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ELP History

the first ten years

Steve Mital enjoying an afternoon with his daughter Jessica.

The Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) was founded in 2001 by Steve Mital, who served as its first coordinator and then co-director through 2007.  While a graduate student in the Environmental Studies Program during 1999-2001, Steve observed that much of the undergraduate curriculum focused on problem identification and analysis, but did not offer the opportunity for students to directly engage with environmental issues.  Based on his own background in experiential education and inspired by the Community Planning Workshop, Steve proposed that the Environmental Studies Program create its own service-learning program to challenge students to apply their academic training to local environmental problems.  Our “Service Learning Program” was launched with the generous support of the Donald and Coeta Barker Foundation. We later renamed our program to the Environmental Leadership Program to distinguish our unique environmentally-focused approach from the Holden Leadership Center’s wonderful Service Learning Program.

Katie Lynch joined as Co-Director in 2005, Kirsten Rudestam served as interim Co-Director during 2007-09, and Peg Boulay joined in 2009. In 2006-07, we launched our Environmental Education initiative with support from the Oregon Community Foundation. In 2007-08, we created a coordinated track for mapping and monitoring projects (now called “Community Science in Action”), with support from the Williams Fund. In 2011, we launched our Discover Your Watershed initiative with our innovative MyMcKenzie project.

Katie Lynch and Peg Boulay at Blue Pool, headwaters of the McKenzie River.

Although our leadership has changed over time, our organizational model, collaborative style, service ethic, and experiential teaching methods have remained remarkably consistent. During 2001-2011, ELP partnered with over 30 community-based organizations on 55 projects managed by 41 graduate students and staffed by 240 undergraduates. Because of our community focus, long-standing partnerships, and creative, entrepreneurial spirit, we continue to respond to needs identified by local communities. We look forward to the next 10 years of making a difference, while helping students develop professional and technical skills in project management, leadership and communication.