During the Masters of the Environment (MENV) Graduate Program, students take classes that prepare them to be environmental leaders. One key component of leadership is being able to work effectively as part of a team. Throughout the program, students have many opportunities to practice this leadership skill through collaborative projects, sometimes balancing three or four long-term group projects with not only their fellow graduate students but also community organizations.
In the second semester of the program students take a core class called “Leadership and Ethics.” This course is designed to build the essential skills needed to be a purpose-driven and ethical leader. During the first three weeks of the course, students were asked to gauge their internal and external self-awareness. Now, in the fourth week, students are learning what elements make an effective team.
This semester, “Leadership and Ethics” is co-taught by Kimberly Kosmenko and Buie Seawell. This is their first-time co-teaching together and they too are learning to work as a team. In a recent interview with Kimberly and Buie, they explained how they became co-teachers, shared why they enjoy teaching together, and gave advice for those considering the MENV graduate program.
Although this is the first semester Kimberly and Buie are teaching a course together, they share an interesting history. Kimberly was a student of Buie’s eight years ago during the first year of her MBA. When asked about his first memory of Kimberly, Buie quickly replied: “The team she was on when we were doing team building on sailboats in San Diego was the first thing that comes to mind. Here was this intense red-headed woman dealing with these yahoos from the business school trying to build a team – I just thought ‘wow you are not going to cross her or else you will be in big trouble’ (laughter) … she is just brilliant in different types of applications.” When asked about her first memory of Buie, Kimberly mentioned his draw as a lecturer. “Anytime Buie was speaking in class, I just wanted to sit and listen to everything he wanted to say. It was always this really juicy and interesting philosophy. Buie has this awesome sense of humor – I feel like I could be in his class forever. And now, I guess I am in Buie’s class forever!”
It is clear that Kimberly and Buie respected each other as student and teacher eight years ago, but both thought that would be the last time they would collaborate. This changed when MENV Associate Director Ben Webster asked Buie for recommendations for professors to help teach a MENV ethics course. As Buie explains, “I had been retired and been emeritus for two years. I started out giving him names of some folks that I thought would do a good job. Then I thought, ‘teaching ethics in a program about the environment, I already know how I would do that.’ In the meantime, I learned that Kimberly was the lead teacher of the course. That sealed the deal. To get the chance to teach with a really excellent student from ten years ago was just amazing.” Now that Kimberly and Buie knew they would be co-teaching, they needed to determine how to best work together to present the course. Buie had co-taught before and
noticed that it usually took months or even years to successfully and comfortably co-teach effectively. “Team teaching is really hard…It is beautifully exhausting…I used to co-teach and it took years to figure out how it worked. It takes a long time to learn the reflexes and cadences of the other. The nice thing with Kimberly is we were miles in no time. We learned more of the reflexes quicker than any other colleagues. With Kimberly, it is like falling off a log. I don’t need difficult at 82 – I need easy, and this is good.”
Kimberly and Buie’s effortless co-teaching abilities is noticed by MENV students, as is their love of teaching in general. Kimberly’s passion comes from the satisfying effect of seeing students change their worldview. “My favorite moments in the classroom are when we are talking about something everyone thinks they already know. And then there is a moment where I can tell there are some students in the class that start to question what they thought they already knew and start to look at it differently. It is magic.” Buie’s passion for teaching comes through practicing something he feels defines himself: “In the weeks after my retirement, I would still wake up thinking ‘I don’t have my notes ready - I don’t have my PowerPoints ready!’ And then I realized, ‘Idiot, you aren’t teaching anymore… go walk the dog!’ After years and years of doing it I realized only after I retired - I didn’t so much teach, as I was a teacher.”
When asked to give advice for prospective MENV students, Buie and Kimberly mentioned similar themes – dedication and passion. Kimberly advised that “if you decide you want to do this program, make sure you are ready to be all in. There are so many opportunities, so much you can get out of the classroom and the connection with the amazing people in the program. To make the choice to come to grad school is to make the choice to take advantage of it. Be all in.” And Buie, in his usual candid response, mentioned that “if someone is trying to decide between MENV and law school they damn well better think to themselves ‘is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?’ What really juices them? Base your answer on that.”
After talking with Buie and Kimberly, or taking their “Leadership and Ethics” course, it is easy to see their passion for teaching and the earnest respect they have for each other’s work ethic. This respect, mixed with open communication and a common goal, has made them a successful co-teaching team and, in turn, exemplary leaders for the current cohort of MENV students as they consider their future careers.
And who knows, maybe in eight years one of us will have the pleasure of co-teaching with them.