Sustainability at Hugo Neu Corporation, and former Senior Advisor at Environmental Protection Agency
- Seth Brown, Executive Director at National Municipal Stormwater Alliance and principal at Storm & Stream Solutions
Each year, XMNR students spend several months focused on climate resilience, including mitigation and adaptation strategies. Among other projects, students work with stakeholders involved in climate action planning and best practices in urban and rural communities. Recent guest speakers have included the following professionals:
- Climate mitigation
Rich Dooley, Program Manager at Arlington’s Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE)
- *Farah Hussain, Senior Financial Officer and Sustainable Finance Expert at The World Bank
- *Emily Irvine, Climate Protection Program Manager, City of Charlottesville
- Vicky Kiechel, Senior Associate at The Cadmus Group
- Kim Pexton, Senior Vice President for Sustainability at JBG SMITH
- Scott Sklar, President at The Stella Group
- Climate adaptation
- Nancy Gilliam, Executive Director of the Model Forest Policy Program
- Tonya Graham, Executive Director of Geos Institute
- Caleb O’Brien, IGC Fellow at Virginia Tech’s Global Change Center
- Christopher Swanston, Acting Director of the Office of
- Sustainability and Climate at USDA Forest Service
Career and professional development
The XMNR program has a strong emphasis on career and professional development, and we provide career coaching and advising services to help our students and alums accomplish their career change and advancement goals. As part of this effort, the XMNR program has hundreds of alums and many of them visit the classroom each year to share their career experiences. Below are a few examples of alums that have visited the classroom this year representing various sectors including energy, healthcare, food and agriculture, infrastructure, consulting, and finance:
- *Kyle Langseth, Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer at Restoration Bioproducts
- *Kate Leftin, Sustainability Consultant at Kimball Sustainable Healthcare
- *Hugo Mogollon, Executive Director at FRESHFARM
- *Tim Vaughn, Executive Vice President for Mergers & Acquisitions at Bowman Consulting
- *Tori Yauch, Financial Analyst at EDF+Business
Current students have organized a Green Career Workshop, including a series of lunch-and-learn sessions. One recent event focused on sustainability consulting jobs and featured XMNR alum Mack Des Champs, a climate strategy consultant, and his colleague Meg Foley, a talent developer and hiring manager, from Quantis.
Capstone project sponsors
By the end of the XMNR program, students complete a series of capstone projects focused on their Global Study experience, a 10-day international trip, and their Individual Development Process (IDP), a year-long deep dive into their own personal and professional journey. Guest faculty are integral to each of these projects. For example, XMNR students engage with dozens of sustainability professionals while traveling internationally and while completing IDP projects and internships.
IDP sponsored projects and internships
Several examples are listed below:
- Richard Munang, Deputy Director of UN Environment’s Africa Office
- David Phemister, Kentucky State Director at The Nature Conservancy
- Melissa Tominack, Director of Corporate Sustainability at American Electric Power
- *Amy Eckberg, Sustainability Programs Manager in Orange County, North Carolina
- *Jenna Valente, Director of Advocacy at Healthy Ocean Coalition
- *Tyler Walston, Maryland Agricultural Projects Coordinator at Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
- *Jennifer Wills, Director at Claytor Nature Center
- *Irene White, Senior Business Advisor at Center for Sea Rise Solutions
Global Study projects
The XMNR Global Study is part of a 3-month project that students complete near the end of the program. In prior years, the trips and projects have focused on rapidly developing countries such as China, Egypt, India, Mexico, Morocco, South Africa, and Turkey; places that are on the front lines of global sustainability. Students have worked closely with numerous individuals and organizations in each of these countries. For example:
- Vivek Gilani, Ashoka Fellow and founder at cBalance and Fairconditioning in Pune, India
- Ratul Saha, Senior Consultant at EY and formerly Landscape Coordinator at Sundarbans Project WWF-India
- Chetna Sinha, Founder of Mann Deshi Foundation in Maharashtra, India
- Rosario Gabriel, Social Responsibility Manager at Mezcal Amaras in Oaxaca, Mexico
- Delfín Montañana, Director of Environmental Education at Isla Urbana in Mexico City
- Elsa Valiente Riveros at REDES in Xochimilco, Mexico
Guest faculty and partner organizations are an integral and essential part of the XMNR classroom experience and learning journey. We are very fortunate to have this extensive network to share with XMNR students. The examples listed above are only a sample of the many professional engagement opportunities available. If you are interested in being a guest faculty, or if your organization would like to support our students through career advising or sponsored projects, please contact us.
David Robertson is the Director of the XMNR program and Associate Director at CLiGS. David received a Ph.D. and a Master of Landscape Architecture degree from Virginia Tech and a B.A. in Art & Architecture from Montana State University. As the XMNR Program Director, David provides academic and career advising to students, works closely with faculty on curriculum development related to Systems Leadership, and engages with external partners to design projects and internship opportunities for students. His research and professional work is published in journals such as Society & Natural Resources, Conservation Biology, Ecology & Society, Environmental Management, and Environmental Science & Policy.