Of the many issues threatening our world right now, scientists urge that climate change demands immediate attention, swift action, and strong leadership. To address this issue and more, two former Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy and Lee M. Thomas, gathered for a virtual conversation hosted by the Program for Leadership and Character, The Graduate Programs in Sustainability, and The Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability. Over 450 people attended the online discussion on November 10.

Gina McCarthy served as EPA administrator under the Obama administration, after serving as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Her top priorities were understanding and counteracting climate change, improving air quality, and increasing the credibility of the EPA in the public. Lee Thomas served as EPA Administrator under the Reagan administration and headed efforts to launch the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Under his leadership, Congress reauthorized the Superfund law, Resources Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Clean Water Act.

The conversation was moderated by Dr. Stan Meiburg, Director of The Master of Arts in Sustainability Program, and former EPA Acting Deputy Administrator from 2014 to 2017. Meiburg posed questions regarding some of our most pressing environmental issues. McCarthy and Thomas ranked protecting America’s bodies of water and supplying clean water to communities among the highest priorities. They also discussed the crisis of leadership in the environmental sector and elaborated on their personal leadership styles. “It’s about communication,” McCarthy said. “You have passionate people on every side of an issue that want you to agree with them. You have to form relationships…so they understand you’re being honest with them.”

The Program for Leadership and Character and The Sustainability Graduate Programs continue to partner on curricular and co-curricular projects. This fall, Dr. Michael Lamb, Executive Director of the Program for Leadership and Character, gave a guest lecture on leadership in Meiburg’s “Applied Sustainability” graduate course. This coming spring, Dr. Elizabeth Whiting Pierce, Assistant Director of Leadership and Character for the Professional Schools, will teach a course on professional and leadership skills in the realm of sustainability.

To watch learn more about Wake Forest The Sustainability Graduate Programs and view the entire conversation with McCarthy and Thomas, click here.