RSDP Happenings - Spotlight: Rose Clarke
by Caryn Mohr
You have workgroups supporting natural resource projects in five different regions. Projects vary, and so do local needs and landscapes. Regional project autonomy matters, but so does inter-regional communication. What do you do?
You hire Rose Clarke, Conservation Corps volunteer, natural resource guru, and millennial idea generator extraordinaire, to cross-pollinate across regions.
Since January, natural resource work groups in RSDP’s five regions have benefited from Clarke’s attention and coordination. The idea to bring on added capacity and fresh perspectives through a Conservation Corps position was the brainchild of RSDP veteran and Northwest region Executive Director Linda Kingery.
“At our May 2015 Statewide Coordinating Committee meeting, one of the clear priorities from the natural resources focus area was the need to better connect the work groups in each of the regions. I had great experience hosting a Conservation Corps member in 2014 and 2015, and felt the RSDPs could support a position to help us and provide a quality experience for the Corps member,” Kingery said. “Rose rocks this position!”
Focus on natural resources
Natural resources are one of four sustainability focus areas addressed by RSDP, which also include clean energy, sustainable agriculture and food systems, and resilient communities and tourism. The Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) provide energy programming for the Partnerships, and three full-time food systems staff advance that work statewide. The University’s Tourism Center is a resource for the resilient communities and tourism focus area. But prior to Clarke, RSDP’s natural resources work functioned without dedicated statewide coordination.
“Rose is the first dedicated staff person the Partnerships have had working on our Natural Resources focus area,” said RSDP Statewide Director Kathy Draeger. “What a treat to work with someone as bright and caring as Rose. … Having dedicated support for the natural resources focus area is an 'idea come true' that emerged from the May 2015 Statewide Coordinating Committee meeting. And finding Rose Clarke is a dream come true!”
Clarke came to RSDP from Portland, Oregon, where she graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in botany and biology. After graduating, she volunteered with the AmeriCorps program. The Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa is one of a number of groups hosting AmeriCorps volunteers, and placed Clarke with RSDP through an individual placement position.
Clarke’s newness to the area has brought a valuable perspective, not to mention thoughtful insights, that have advanced RSDP’s natural resources work in important ways. “One of my big goals I identified right away was to gain a deeper understanding of the place, the history, and the culture of each of the regions because I’m new to Minnesota and curious about how all of these places got to where they are today,” Clarke said.
“I’m a recent grad and a millennial – plus someone new to the area – so hopefully I add some of those perspectives to the conversation.”
Clarke’s innovative ways of helping RSDP staff, board, and work group members identify natural resources partners and priorities include mapping RSDP’s natural resource projects to clean water and sustainable ecosystem challenges identified in the University of Minnesota’s Grand Challenges framework. This exercise at RSDP’s May 2016 Statewide Coordinating Committee meeting helped staff and board members visualize what factors of water health we are actively addressing and what factors we need to focus on improving. Honing in on a specific water-related project, Clarke then facilitated a group tactical mapping exercise of the people and groups involved in RSDP natural resources projects. By mapping current partners, and arranging them by layers of connection, staff and board members were able to visualize potential partners. The resulting network map can be used to effectively communicate resource messages with specific audiences.
“Rose has been an incredibly quick study of the RSDPs, our people and our culture, which is no easy task because we are a rather nuanced, complex initiative,” said Southeast RSDP Executive Director Erin Meier. “Her deeper thinking and ideas about how we can graphically document and continue to engage our networks of community and University partners will pay off for years to come.”
Asked what she sees as emerging natural resource issues in Minnesota, Clarke connected that Minnesotans’ penchant for weather talk reflects concern with deeper natural resource issues. “It seems like weather and climate change is a key topic,” Clarke said. “Everyone seems to agree that the trends are changing. A lot of people tell me, ‘this winter was nothing, just wait for next winter.’ But what if these are the new norms?”
Invasive species also seem to be a growing concern, Clarke observed. “Many people are very concerned with aquatic invasive species. I went to the lake for the first time last weekend, and everyone was complaining about how weedy it was, weeds clogging people’s boats. [Seeing the] impact on their lives helps people pay attention!”
Water is another hot topic, according to Clarke. “A lot of the regions are really fired up about water and water system health, and that looks different [across] the regions,” Clarke said. For example, Clarke has observed that dialogue in RSDP’s Southeast region has focused on groundwater issues and water runoff. Water quality concerns also seem to be stronger in the southern part of the state around more urban and developed areas, she said. In the Northwest and Northeast, Clarke has seen more focus on existing water systems, ditch systems, and buffers. “[This is] the above-ground evidence of our impact on water, water recreation, and nutrient runoffs.”
Rose Clarke (right) and Northwest RSDP Executive Director Linda Kingery present regional natural resource priorities at RSDP's May 2016 Statewide Coordinating Committee meeting.
Clarke has also heard considerable dialogue around Minnesota’s new buffer law. As described by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the law “establishes new perennial vegetation buffers of up to 50 feet along rivers, streams and ditches that will help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment.”
“The cultures, the norms, the economies, and the way each region views their natural resources varies so much,” Clarke said, “but it’s really awesome to be able to see the larger scope and how each workgroup and each board incorporates these into the mission of the Partnerships.”
One of Clarke’s innovative ideas for cross-pollinating across natural resource players and projects was developing RSDP Connections, a natural resources webinar series. Past webinars have addressed everything from water to pollinators, and engaged a diverse array of University of Minnesota and community natural resource experts. For those unable to join the webinars live, Clarke created a playlist on RSDP’s YouTube channel housing the complete series.
“I hope these webinars can be used as a center of communication to build connections and also build awareness of what RSDP does,” Clarke said. “The goal is to educate people about what the University is doing, finding opportunities for collaboration, plus sharing and celebrating what each region is doing on-the-ground.”
RSDP’s natural resource webinar series, RSDP Connections, connects University and community members engaged in natural resource issues.
In the words of Statewide Director Draeger, “Rose has been innovative in setting up a webinar series that serves all of the Partnership natural resources work groups, and she shows her dedication to this work by attending many of the work group meetings in person.”
Clarke takes RSDP’s role in facilitating connections among community and University groups seriously. “It’s really, really important to have people who can bridge these different groups and bring resources to the people who can use it. Here in Crookston one of the challenges is making sure people know what’s happening, communicating with the whole community; I feel like that’s really important on the broader scale, too.”
As a recent graduate, Clarke observed, “It’s funny having been in a university setting for a long time and now working in the community. The two demographics are pretty far apart. ... Groups like RSDP are really important to [making those connections].”
Forging connections requires a specific skill set, which has not gone unnoticed by Clarke’s RSDP colleagues. “Rose is exceptionally skilled at identifying common goals and opportunities, while also building the bridges needed to collaborate,” said Central RSDP Executive Director Molly Zins. “This serves the RSDP boards and work groups really well in our effort to further the reach of natural resources and sustainable systems projects across the state.”
In November 2016, Clarke will lead a portion of the RSDP’s quarterly statewide meeting, focusing on natural resource projects and issues. The meeting, which will take place in Walter Library on the Minneapolis campus, will also feature a visit from University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler and time with RSDP’s Council of Deans from the Colleges of Extension, Design, and Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences.
Getting things done
In her role with RSDP, Clarke works with staff and board members who range from fellow millennials to long-term RSDP staff to retired executives. Most inspiring to Clarke is that collectively, we get things done. “I really admire the openness to change and the dedication to action,” Clarke said. “In the Partnerships, we make things happen within days, a week, a season. It’s very inspiring!”
I think everyone at RSDP would agree we’ve all been inspired by Rose, too. And the best news? We recently learned that Rose will stay on with RSDP for another year, building on the connections and work she has cultivated this initial year.