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Environmental Activism Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by melanie mae, United States Aug 4, 2004
Education , Environment   Interviews
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You won’t find arrogance in Mike Gardner, Coordinator on Cooperative Education and Research at the Sigurd Olsen Environmental Institute (SOEI). He is eager to help Northland students on their way to becoming leaders in their communities and often draws strength from the young people he works with. He says, “I get enrichment from working with students, it is a major source of satisfaction for me.”

I have heard others talk about Mike as a mentor and a young elder, and asked him if those words best described him. He chuckled, “Well, I am getting older… I’m not opposed to that terminology…I see myself as a learner, maybe an elder learner. (Ha ha ha) I am always challenged. We have to learn to listen to each other. Learn from the agencies, students, and learn the value of a wide variety of perspectives. I am mentored. I lead by example.”

Mike’s history has always been involved in appreciating nature. “My family environment allowed me to get comfortable in the natural world.” His mother’s involvement with social agendas influenced him on many plains. He also studied pre-law which helped him “articulate feelings, get involved with the civil process, the underpinnings of society, and argue the basic questions: why, how, what for?” He says, “Environmental activism was more who you were. The age of the civil rights movement, combined with a social agenda, earth day, became a lifestyle.” Later, he integrated that to his work and professional life, as he expresses, “the right to a clean environment is a civil right. We have negotiated much of it away. We need to educate future leaders to communicate that in decision making processes.”

Mike’s many passions include membership of non profit organizations on Lake Superior issues, such as the Inland Sea Society and the Lake Superior Alliance. He graduated from Northland College in 1997, with a degree in Management and Leadership. He says, “Much like the rest of the staff, we bring the benefit of our past experiences to the mix.” He began as a team leader at SOEI, attracted to the non government organizations and the Institute. Mike became the Assistant Director at the Institute, followed by being the Coordinator on Cooperative Education and Research, where he says he works on “development, strategic direction, and opportunities for students.”

A day with Mike Gardner touches diverse projects that are all interrelated and fit the mission of the Institute and Northland College, he says, “it is often chaotic to the observer.” He rarely gives credit to himself though for organizing and energizing these projects. Mike responds, “I am invigorated by an integrated team of young people…which is extremely gratifying.” The Roy Johnson West Mitigation Site, the Little Muskeg Restoration, the Urban Forestry Initiative, Cable Lakes Monitoring, the St. Claire Street Stormwater Basin, is of the many activities he has accountability for. You won’t hear him bragging about his accomplishments. “As an employee and as a person that has invested in the mission, I am encouraged by the new leadership and infrastructure; the new president and dean, and Institute director,” Mike says, “The network never ceases to amaze me.” In fact, Mike downplays his work by saying, “We don’t necessarily lead with knowledge, and we rely on the facilitating process.”

In all he does, he tries to make a difference. Much of his work involves working with external partners and private citizens that are concerned with similar environmental issues. Mike creates the opportunities for Northland students to internalize the projects instead of dictating them, and wants students to formulate good relationships with local city governments. For example, Bay City Creek connects the City of Ashland and Northland students, Mike says, “For decades, students have used trails around the creek.” With the implementation of the Northland Pathway project, a path along the Bay City Creek will connect WITC, the Ashland School District, Memorial Medical Center and Northland College with an informative, interpretive trail. Mike relates, “Citizenship counts for the benefit of the whole community… and the most gratifying because students can talk to the city councils and town boards, and they can function as professionals and citizens.”

Mayor Frank Snook concurred, “Common interests between Northland College and Ashland community volunteers bridge the gap between the two groups. In the past, the two groups didn’t reach out and relied on assumptions. Mike Gardner has been instrumental in strengthening the value of the students in Ashland.”

Some projects are at different stages and have to be mapped out a year in advance, such as the Ashland storm water management project. A number of projects need Mike’s attention daily, to look at student needs, while others require the student leaders manage themselves. Mike relies on the student leaders so they can cultivate leadership roles for their projects now, and into the future. On a daily basis, Mike aligns students with what they know to what project it fits them. “We are continually working in areas that haven’t been worked on before. We don’t limit our activities on what we know, we have to constantly learn in the process, apply what we learn, and educate others.”

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Ricky | Oct 12th, 2004
I really enjoyed learning more about this interesting person!

Thank you
melanie mae | Nov 2nd, 2005
He is interesting and incredibly busy with saving the Great Lakes

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