Cody Kamrowski; Student; University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

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The National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders Career Center is celebrating the motivating stories and career accomplishments of young professionals making their names (and a difference) in the sustainability movement. We’re calling this group of change-makers and rising stars “The EcoLeaders Top 50 Inspirations.”

Interviewee: Cody Kamrowski
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Interviewer: David Corsar, NWF

Cody is an EcoLeader and a student at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Cody’s EcoLeaders project is to use best practices to expand conservation leadership programs, specifically the Conservation Leadership Corps, which is a program of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

David Corsar: Looking back at your experience with NWF, how did participation with NWF and our affiliate, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, help shape your career path?
Cody Kamrowski:
Well, I’m in the job application process right now. But, I came to my first Wisconsin Wildlife Federation meeting my freshman year. I went to a board of directors meeting, and I didn’t really know what to expect – I mean, I liked politics and the environment, that was about it, and then I went to that meeting and just learned a lot more about environmental policy, and kind of the formal and informal structure associated with it. After that meeting, I was approached by our Executive Director, George Meyer, and he said they’re starting this new program called Conservation Leadership Corps. He gave me the link to fill out the application, and I participated in the Conservation Leadership Corps myself for a year of college, and then since my junior year and this year, I have been the President of it. It’s just been a fantastic experience, building each year, trying to keep connections with everyone and track where everyone’s going, and putting all of our ideas together.

DC: What kinds of activities does the CLC organize?
So, we have 4 training weekends throughout the school year. The first weekend is in September, and that is leadership-focused. We usually have two speakers come in – some very distinguished leaders, generally. This year, we had Chief Warden Randy Stark – he’s retired now, but he was the Chief Warden of Wisconsin. And another distinguished leader of the state of Wisconsin, Pat Leavenworth, the State Conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service. In the second year, we had Jennifer Battson Warren – she’s out of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. So, that’s our first weekend, and we learn about leaders and what it takes to be a leader and stakeholder development – taking all perspectives into consideration.

And then our second weekend is usually in December sometime. And at that session, we do policy communication and advocacy. So we have two distinguished environmental policy experts come in and we do either a mock trial or congressional hearing of a controversial issue. So we try to simulate it as much as we can to the students. Some of the mock senators don’t care about the issue, some do, and then we have to roleplay all of the different stakeholders, and it really helps all of the students and myself kind of gauge that a lot of people are coming from different perspectives. So, making a decision isn’t as easy as you would think.

Then the third weekend is in February, and we just got done with it this past Friday and Saturday. And that’s our resolution development weekend. And what we do with that one is, we select topics that we think are very important in the state of Wisconsin right now with natural resources, and we write a resolution on it – the same exact format that NWF does, same as the WWF does. And then, these ones, we write all weekend. George Meyer, our Executive Director, finds an expert to come in, and they coach the students through it. And then, at the fourth meeting, which is in April at the annual meeting, we present those resolutions in front of everyone and then the Federation votes on them.

The students get a lot of different perspectives that they had never gotten before. I mean, I had never been around this whole structure till I went through the CLC with the federation. As students graduate through the CLC, they can become engaged as CLC Board Members; we have six officer positions. And then we also have some students that have been nominated into the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation Board of Directors. I was nominated in as an Associate Director. So, I’m not just with the CLC now, I’m with the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation too. It’s really cool, a lot of the students get so much out of it because we have students from many different backgrounds. Not just natural resources, but we also have business, art majors, all sorts of different perspectives coming in which is super valuable, I think.

DC: It sounds like a great program! What would you say was the top thing that you learned in your professional development at NWF?
Something that I realized is that you definitely need to take the fact that not everyone comes from same background as you into consideration when you’re making decisions, in order to make effective decisions or advocate for the right view. Maybe you think you are advocating the right way, but until you talk to everyone and get their perspectives, you really don’t know.

And then, I guess, this kind of builds off it. With that, something that I’ve really taken away from all this is that getting uncomfortable is probably one of the best experiences I can go off of. When you get nervous about something, or when you’re outside of your comfort zone, is when I feel you take the most out of an experience. So, that can mean presenting a resolution in front of the Federation, or all sorts of different public engagement activities. Or anything different that gets you uncomfortable for that matter.

DC: What are you up to these days? You’re finishing up your last semester, is that correct?
Yes, I am in my last semester. And, so, I have two jobs currently. I’m a peer advisor. At my college – the College of Natural Resources at Steven’s Point – we have an office that advises underclassman, so I advise anyone that’s under 45 credits, and I basically tell them what courses to take for next year, I look through their academic history. I help them out, give them suggestions, like, tutoring opportunities. Our office is supposed to be the outlet that any student can go to for questions or needs somewhere else to turn to.

And then also, unrelated to natural resources, I also am a youth mentor to a 15-year old boy with behavioral disabilities who is from a broken home. That was probably one of the single biggest eye-opening experiences that I’ve had for realizing that not everyone comes from the same background as I do. You know when I first started working with him, I was blown away with some of the experiences and stories he told me. I’ve worked with him two and a half years now. So, that’s been a fantastic experience, not just for me, for him, we’ve both grown as people together. And I really want to tie that into natural resources more, with different social classes, different backgrounds of people, you know, that can be urban, rural, etc.

So, currently I’m just trying to get through classes. I’m still studying and all that, and I’m on the job hunt. And then, I also volunteer for an organization on campus. It’s called KEEP, the K-12 Energy Education Program. It’s out of the UW extension office. And what they do is professional development and outreach to professionals in the field down to children with renewable energy and conservation, and I’ve been working with them doing some outreach opportunities and event planning. They asked me to be their Keynote Speaker at their Wisconsin Youth Summit. The event will bring about 150-200 junior high and high school age students, and the theme is energy, sustainability, and youth; it’s going to be a cool event. When it comes to preserving the environment, teaching the next generation is key and this is what this event does. And I am honored to be a part of this event.

DC: What would you say is your personal mission for sustainability?
Definitely my biggest mission is including and implement sustainability to all different social, economic, and cultural groups in the U.S. and the world. You’ve heard of the triple bottom line – planet, profit, people; so the social, economic, and environmental aspects –that’s what true sustainability includes. You might have a healthy environment, but everyone in it might not be living as good a life as they could. Or you might have a healthy economy with a horrible natural resource base. To equally balance the planet, economics and society is the key to overall sustainability.

DC: I was reading an article that you authored on GreenBiz last November where you added leadership to the triple bottom line; I thought that was a great angle.
Thank you. One of my professors connected me to GreenBiz and thought I should write that piece. It took a bit of time to think of it, but it started really flowing as I started adding pieces here and there. So, that was my take on the leadership aspect of sustainability coming from a college student’s perspective that studies the environment and politics.

DC: You mentioned that you serve as a mentor to a youth, have you had any mentors yourself that have assisted you in shaping your path?
All through high school, both of my parents were fantastic. I was supposed to own my dad’s business. Instead of going to college, I was to run an excavating business, but my parents were very open to whatever I wanted to do. So they were great mentors for the fact that they were very supportive of what I wanted to do. I am a first generation college student, so clearing my own path when it came to my education was a little bit of a challenge, but a very achievable goal. But then, when it comes to my career or future aspirations, I would definitely say the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, and specifically George Meyer our Executive Director has had just a tremendous amount of influence on my passion and how fired up I get now about sustainability and the environment.

DC: So, kind of along the same lines, who would you say are your primary “influencers” or inspirations, local/national celebrities, etc. in the sustainability movement?
I’m definitely liking what Leonardo DiCaprio is doing right now; he’s really on top of everything. But something that’s really inspired me through my experiences is the amount of passion that all of my peers have. It’s not just one person here or there; there’s huge groups of individuals that will mobilize and do amazing things, and that’s what really inspires me, is that there are so many people out there willing to make the change. That’s my biggest single inspiration for the sustainability movement, and that includes my peers, professors, and professionals.

DC: Looking back, what motivated you to begin this path of working towards sustainability?
I guess I’ve always been outdoors from a really, really young age; I’ve been hunting, fishing, trapping, and just playing outside, climbing trees, etc. And it’s just part of who I am – the environment. I definitely want to ensure that everyone in the future has the same abilities that I’ve had to enjoy the environment. That’s probably the biggest important reason why for me.

DC: So, last question. You mentioned that you give advice to younger students; what is one of your top recommendations to students who want to make a difference for sustainability?
CK: I always tell students that they matter. Some students, especially in the political realm right now, think “my vote doesn’t matter.” And it can go into the same thing with the environment. “Why would I recycle?” And, I tell them that everyone’s portion matters. And it adds up – sure it’s a big deal when everyone does it, but it’s also a big deal if you do it, regardless.
And also, don’t be afraid to try new things and get outside of your comfort zone. That’s what I always try to tell students, because I get a lot of students that are undecided or not 100% sure what major they want to choose. And I always tell them to try a little bit of everything. You might actually like teaching kids, so try environmental education, for example. Just try to have as many experiences as you can to make that informed decision on what you want to do. And in order to do that, you have to get out of your comfort zone and try new things.

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Date Added: May 15, 2017
Date Last Modified: May 15, 2017