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NCF #FutureFocused Q&A with Emily Moberg, PhD

Emily Moberg, PhD, is an Envirothon alumna and currently works at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in D.C. She also runs the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation, an organization that seeks to educate U.S.-based informal and formal science educators on how to effectively communicate climate science to the American public. Moberg first became involved with Envirothon during her freshman year of high school and continued until she graduated. Her sophomore year team even won the national competition – something Moberg describes as her best moment of high school.

Moberg recently spoke with NACD about NCF and Envirothon, their goals and their legacy. Below are some of her answers.

How did your involvement in the Envirothon program influence your career goals?

Envirothon really opened my eyes to what environmental science is. It made me look at what types of careers are available in this field. For me, Envirothon highlighted the linkage between human well-being and the environment. My involvement in Envirothon and desire to work on real-world analogs of work I encountered in Envirothon – like the oral problem-solving piece of the competition (where you are given a real-world problem and asked how to approach it) – helped me decide to major in environmental engineering.

It also influenced my view of what teamwork looks like and how important collaboration is. I had the experience of working with others who had different expertise really early on. Spending a few hours working on a problem and then going out and giving a presentation about it was a wonderful experience.

What are you most passionate about in the realm of conservation?

I see conservation as two sides of a coin – it’s about both the natural environment and about people. It’s about that interface – we are relying on nature for food, for a lot of ecosystem services, for storm protection, and for keeping our climate regulated and at a habitable temperature. At the same time, we also have a responsibility to steward those resources.

How did you hear about the National Conservation Foundation (NCF)?

I heard about the National Conservation Foundation when NCF adopted Envirothon. Back in my day, it was sponsored by Canon. I was excited to hear that Envirothon had a new home, and that an organization that fully believes in its mission was carrying that forward.

Moberg (second from the left) and her high school team

Why is supporting NCF and the Envirothon program important to you?

It is important to me because I think that Envirothon is one of the few avenues for younger students to learn about the environment – not just “go outside and look around you,” but in a really meaningful “what does environmental science actually mean and what does it influence” sort of way. Environmental science is not taught in most high schools, so organizations and competitions like Envirothon have stepped in to introduce students to this fundamentally critical topic.

I think Envirothon and NCF are filling a hole that our society fundamentally needs. I think it is such a wonderful opportunity for students to learn skills like teamwork, to be engaged in competition with people who are coming from different backgrounds and know fundamentally different things, and to go to different states to learn about what issues are important there. In addition, the competition also provides scholarships to students who are successful, helping them attend colleges and universities where they may choose to study these topics.

“I’m really excited and hope that more students are able to participate in Envirothon in the future, because it was such a profoundly transformative experience for me and my teammates.”

Why is it important for us to support the next generation of conservation leaders?

For me, the most critical challenge is making sure the next generation knows that there are both careers and interesting topics in conservation. I think allowing students, who are the next generation of conservation leaders, to explore and experience a range of environmental topics is so important. Otherwise, they are going to end up doing amazing things in some other field, which is wonderful too, but I think giving them the option and letting them see themselves in conservation has not historically been prioritized. We need their voices. We need their talent. I think they also need our support in showing them a path and helping them get up to speed a little bit faster.

“We need them. There is this space in conservation with big problems for them to tackle, and now is a pivotal time for that.”

How does diversity strengthen conservation as a field and as a community?

I believe diversity brings in both new ways of seeing the world and new ways of solving problems. One of the really powerful ideas that I have come in contact with is the idea of a frame. What is the frame in which you are seeing a particular issue? That can differ both within a person or across people. It is very easy to see an issue just from one lens, and then not see either the different problems that exist or the different types of solutions that might exist. We have many global issues, and we really need everyone at bat to help. That means across sectors, that means across nations, that means across different groups who are affected by environmental degradation – to understand what those problems look like and what solutions might be. Historically, some groups have been excluded from this work and disproportionally impacted by environmental harms, and I believe we need to fight every day to change that.

“We really need the infusion of new energy, visions, ideas and effort because we clearly haven’t solved all of the problems yet. The way that we have been doing it isn’t quite working.”

In your opinion, what is the impact of the NCF-Envirothon program?

Envirothon is clearly impactful for students who participate, but it also impacts communities. With Envirothon, the way I started thinking influenced the way that my parents think. In the intervening years, they have changed the way that they grow grass – or not grass – in their yard. They have planted more native species. They have taken efforts to make sure that their yard is a great wildlife habitat, and then have loved seeing all of the species that now live there. The success of our program influenced attitudes about environmental science in our middle and high school as well.

Why should individuals donate to this campaign – to NCF and to the Envirothon program?

Envirothon fills a niche that I think very few other programs do – it has students engage with these environmental topics in a way that is inherently interdisciplinary. It links human actions, topics like farming and climate change, with the environment in a way that is both substantial and also accessible for students.

I think that if people believe in that mission, then they should donate. Envirothon operates at local, state and international scales. There are a lot of people along the way who are developing competition resources and tests, who are running stations, and who are trying to make sure that students can get to these competitions. The infrastructure for competition is so well-run, and so many students participate. That does take money to happen, but the impact is definitely worth it.

Please help support conservation leaders by donating to the #FutureFocused campaign! As we prepare for a new 2021 NGLI cohort and the rescheduled 2021 NCF-Envirothon competition in Lincoln, Nebraska, set to be held in July 2021, your financial support is needed to help keep these programs moving forward.

Every contribution matters, and your support will be matched dollar-for-dollar throughout the campaign.

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