CLI Academies Connect the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders

Hosted in three regions across the state, the academies brought together our CLI alumni network and current class to host single-day outreach events to connect with college students.

This spring, Audubon broadened its reach to the next generation of environmental leaders through a series of Conservation Leadership Academies. An extension of Audubon Florida’s year-long program, the Conservation Leadership Initiative (CLI), the academies brought together our CLI alumni network and current CLI class to host single-day outreach events to connect with college students across Florida. Academies became a recurring part of the program this year.

Conservation Leadership Academies share similar goals to the larger CLI program: connecting college students to Audubon initiatives and their local chapters while creating networking opportunities with both student peers and local conservation professionals. 

This year, CLI hosted academies in the Orlando, Miami, and Tampa Bay regions. Each event included an introduction to Audubon session, an immersive field trip in a local nature preserve, and a conservation career panel. 

The career panel, one of the most popular components of the academies, invited students to speak to local conservation professionals in an intimate setting, providing insight into networking, job paths, grad school options, and what day-to-day life is like in the environmental field. Panelists included state and federal agency employees, such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Department of the Interior; private entities, such as Coca-Cola Florida’s Sustainability team and environmental consultants; and Audubon Florida’s very own Holley Short, Shorebird Program Manager on our Coastal Team. 

The Orlando Academy was hosted at Wekiwa Springs State Park, which also served as the field trip location. Participants learned about local wildlife and how the park manages conservation and restoration across its varying ecosystems. A special guest, Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine, made an appearance and shared his reflections on advocating for the local environment throughout his career. 

After hearing about Audubon’s work at the national, state, and local chapter levels from National Board Member Steffanie Munguía, students set off on a field trip to explore Deering Estate’s natural areas hosted by their estate naturalists. We extend a big “thank you” to our Miami session sponsor, Coke Florida! 

A favorite local birding spot in St. Petersburg, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, served as the location for our Tampa Bay Academy. Preserve educators led a tour across several of the preserve’s ecosystems and provided a visit to their raptor center to meet a resident Eastern Screech-Owl. 

This article appeared in the Summer 2023 Naturalist. Read the full magazine here.

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