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Environmental Leadership

Kevin O'Halloran standing on sidewalk in Historic Springfield

Energized by a passion for the environment and inspired to make a difference in the world, 20 students have worked as project leaders in the Environmental Leadership Program, established in 2015. Three of those innovators — now graduated — will tell you that the work they did to affect change also transformed them, and along the way they gained something else — an understanding of what it means to be a leader.


Kevin O'Halloran, '16, found his interest in the environment at a young age.  By high school, he had already decided that he wanted to spend his life seeking solutions to climate change and issues affecting the sustainability of natural resources.


Serving others with little concern about how it will benefit you

O’Halloran’s commitment led him to UNF’s Environmental Center, where he became one of the first project leaders in the Environmental Leadership Program or ELP. Knowing that cities account for 70 percent of the U.S. energy consumption, he wanted to make a big-city impact and chose a project related to sustainability initiatives for Jacksonville. 


In doing so, he gathered information from the city’s major players and compiled a sustainability report — the first of its kind in Jacksonville — that detailed the work being done to sustain resources for generations to come. The project took about one year to complete. 


While many cities have a sustainability report and staff to create and monitor goals, Jacksonville does not. “I saw a need in the Jacksonville community, so I wanted to take a first step in creating a resource for the public, the environmental community and the city,” O'Halloran said. “My main goal was to create a document that was a repository of information that no one really knew and to show what Jacksonville is doing holistically, across the board, about sustainability.”


With support from Dr. David Lambert, Center director and associate professor, and Maria Mark, coordinator of ELP, O’Halloran stepped into his leadership role, organizing monthly meetings with managers from seven area agencies, including JEA, JAXPORT, the Northeast Florida Regional Council and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.


“The ELP program gave me my first real-world experience,” said O’Halloran, who graduated with a degree in international studies. “I had the chance to meet people in different roles, understand what they do. When I graduated, the committee said they hoped to keep the meetings and conversations going.”


Partnering with community organizations, faculty advisors and program coordinators are important components of the program, according to Mark. “ELP was a catalyst to help get Kevin out into the community,” Mark said. “His project was focused on sustainability and urban redevelopment, and now he’s found employment in that field. We’re thrilled when we can keep talented and passionate graduates like Kevin in the area.”


O’Halloran is now living and working in Historic Springfield, one of Jacksonville’s oldest communities. As an administrator with SPAR — Springfield Preservation and Revitalization — O’Halloran works to revitalize the neighborhood and assist its residents. For now, he’s exactly where he wants to be — making a difference at the local level. He works to attract residents and businesses and promote SPAR’s marketing events. In his work, he interacts with some of the same people he brought together for monthly meetings as a project leader. He sees his next step as graduate school to earn a degree in urban planning. 


“The ELP prepared me for the job I have now,” he said. “It’s just a great program. It actually gives students a chance to lead something, not just to assist. That experience showed me that leadership is all about serving others. It’s about seeing a need to serve others and the greater good, with little concern of how it will benefit you.” 


Putting yourself out there

Sean Lahav, ’17, is no stranger to the outdoors. Before coming to UNF, he had many woodland adventures, including 90 days spent in the wilderness — “off the grid” as he describes it — for outdoor leadership training. 


Those experiences, along with the support of ELP, gave him the confidence to accomplish something no one else in Jacksonville had done before: create a video series that provides a close look at the area’s beautiful public parks.


The yearlong project culminated in 20 short videos — titled “Exploring Northeast Florida’s Special Places” — each photographed, directed and narrated by Lahav. The parks he featured comprise Jacksonville’s Timucuan Trail State and National Parks, the largest urban park system in the nation.


With such a vast landscape to cover, Lahav estimated that he spent hundreds of hours driving to each park several times, filming the parks, hiking miles of trails and editing, narrating and searching for music. Despite the many hours, he would do it all again. “I would absolutely recommend the ELP to anyone who’s interested because it’s an opportunity you won’t find anywhere else,” Lahav said. “Everyone I know that was part of the program left a better person with a new set of experiences they didn’t have before.” 


Lahav’s project began as a request from one of the Center’s community partners, the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida, which wanted to promote the parks and let the community know about its own mission to protect and preserve the area’s public lands and waters.


“Sometimes our community partners bring a project to us and sometimes our students generate an idea and we match them with a partner as mentor,” Mark said. “Our partners have expert knowledge and can help focus the project, offer feedback and input, but as project leaders the students have a great deal of control.”  


At a preview event of several of the videos in March 2017, more than 200 community members gave Lahav a rousing standing ovation. Months later, WJCT aired the series of videos, and Jacksonville Magazine featured the project.


“People were just inspired by it and that really inspired me, because it showed me how much the hard work really paid off,” Lahav said. “It also showed me that I could put myself out there and accomplish things I didn’t think I would be able to do. I learned that to be a good leader, you have to be a good listener and be willing to accept critical feedback and consider other opinions.”


A political science degree graduate, Lahav is working as a graduate teaching assistant at UNF while he pursues a Master of Public Administration. He said the lessons he learned from the program continue to help him every day.


“I wouldn’t trade the opportunities I had as a project leader for anything in the world,” Lahav said. “And if my videos made people in the area aware of these special places, then I feel that I’ve made a difference.”  


Inspiring and motivating others to get involved and find their own leadership

During her time at UNF, Haley Camp, ’17, took her love of children and interest in public health to Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, Jacksonville, where she volunteered. Giving the gift of attention to children waiting for medical appointments, Camp engaged the youngsters in arts and crafts, all the while noticing their fascination with the St. Johns River, ships and birds they could see from the facility’s expansive windows.


Also an avid environmentalist, Camp found her way to the UNF Environmental Center where she learned about ELP. For her, the program provided an opportunity to merge her two interests. Drawing from her work at Nemours, Camp created a program for children titled “The Ripple Effect: Where Kids are Guided by the River,” combining art, science and environmental learning.


“It seemed like a perfect fit for Nemours because they have such a great location on the river,” Camp said. “The children are often missing school, so I thought it would be a wonderful time to teach them about science, about the animals and plants of the river, in 

a fun way.” 


After presenting the project to Nemours and gaining approval, Camp designed a three-part approach: artwork, an interactive display and binoculars. Children on different floors were coloring pictures of river life, looking out the windows with binoculars and learning facts in interactive ways, such as measuring their arms against a mural of a manatee. “I might ask them, how many seven-year-olds does it take to reach the end of a manatee?” Camp said. “I also would talk about some fun facts, such as what they eat and where they live.” 


Camp worked on the project for a little more than a year before graduating with a bachelor’s in public health. She is now working at Mayo Clinic as a patient services specialist, yet her work on the project continues. Early on, Camp had asked UNF alumna Brooke McKinney, ’16, to design the coloring pages for the children. McKinney continues to work with Camp on the project.


“I found that leadership is making an impact on others to do more,” Camp said. “Brooke loved the ocean and now she’s learning about the river, and is currently working on the design of a mural for Nemours.”

Camp, who also served as a Presidential Envoy student leader while at UNF, explained that her style is to make things happen and then let others participate and discover their strengths. “For me, I enjoy inspiring and motivating others to get involved and find their own leadership,” Camp said, smiling. “Then the enthusiasm becomes contagious.”


Beyond the fun of the work and the learning, Camp will tell you that working as a project leader gave her a great deal of confidence, a benefit she will always appreciate. “I also learned that people want to help other people, so use your resources and don’t be afraid to ask people to help you connect,” she said. “If you have a passion or desire, go for it and never hold back. Everyone can make a difference.”