The Leopold Leadership Program at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment is the first formal effort in North America to train mid-career academic environmental researchers to communicate effectively to non-scientific audiences.
The program was created in 1998, led by Jane Lubchenco, Distinguished Professor of Zoology and Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University. Lubchenco, Hal Mooney and Paul Risser, all former presidents of the Ecological Society of America and leaders of that Society's Sustainable Biosphere Initiative, often discussed their frustration with the "science communication issue" - that is, the lack of both training and professional support for environmental scientists to communicate their work outside of traditional academic circles, and especially within the public policy arena. With support from a Pew Fellowship in Conservation and the Environment, a planning grant from the Packard Foundation, and help and encouragement from several colleagues, especially the late Donella (Dana) Meadows , Lubchenco conceptualized the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program and devised an implementation plan.
"We knew what we wanted to do," Lubchenco says. "We just had to determine how to do it."
The program is designed to provide professional development training opportunities to outstanding mid-career academic researchers in a broad range of environmental fields, from ecology and marine biology to environmental engineering and natural resource economics. The training complements their research knowledge base with the communication and leadership skills required to effectively convey to non-scientists the relevance of their work in addressing some of today's most pressing environmental challenges. Through a competitive application process, up to 20 researchers from the U.S., Canada and Mexico are selected as Leopold Leadership Fellows each year that fellowships are offered, and participate in the training program.
An independent evaluation of the first three years of the Leopold program, conducted by the Haley-McGuinness Consulting Group in 2002, concluded that it is "...a model training program that... increases the capacity of academic environmental scientists to better communicate and to make them more effective in scientific leadership roles."