The University Record, September 28, 1992

International environmentalists here for year of intense study

By Kate Kellogg
News and Information Services

Six environmental managers from around the world recently arrived on campus for a year of intense study and training that may produce some solutions to problems of sustainable development in their countries.

The visiting students—from India, the Philippines, Czechoslovakia, Columbia, Sri Lanka and Costa Rica—will take courses and seminars in a new program at the School of Natural Resources and Environment. Called the Graduate Certificate in Natural Resources Organizational Management (NROM), the program is designed to help mid-career professionals build organizational management skills and gain technical understanding of new environmental fields.

Recruitment of NROM’s first class was not an easy task, says David J. Allan, professor of conservation biology and NROM director. “Our recruits are an unusual group in that they are out and working as NGOs (non-governmental representatives) of conservation organizations even as they look for training opportunities. They may or may not have freedom to leave their jobs; the members of their organizations may not be able to spare them, and they may risk losing their jobs if they leave even for awhile.”

For some, like Abshash Panda, NROM fills a critical gap in training. Although he was able to earn a Ph.D. in sociology in India, Panda needed more basic training in forestry management for his job as a consultant with the Haryana Forest Department. “U-M offered me the unique opportunity to gain basic skills in natural resources management, skills I couldn’t learn in India,” Panda says.

Just the logistics of advertising the program in places like New Delhi and Bogata can be complicated, Allan notes. Nevertheless, the word traveled through enough channels of the international NGO community to reach a diverse pool of environmentalists who represent a variety of political and economic systems.

Alejandra Vega-Zuniga, an environmental journalist for the Newspaper La Nacion in San Jose, Costa Rica, received an announcement about NROM with a request to publicize the program in the newspaper. Besides complying with the request, she decided to apply to the program.

Tomas Ruzicka, now an environmental consultant to Peace Corps Czechoslovakia, learned about NROM when he was coordinating workshops for the World Wildlife Fund. “One of the workshop lecturers gave me information on the program, and I saw it applied to NGO organizing—just my field,” Ruzicka says.

While the students gain new organizational skills from the School, the School’s students and faculty in turn benefit by gaining from the participants’ first-hand insights into global problems. “They help provide a connection to problems of species loss, deforestation and environmental degradation,” Allan says. “They can help us understand how these problems are all connected by means of trade policies and world economics. They truly educate our students and faculty by providing an international outlook.”

Each of the six participants represent some type of environmental organization within their native countries. Some, like the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, are established, internationally known institutions; others—like the Green Phone, an environmental information network in the Czech Republic—are comprised of newly emerged groups of conservationists.

All of this year’s participants received program fellowships from the Pew Charitable Trusts Foundation. The program’s curriculum includes a seminar in which students present case studies of real problems that exist in their home countries, such as watershed degradation in Costa Rica, and strategic plans for solving those problems.

Each student is paired with a “buddy,” a U.S. student with a similar study focus, who initiates the NROM student into the mysteries of MIRLYN, electronic mail and other University resources. Negotiating those unknown paths shouldn’t be too challenging for students who have traveled thousands of miles to U-M, who are multilingual and most of whom have organized international workshops on sustainable resources.