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By Jennifer Eberbach

Paragon Leadership International’s recent “Environment & Energy Epprentice Experience” was a one-day leadership-training program where teams brainstormed solutions to challenges facing the energy industry and environmental sustainability programs. Paragon’s training programs aim to teach leadership skills and support the individual growth of participants, however, by focusing on real challenges facing cities and organizations, Epprentice Experiences also create opportunities to implement team members’ solutions and ideas in the real world, and inspire action well after the day’s exercise is done.

Four real-world challenges were posed to teams by Michigan non-profits, including the Michigan Municipal League in collaboration with the city of Linden, Michigan; WARM Training Center (a non-profit organization with expertise in energy conservation, green building, and sustainable development); and The Michigan Wind Institute in collaboration with Global Wind Systems. Team members included a mixture of young and experienced professionals, as well as university and high school students. Next Energy in Detroit sponsored the October 15, 2009 event.

City of Farmington Hills participants Diane Ring, Janice Krupic, and Nate Geinzer.

After a day of brainstorming, teams presented their solutions to a panel of judges that selected the best idea of the day. The winning team produced a presentation about how Facebook can be used to “educate people how to find employment in the wind energy industry.” Gilbert Borman, the executive director of the Michigan Wind Institute co-authored the winning challenge with CEO of Global Wind Systems Chris Long.

Winning team member Reema Gupta, an operations analyst at DTE Energy’s Performance Center, explains that her team contemplated “how do we reach out to high school students, recent college grads, or professionals who want to go into wind energy? We wanted to produce some kind of communication tool, where young entrepreneurs can get connected with wind energy associations,” she says. Gupta concludes that Facebook is a low cost, yet effective way for “young people to advertise themselves and organizations to come in and find employees.”

The League’s Associate General Counsel Sue Jeffers (now retired) co-authored two challenges, along with Linden City Manager Christopher Wren. Both challenges asked teams to brainstorm ways that social marketing and communications technology can be utilized to improve recycling practices in Linden. Jeffers also participated as one of the panel judges and thinks “there definitely are some components of each of the presentations that we’d be able to use.”

Two teams of high school students from Novi High School and Detroit International Academy report that they are taking their ideas about recycling in schools back home with them in order to improve their schools’ recycling programs in the future. Epprentice Experience Leader Diane Ring predicts a sustaining impact on the young leaders and explains, “We tied the project back into their world, so that they could see that they can influence their world, and walk back in with a plan of action for their school.”

WARM Training Center, a non-profit dedicated to education, developing skills, providing access to resources, advocacy, and acting as a catalyst for individual and community change, challenged teams to create a “social media campaign that attracts traffic to WARM’s website, increases the overall visibility of WARM’s work, and inspires ‘Eco Evangelists’ for WARM,” according to project authors Bob Chapman, Laurie Diener, Jacob Corvidae, and Alicia Miller.

Paragon’s training programs teach leadership skills and support the individual growth of participants.

A handful of team members shared their feedback about Paragon’s training at a reception at the Capitol in Lansing. Participants from the “Environment & Energy Epprentice Experience” and Paragon’s earlier “Food Epprentice Experience” were in attendance, as well as leaders in energy and elected officials stopping through to share their insight with emerging leaders. Representatives from the professional teams and each of the high schools spoke about how they benefitted from the leadership training experience. Collectively, participants agreed that the one-day event was a constructive use of their time, and they particularly enjoyed working together with people from many different backgrounds and levels of experience and exposure to environmental and energy-related issues.

Epprentice participant Nate Geinzer, the assistant city manager in Farmington Hills, gives the advice, “Don’t be afraid to step outside” to get ideas from all different types of people—anyone in any field who is looking for opportunities to share workable ideas. Aside from strengthening his own personal leadership skills, he likes the format of the Epprentice Experience as an implementable strategy in its own right. “In Farmington Hills, we are going to be moving forward in the next couple of months on a visioning process for the community. I could see this type of model working during this process. Getting people together and asking them to focus on one of the challenges we are facing for the future, as budgets decline, will help us figure out how to do our jobs better,” he says.

Gupta agrees with Geinzer that one of the best parts of the Epprentice Experience “was that we had so many different types of people—that added value to it. The one thing that we all had in common was the vision and the passion. We’ve all been able to envision a future where we would be more energy efficient, use renewable resources, and we would be more globally independent, as the state of Michigan or as the whole country,” she says. Gupta found the training “really encouraging” as an emerging young leader, and particularly appreciated opportunities to get feedback from her teammates on her performance.

Paragon’s aim is not only to support the individual leadership skills of Epprentice Experience participants, but also to produce workable solutions that can actually be implemented in real world situations. “We ask each non-profit to give us a challenge that’s real to them, so that they would be able to use the outcome if they felt it was applicable—it would go forward into implementation and usability for the organization,” Ring concludes.

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Jennifer Eberbach is a freelance journalist and professional copywriter. You may contact her at 734-929-2964 or Visit her online at



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