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Environmental Leadership Program

The Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) is a cutting-edge program launched by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The program is designed to prepare Illinois undergraduates for leadership roles in the sustainability field.

The ELP focuses on developing the students’ communications skills around environmental problems, mobilizing social resources, and implementing plans for sustainable change. The program also provides students with networking opportunities with leaders in various fields in the environmental domain. This will prepare students for careers in both the public and private sectors. The introduction of the ELP is one of the key educational objectives in the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) 2020.

After piloting two successful workshops in Spring 2021 focused on environmental policy and corporate sustainability, iSEE launched the first version of the program in Spring 2022! Participants learned about the policy-building process at the local and state levels, developed real-world environmental policies linked to the current legislative session, engaged with local and state government officials, and presented their policy proposals to an audience of legislative staff and decision-makers in Springfield and Urbana-Champaign.


Funding for the Program

The Alvin H. Baum Family Fund has made a generous gift to help support the ELP, including assistance for student travel expenses. Read more about the Baum Fund’s continuing support of iSEE >>>


Program Details

The Spring 2022 program consisted of:

    • Two-day intensive training in local government environmental policy research and advocacy before the start of the Spring semester. During these two days, participants learned more about environmental advocacy, policy building, and stakeholder engagement at the local and state level. Participants attended sessions about local government (e.g. its administration, operations, and policies) and interacted with other experts in the field.
    • Weekly working meetings (between Jan. 24 and March 11) in which students developed and refined policy presentations, heard from expert speakers about career opportunities and pathways in environmental leadership, and prepared for meetings with legislators. Seven one-hour lunchtime meetings were held in Spring 2022, five of which included presentations from guest speakers. The remaining meetings were for supporting and providing students with feedback on their presentations.
    • Four days of intensive experiential learning with trips during Spring Break to the State Capitol in Springfield and to the Urbana and Champaign City Councils. During these trips, students delivered presentations to local and state legislators and policy decision-makers. Networking events were organized for students to meet with legislators and staff. Travel expenses for Springfield were funded by our donor.
    • PDF of the Spring 2022 program >>>


Learn more about the 2022 cohort of students >>>

Media coverage of the visit to Springfield >>>


ELP Advisory Board

iSEE is grateful to the following people from outside the University for their participation and valued advice in creating the Environmental Leadership Program:

Additionally, we would like to thank the following U of I faculty and staff members: Jeffrey Brawn, Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences; Sean Fox, Agricultural & Consumer Economics; Esther Ngumbi, Entomology; Daniel Schneider, Urban & Regional Planning; Ashlynn Stillwell, Civil & Environmental Engineering; Christina Swanson, School of Integrative Biology; and Jonathan Tomkin, School of Earth, Society & Environment.

Contact us!

For any inquiries about the program, please email us at

Spring 2021 ELP Pilot Program

iSEE piloted two ELP workshops in Spring 2021, focused on environmental policy and corporate sustainability. These workshops allowed students to develop their sustainability leadership and communication skills, to learn about career paths in sustainability, and to establish valuable networking connections. Successful professionals in the environmental policy and corporate sustainability fields led workshop sessions.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021: Environmental Policy Workshop

In this online workshop, participants learned how to better communicate and advocate for the environmental issues of most importance to them. The workshop featured plenary talks by

  • Eban Goodstein, Professor and Director of the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College (view video above or on YouTube >>>); and
  • Jennifer Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council (view video below or on YouTube >>>).

Students worked in teams to develop and deliver compelling talks about environmental issues of interest to a panel of judges. The first-place presentation was by Nicole Palella and Tori Lawlor on environmental justice, and the runner-up presentation was by Omar Kazi, Michael Dzianott, and Jacob Yoo on waste management.

iSEE is pleased to announce that the workshop filled to its capacity within three days of open registration!

Click this link for details about the speakers and a full agenda >>>

Tuesday, April 13, 2021: Corporate Sustainability Workshop

This online workshop gave students the opportunity to enhance their understanding of corporate sustainability, establish networking opportunities with representatives from various companies, and apply for internships or full-time employment!

The workshop opened with a keynote address by Harriet Hentges, President and CEO of Hentges Associates and an expert in sustainability in the food industry (view video above or on YouTube >>>).

Next, a panel discussion on the different views of sustainability in the private sector included:

  • Holly Emerson, ‎Global Senior Director of the Global Sustainability team, Johnson Controls
  • Pedro Leon de la Barra, Project Manager, Sol Customer Solutions
  • Stu Levenick, Retired Group President, Caterpillar Inc., and iSEE donor
  • Chris O’Brien, Director of Business Development, CustomerFirst Renewables

View a video of the panel discussion below or on YouTube >>>

After a brief networking event, students particpated in a mini “green career fair,” in which representatives from the Career Center assisted participants with last-minute improvements to their resumes and elevator pitchesr.

Participants then engaged with human resources staff from various companies and apply for internships or full-time employment opportunities in sustainability. The professional participants: Brunswick i-Jet Lab; Dayempur Herbals and Dayempur Farm; Para La Tierra; Resource Environmental Solutions; Sol Systems; Sun Tribe; The Nature Conservancy; Waterborne Environmental; WWOOF-USA; and the Illinois Professional Science Master’s Program.

iSEE is pleased to announce that the workshop filled to its capacity within three days of its launch!

Click this link for an agenda and information on our keynote, panelists, and corporate participants >>>