Kristi L. Kremers, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota
Alexander S. Liepins, Teaching and Learning Services, McGill University
Abigail M. York, Julie Ann Wigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University

Today we face rapidly changing environments that increasingly require us to reinvent ourselves. The more dramatic the changes in our environment, the less we can rely on past patterns, and the more we need to learn to pay attention and tune in to emerging future opportunities.


Given the grand environmental and societal changes we face, graduate student leadership development is an area of great opportunity that allows for the cultivation of the next generation of sustainability leaders. This important leadership development work is often seen as either a natural byproduct of higher education or a non-essential add-on. Furthermore, whereas leadership development for undergraduates, or within the realm of organizational development, is nothing new, leadership development for graduate students remains underexplored, especially when coupled with the goals and impacts of scientists and sustainability.

As colleges and universities develop the scientist-leaders of the future, an awareness of how to navigate the complex social and environmental challenges that require transdisciplinary knowledge and creativity is needed. In the scientific disciplines, there is acknowledgement that leadership training is needed to ensure the success of research projects, but training must also evolve to lead to outcomes that enhance career advancement and collective action (Kvaskoff & McKay, 2014; Meyer et al., 2016). However, there are few programs that offer scientists leadership training and fewer designed to help scientists-in-training develop the capacity to address wicked problems; communicate with different audiences; and co-create the future with communities, businesses, and legal structures that can have the most sustainable impact.

In response, this book seeks to provide a context for the need for leadership programs within graduate education and the specific practices that can address the gaps between transforming knowledge into action and action into impact. In addition to chapters that address research and theory, this book specifically focuses on innovative practices and models that can be replicated by organizations and institutions.

Part One highlights program models that provide inspiring best practices and lessons learned along the way of developing graduate leadership sustainability programs. Part Two emphasizes transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to graduate leadership programs with a sustainability focus. Finally, Part Three examines how to move forward with new constructs to co-create a sustainable future through the development of change agents. In the concluding chapter, a number of competencies that are endorsed as essential to this work are set forth.

While the focus of this book is on graduate-level leadership development, the lessons contained within can also apply to both undergraduate and faculty leadership development. We hope that whether you are a faculty member, administrator, student, or practitioner who is committed to a more sustainable and just world that you will find insights and concrete action steps on how we can move forward together.


Kvaskoff, M., & McKay, S. D. (2014). Education: Scientists need leadership training. Nature, 506(7487), 159.

Meyer, S. R., Levesque, V. R., Bieluch, K. H., Johnson, M. L., McGreavy, B., Dreyer, S., & Smith, H. (2016). Sustainability science graduate students as boundary spanners. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 6(2), 344-353.


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Developing Change Agents Copyright © 2019 by Individual Authors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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