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Building World-Changers

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boreas.jpgBY KATE KNUTH

Being a graduate student itching to make our planet and the quality of life of its people better can sometimes be an awkward position. Amid the pondering of big questions, the academic paper writing, the problem-set grading and the seemingly endless checking of citations lists, the feeling that there are additional important skills for changing the world sneaks up now and again. I admit to being one of these graduate students, and I've found my people in the Institute on the Environment's Boreas Leadership Program.

After spending my 20s combining the pursuit of graduate degrees in conservation with serving my hometown in the Minnesota House of Representatives, running Boreas feels like a perfect mix of stoking idealism and offering practical skills-development. Boreas is unabashedly committed to helping budding world-changers at the University of Minnesota develop leadership skills, and a year into the program we are excited about what we have done and where we are going.

The Boreas program is a complement to traditional academic training, and it is open to interested graduate and professional student from any University of Minnesota college or discipline. The program's flexible, noncredit workshop schedule is accessible to even the busiest graduate student, and students who want to dive in deeper can earn a Boreas certificate by completing both the workshop series and a leadership project. Boreas communications and media workshops help students make a presentation that will wow the local Rotary Club and give an interview any reporter would find useful. Integrative leadership workshops prepare students to work across different sectors and groups of people to make progress on complex environmental issues. Systems thinking and tools workshops teach students to think about environmental problems from an academically rigorous, interdisciplinary perspective.

In its first year, Boreas trained over 100 students on both the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses. Print, television and radio journalists coached Boreas students on media interviews. Minnesota's state auditor and the mayor of Duluth helped students think about the role of government. Students from a diverse set of colleges came together for multi-day trainings about cross-sector and cross-disciplinary approaches to environmental solutions.

As Boreas kicks off its second year, we recognize that changing the world is really exciting and really important. It can also be he hard and lonely. If the path to solving the world's environmental challenges were easy, we'd have already walked it together.

Boreas is where graduate students can find fellow students who want forge new paths to a sustainable future. Its monthly networking events are where students can get to know each other and gain insights and inspiration from professionals in many different sectors. The new Boreas student advisory team has members from eight different colleges who will develop their own leadership, deepen relationships and contribute to making Boreas even more useful.

For students wanting to get into the messy work of world changing, Boreas is just the thing to add to academic training.

Photo of Duluth Mayor Don Ness working with Boreas students on a policy strategy exercise courtesy of Kate Knuth.

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.