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Auburn’s FEWL Academy members meet leaders, policymakers in Washington, D.C.

By October 21, 2019September 10th, 2021No Comments

Members of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences’ Forests, Environment and Wildlife Leadership, or FEWL, Academy visited Washington, D.C., in August, meeting with leaders from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the CEO of the Society of American Foresters.

The visit also included tours of the U.S. Capitol Building and White House and a visit with staff from Senator Doug Jones’ office. Faculty advisors Dean Janaki Alavalapati and Assistant Professor Adam Maggard accompanied students and facilitated their discussions with the representatives.

These 12 students represent the first cohort to participate in the two-semester FEWL Academy, which prepares them with the leadership abilities necessary for critical problem-solving issues related to the management, utilization and stewardship of natural resources.

Maggard said the visit to the nation’s capital enriched the group’s understanding of what it takes to succeed on a high level in their field.

“Experiential learning opportunities like this significantly enhance students’ personal development and leadership abilities,” Maggard said. “This unique experience enlightened these students as they observed diverse perspectives about what leadership means, similarities and differences in leadership qualities among leaders and the complexity of issues faced every day by government officials, CEOs and policymakers.”

The group was excited to meet Senior Analyst and Defense Production Act Coordinator Zia Haq of the Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, or FERE.

“Zia Haq talked about attraction to working in public service—even though the pay is less, there is more impact for the greater good,” said FEWL member Joseph Contreras. “We learned from him the importance of being flexible. Leaders deal with human resources as often as they utilize the skills they learned in their degree.”

Students also spent time with Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Stephen Guertin, who presented a real-world perspective of what it takes to be a leader in the field.

“Stephen Guertin said that leaders must have the ability to listen to their employees and the public,” FEWL member Allison Gary said. “They must be flexible and adapt to situations as they occur and have the moral certitude to make hard decisions.”

Lenise Largo, associate chief of the U.S. Forest Service, shared the triumphs and disappointments she has experienced serving as the major oversight for more than 4,000 employees. Largo has worked for the U.S. Forest Service since 1989.

“Along the way, Lenise Largo found that adaptability was key, as her work force grew to encompass three generations,” said student Orum Snow. “Additionally, she learned that the best way to lead was to empower all of her employees, no matter their background, to be able to reach their full potential.”

Members of the group recalled that at least two representatives left a resonating message: that long after their studies were complete, these students would meet again in their respective fields.

“This trip not only helped us to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a leader in natural resources within public policy, but it also helped us form relationships with other students in similar majors,” member Gabrille Ripa said.

Over a casual dinner, students met with Terry Baker, CEO of the Society of American Foresters.

“One key point that Terry Baker expressed to us was the importance of acting in an extroverted manner, even if you have an introverted personality,” FEWL member Marisa Juarez said, adding that this was one of just several overlapping themes the group encountered.

“We noticed a lot of trends among all the leaders we spoke to on the trip,” she said. “Overall, this opportunity was an amazing learning experience that showed us the complexity of leadership.”

Alavalapati said this was an eye-opening excursion for the group.

“It was evident to me, and to Dr. Maggard, that the visit to the nation’s capital was enriching for this select group of students,” Alavalapati said. “Engaging with professionals at this level in their fields offered them a wider view of the responsibilities that leaders in their fields regularly face.”

Earlier this year, the FEWL students traveled to Montgomery to meet with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, as well as leaders of the Alabama Forestry Association and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Current FEWL Academy members are Joseph Contreras, Maurlan Dickerson, Will Dunnam, Allison Gary, Grace Holland, Marisa Juarez, Cal Logan, Phillip McMichael, Gabrille Ripa, Noah Runyon, Orum Snow and Lexi Wiltfong.

They represent a wide range of majors, including forestry, pre-vet medicine, natural resources management, sustainable biomaterials and packaging, and wildlife ecology and management.

Qualified students in Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences who are in good academic standing and interested in developing leadership skills are invited to apply. Each year, 12 to 15 applicants will be selected to participate.

The 2019 FEWL Academy program is sponsored by a private donation from Ed Sweeten, a 1979 Auburn graduate. However, the school’s long-term goal is to establish an endowment to fund FEWL. Those interested in this opportunity can contact the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences’ Development Office at 334-844-2791,or by email at

(Written by Teri Greene)

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