Audubon Assembly

Building Conservation Heroes Through the Conservation Leadership Institute

In 2019, Audubon expanded its Conservation Leadership Initiative (CLI) from a three-day program to a full-year training fellowship for Florida students interested in conservation. CLI brings college participants together who demonstrate great potential as environmental leaders, pairing each with a mentor and providing workshops to showcase conservation careers. The new program will increase the number of opportunities for more students to engage with Audubon around the state, including the addition of dedicated CLI programming at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey and Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

This year, Audubon was proud to welcome 25 gifted students from 12 Florida Colleges and Universities. With their help, Florida will continue to tackle our conservation and sustainability obstacles head-on, creating a future where both birds and people thrive.

As part of their first meeting, CLI ran as a parallel track to the 2019 Audubon Assembly from October 24-26, 2019 in Gainesville, Florida.

Students enjoyed a welcome picnic on Thursday evening at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. It served as a chance for them to meet each other and network with the CLI planning committee and staff. Students were also able to meet members from Audubon Student Chapters GREBE (University of Florida) and Knighthawk (University of Central Florida), who shared opportunities to become involved with Audubon on-campus. On Friday morning, they were each introduced to their Audubon mentor. The cohort then split to attend four of the Assembly field trips with their mentors and mingle with other Assembly attendees.

On Friday afternoon, students attended a special CLI Leadership session. For the first portion, panelists answered questions that students submitted in advance. The panelists then split to separate tables, which students rotated through for small-group roundtable discussions. This format allowed excellent chances for students to learn from experts ranging from master’s students to Audubon leaders & PhDs.

The experts emphasized the importance of practical experience and having a well-rounded conservation background before continuing on with their careers. These panelists also gave advice to the students on how to prepare to enter the workforce and make meaningful connections when presented with the opportunity. The students then attended one of the Assembly's learning sessions with their mentor to understand Florida's current conservation issues and the individuals working to manage those issues.

“Audubon's Conservation Leadership Initiative has provided me the opportunity to engage with an entire community that is dedicated to protecting the world’s birds and their habitats,” says Lauren Puleo, a 2019 CLI participant and student at the University of Central Florida. “Learning from national and local Audubon leaders has been an invaluable experience. I am excited to apply what I have learned to make a difference in my area and inspire others to do the same!” 

The expanded 2019 program will support the student cohort year-round through regional opportunities with Chapters, Audubon Centers, and CLI events. Students plan to participate in at least three activities including regional events; volunteer opportunities; chapter meetings and programs; leadership training; and a celebration event at the close of the CLI term.

"CLI was a turning point in my conservation career,” explains Peyton Breault, a 2016 CLI alum who attended Florida Southern University, “I learned that I did not have to take a straight scientific path to conservation-- that there were more options like environmental advocacy, education, and communication. CLI then gave me the opportunity to return and help plan CLI 2019 so that the new 25 students could hopefully have a similar experience that I had.”

Audubon Florida is grateful for the leadership and support of Darden Sustainability, the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, and the National Audubon Society for providing the funding to launch this program. National Audubon Society’s Maggie Walker Incentive Fund has challenged us to match their funding 1:1 in order to receive the full $75,000 grant. If you or your company is interested in investing in the next generation of conservation leadership, please contact Suzanne Bartlett.

Leadership Panel

  • Shawn Clem, Research Director of Audubon Florida's Western Everglades Research Center, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
  • Allyson Webb, Senior Resource Manager at Corkscrew
  • Katie Gill Warner, Director of the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
  • Samantha Little, Raptor Veterinary Technician at Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
  • Jennifer Bouchenot, CLI Alum and Master’s Candidate at the University of Central Florida
  • Celeste De Palma, Director of Everglades Policy for Audubon Florida

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