Students with binoculars looking at birds in a swamp.
Students with binoculars looking at birds in a swamp.

CLI students were immersed in birdwatching on the boardwalk at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary during the South Florida Experience. Photo: Luke Franke/Audubon
CLI students were immersed in birdwatching on the boardwalk at Audubon's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary during the South Florida Experience. Photo: Luke Franke/Audubon

Audubon Assembly

Year 11 of Conservation Leadership Initiative Program Launches at Regional Audubon Assemblies

Audubon Florida’s Conservation Leadership Initiative (CLI) is an experiential learning program providing opportunities for undergraduate college students to immerse themselves in Audubon.

It has been ten years since Audubon Florida’s Conservation Leadership Initiative (CLI) welcomed its first students to the Audubon Assembly. Since then, CLI has welcomed 25 Florida College students and 25 Audubon chapter leaders into the co-mentorship program every year. Building relationships, networking, and creating experiential learning opportunities for our future leaders are key components to a successful program. Since the expansion of CLI to a full-year program in the fall of 2019, our students and mentors have found new ways to achieve their program goals in a COVID-19 world.

This year’s Audubon Assembly events are a shining example of how creativity and flexibility allow us to make meaningful connections while staying safe. For the first time ever, Audubon Assembly traveled across the state, hosting three separate in-person, regional outdoor events. As Audubon Assembly acts as the onboarding event for CLI, our students and mentors were also dispersed across the three events.

“As a student in conservation, connecting with people who care about the natural world is imperative. The Central Florida Assembly event served as an opportunity for students like me to step into a quest to explore all that Audubon has to offer and make these important connections. Beginning with a tour of the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, us CLI students got a peek at all of the incredible work done there. We then got the opportunity to socialize a bit more and learn about each other’s passions and interests relating to the environmental field. The following day, we visited Orlando Wetlands Park for a refreshing field trip with many seasoned birders. Getting outside in unique location like this felt so special, and that proved true with many incredible bird sightings — Bald Eagles and an American Bittern, to name a few! Upon returning to the Center, all students were able to speak with many Audubon professionals and board members, as well as chapter members about important events, issues, and diversifying the field of conservation. This event marked an extraordinary start to a year of learning and making a difference with fellow students and Audubon!” — Kailey Boyd, Flagler College; paired with St. Johns Audubon

“The North Florida Assembly session provided an amazing introduction to Audubon’s work and the passionate individuals who carry it out. Through the CLI student social we connected as a cohort before the Assembly, and the next day we visited the Lake City Wetlands to learn more about a natural solution for wastewater treatment — while birding! Our subsequent kayaking trip down the Ichetucknee River was an exceptionally fun way to learn more thanks to the guidance of Park Ranger Sam Cole. Overall, the experience left me not only inspired and empowered to help protect birds and the places they need, but also grateful to be surrounded by such an outstanding group of like-minded individuals. The North Florida Assembly Event was an incredible experiential learning opportunity that I will carry with me through my CLI experience and beyond.” — Robin Pitilon, Valencia College; paired with Seminole Audubon

“The South Florida Audubon Assembly was a perfect combination of learning, connecting, having fun, and new experiences. Our swamp buggy tour of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was a thrilling field trip, since we were able to learn about many Florida birds and their natural environments right before our eyes! Meeting with a variety of experienced, environmentally related passionate people was wonderful. At the same time, making collegiate friends in the environmental field who are also interested in birds was very special to me. I enjoyed every minute of our trip, and even got to see a bird that I had never seen before — a Painted Bunting! After everything I discovered that my interest in what the Audubon Society stands for has been propelled forward, and along with it my inspiration for future career goals.” — Michelle Read, New College of Florida; paired with Sarasota Audubon

CLI is grateful for the continued support of Darden Restaurant Group for our participation at Audubon Assembly over the past ten years. We thank Vortex Optics for their second year of binocular donations, allowing our students to become instant birders at Audubon Assembly.

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