Conversation with an Environmental Leader Series

The Conversation with an Environmental Leader series is an opportunity for undergraduate students to engage in meaningful dialog with a diverse range of civic, corporate, academic, and non-profit environmental leaders in an informal setting over dinner. These leaders will share their personal career journeys and perspectives on environmental leadership and reflect on the kinds of skills and interests careers environmental-related fields require. These events are a way for students to explore how a wide range of professions focus on solving important environmental challenges locally, nationally, and internationally, in both the public and private sectors. Space is limited so registration is required to participate. Students can register for the entire series or for individual events. Preference is given to students attending the series. Dinner is provided.

Spring 2017 Speakers

Kathy Luther photo

Kathy Luther, Director of Environmental Programs, Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission - 2/9/17

Kathy Luther has been the Director of Environmental Programs at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission since 2006. She currently manages all environmental projects and programs for the organization, including environmental mitigation and consultation processes for transportation projects, environmental education, air and water quality public outreach; CMAQ diesel engine retrofits projects, brownfield programs, watershed and water quality planning, solar readiness, and the Marquette Plan. In addition to project and program management, she also serves as the Commission’s primary liaison with environmental and natural resource agencies and advocacy groups such as Chicago Wilderness, Indiana Lake Michigan Coastal Advisory Board, and Purdue Water Institute. She has 20 years of experience as an environmental professional in the region.

Chad Jafvert photo

Chad Jafvert, Professor of Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering - 3/2/17

Chad Jafvert received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1985 in Civil and Environmental Engineering and was awarded a National Research Council postdoctoral fellowship to work at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Environmental Research Laboratory in Athens, GA. After one year in that position, he was hired at the same laboratory where he worked until joining the faculty at Purdue in 1991. His primary research interests are the chemical and physicochemical fate processes of anthropogenic (man‐made) substances in natural and engineered environments. His recent interests include: remediation strategies for contaminated sediments; aquatic photochemistry of pollutants including carbon‐based nanomaterials and flame retardant compounds; real‐time continuous water quality monitoring, and drinking water treatment in rural areas of developing countries.

Natalie van Hoose photo

Natalie van Hoose, Science Writer, Florida Museum of Natural History - 4/17

Natalie van Hoose is the science writer for the Florida Museum of Natural History, based at the University of Florida. Previously, she covered research news for Purdue’s College of Agriculture, writing about a range of subjects, from how climate change could impact food security to what makes a lichen. A Florida native, she came to Purdue in 2010 for a Master’s of Fine Arts in creative writing and was introduced to the College of Agriculture via a livestock management course. In addition to milking cows, shearing sheep and castrating a pig, she got inspired by the college’s land-grant mission and its aim to use research to benefit the public. She covered science news at the college for three and a half years. Now at the Florida Museum, her beat involves less corn and more mastodons. Still, the grand challenges of science remain the same: how can studying climate conditions from millions of years ago help us prepare for our changing climate and anticipate its effects? How do we slow the spread of invasive species? And how do we conserve genetic diversity for the future? As the museum’s public information officer, she strives to communicate research in clear, compelling ways for the public and policymakers, maintain institutional transparency and solid reporting standards, and inspire people to care about life on Earth.

Past Speakers

Karen Cecil photo

Karen Cecil, Director of Global Environmental Sustainability, Cummins, Inc - 11/10/16

Karen Cecil was named the Director of Global Environmental Sustainability in January 2012. Her team advances Cummins’ environmental actions beyond regulations, including the creation of Cummins’ first comprehensive global environmental sustainability plan focusing on GHG/energy, waste and water. This includes strategy development, goal-setting, internal and external engagement, environmental reporting, and integration into the business. Karen’s core competencies include systems thinking, building collaborative relationships, influential leadership and story-telling, managing change, translation of emerging environmental trends into business risk and opportunity, and executive level problem solving.

Nate Cooper photo

Nate Cooper, Project Manager, Energy Systems Network - 10/20/16

Nate Cooper is project manager at Energy Systems Network where he manages infrastructure development, including the BlueIndy electric car share service.  BlueIndy will be the first fully electric, point to point car sharing service in North America. The project includes roughly 1000 charging stations at 200 locations around the City of Indianapolis with 500 cars in service. Prior to joining ESN, Nate worked as an energy analyst for CLEAResult consulting where he focused his attention on K-12 facilities.

Mary McConnell photo

Mary McConnell, State Director, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana Chapter - 8/29/16

Mary McConnell has been with the Conservancy since 1992, and was named Indiana State Director in 1999. Some of the signature projects of the Conservancy in Indiana include restoring 12 square miles of native prairie in northwest Indiana, creating the most ecologically rich grassland restoration in the world, permanently protecting over 90,000 acres of natural land, conserving freshwater sources with cutting-edge practices developed along the Wabash River,  and pioneering land management techniques. Mary spearheaded the creation of the Bicentennial Nature Trust, a partnership to purchase land for nature parks and trails throughout Indiana. Mary sits on the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, the Indiana Land Resources Council, and the Indiana Heritage Trust Project Committee. Mary is a graduate of IU’s Kelley School of Business and spent the first 15 years of her career in industrial sales and management.

Cristina Negri photo

Cristina Negri, Agronomist and Environmental Engineer, Argonne National Laboratory - 4/21/16

In her 20+ years at Argonne, Cristina Negri has conducted and directed laboratory to full-scale multidisciplinary projects developing technologies and concepts for environmental remediation and stewardship, including soil remediation and water treatment.  Her work focuses on developing sustainable, multifunctional landscape concepts, which aim, by design, at the creation of ecosystems services in both urban and agricultural settings. Cristina is a Senior Fellow with the Energy Policy Institute at the Harris School and a Fellow of the Institute of Molecular Engineering, both at the University of Chicago. She is also a Fellow of the Northwestern University—Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering.

Susan Mudd photo

Susan Mudd, Senior Policy Advocate, Environmental Law and Policy Center - 3/10/16

Susan Mudd is an attorney and Senior Policy Advocate who leads ELPC’s Diesel Pollution Reduction Initiative to help better protect children’s and community health, and works with ELPC’s Science Advisory Council. She previously served as Citizens for a Better Environment’s Wisconsin Director for 15 years. Susan has consulted for the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and the Brico Fund. She co-authored a Midwest global warming action plan for the State Environmental Leadership Program and was part of the committee that developed LEED for Neighborhood Development.

Jim Poyser photo

Jim Poyser, Executive Director, Earth Charter Indiana - 2/11/16

South Bend native Jim Poyser left his 2-decade career in journalism in 2013 to join Earth Charter Indiana as its executive director to engage Indiana young people in climate stewardship and civic leadership. His presentations, including his gameshow, The Ain't Too Late Show, has been seen by over 12,000 people. Among his numerous programs with youth, he is particularly excited about Save the Bees, a recipient of a SustainIndy grant to place bee hives at schools, and IndyGoesGreen, his partnership with IndyGo to take youth on mass transit to visit destinations that demonstrate dramatic sustainability practices. He lives in Rocky Ripple along the White River.

Kevin Leahy photo

Kevin Leahy, Managing Director, Energy and Environmental Policy at Duke Energy - 11/19/15

As Managing Director of Environmental and Energy Policy, Kevin Leahy is responsible for the formation of the firm’s environmental policies related to renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and other technologies. He represents the company in policy discussions with other firms, NGOs and the broader analytical community. Previous energy sector experience includes management of energy market forecasting for traders and investment analysts and renewable energy strategy (domestic and international). Earlier in his career, he performed investment analysis for new product and market development for Cummins Inc’s international operations. He also served with the Peace Corps as a Volunteer in Honduras and staff member in Albania. Mr. Leahy holds degrees in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, an MBA with finance concentration from Indiana University and an MPA from Harvard where he studied energy and environmental policy.

Jessica Huxhold Fliss photo

Jessica Huxhold Fliss, Sr. Environmental Manager, IN Dept. of Environmental Mgmt. - 11/12/15

Jessica Huxhold Fliss is the Senior Environmental Manager for the Superfund Program at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, a position she has held since 2005. She is responsible for evaluating the investigation and remediation of Federal National Priorities List sites, particularly high-profile sites such as the Continental Steel Superfund Site in Kokomo, Indiana, for which she received the Bronze Medal for Commendable Service in 2015 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Jessica has been with IDEM since 1999. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Ball State University in Natural Resources and Environmental Management – Environmental Protection, with a Minor in Chemistry. Jessica was given the Natural Resources and Environmental Management Department Award of Merit in 2005 for distinctive service within 10 years of graduation.

Sara Peel photo

Sara Peel, Director of Watershed Projects, Wabash River Enhancement Corporation - 10/8/15

Sara Peel, CLM, coordinates the watershed and education outreach efforts of the Wabash River Enhancement Corporation as their Director of Watershed Programs. Sara received her B.S. in Biology and Chemistry from Alma College and her M.S. in Environmental Science from Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. Sara has over 16 years of water quality and watershed management experience. She currently serves as the President for the Indiana Lakes Management Society, is a board member on the Indiana Water Monitoring Council and the North American Lakes Management Society, and sits on the Dean’s Advisory Council for Purdue University’s School of Agriculture.

Perre Burns photo

Perre Burns, Principal, Burns Environmental Engineering Inc - 4/9/15

Perre Burns has focused his career on projects concerning contaminated site investigations, risk assessment and management, and remediation activities for water and soil resources.  He has led over 150 projects related to the characterization, risk assessment, and remediation of contaminant-impacted properties, ranging in size from small gas stations to superfund sites. His experience includes serving as a principal investigator on multiple federally-funded research projects relating to the fate & transport and remediation of recalcitrant contaminants. Perre has also provided expert testimony on projects relating to investigation and remediation of contaminated sites, and the fate & transport of contaminants in soil and groundwater.

Melody Park photo

Melody Park, Director of the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability - 3/5/15

Melody Park is Director of Sustainability and Chief Engineer for the City of Indianapolis. Park has over 20 years of experience in project management, engineering and construction.  Before joining the City of Indianapolis in 2013, Melody served as Vice President/Principal at RW Armstrong where she managed many large scale projects, including construction of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Park was responsible for supervising the schedule, budget, public outreach, design specifications and land acquisition for the $62 million project.   A native of Indianapolis, IN, Melody holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Purdue University and is a licensed professional engineer in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Jesse Kharbanda photo

Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director, Hoosier Environmental Council - 2/5/15

Jesse Kharbanda is Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, Indiana’s largest environmental policy organization.   He oversees HEC’s strategic and program development, legislative initiatives, operations, and fundraising.  Jesse has spearheaded focusing HEC’s efforts on three core initiatives: clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and 21st century transportation systems.  Jesse has made it a priority of HEC to build bridges with groups that may not have been as engaged with the organization in the past, such as the business community and religious conservatives.  Jesse was named to the “Forty Under 40ʺ list by the Indianapolis Business Journal in 2011, and was the sole Indianapolis-based community leader named to Delta Omega, the national public health honorary, in 2010.  Jesse has graduate degrees from Oxford University and undergraduate degrees from the University of Chicago.

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