Position: Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy, SC
I do not think I would have been afforded this opportunity without the experience in program, and that piece of paper that says Duke University on it.”
Dale Threatt-Taylor DEL-MEM’11 had just been promoted to director of the Wake County (N.C.) Soil and Water Conservation District in 2008, when she felt challenged to expand her skills.
“I wanted to see what else was out there beyond what I was focusing on,” she said. “When I saw the Duke curriculum, and what I would be exposed to and challenged with, I just said ‘I gotta go for this.’ It fit me like a glove.”
Threatt-Taylor, who earlier this year was named executive director of The Nature Conservacy’s South Carolina chapter, said her biggest takeaway from the DEL-MEM program was learning to look at environmental work through a broader perspective.
“When you’re in the DEL program, you’re exposed to what everybody else has experienced and what they know,” she said. “That was a bonus to the education—to listen and talk and create partners and friends across the U.S. and the world.”
Threatt-Taylor was also empowered to amplify the word of conservation and the many stakeholders affected by it. Along the way, she earned the nickname “conservation evangelist” and worked to make sure that everyone had a voice at the table.
“There are no unimportant partners, everybody—every partner, landowner, government official—can be an asset and can contribute to the solutions that we’re trying to solve in a global or local scale,” said Threatt-Taylor.
As the first African American state director for The Nature Conservancy, she serves as the chief executive and conservation strategist for its South Carolina chapter. Threatt-Taylor credits the DEL-MEM program for opening the door to one of the largest environmental organizations in the world.
“I do not think I would have been afforded this opportunity without the experience in program, and that piece of paper that says Duke University on it.”
Position: Master Chief, Marine Science Technician, U.S. Coast Guard
The DEL-MEM program gave me the tools, the education, the network and the confidence necessary to successfully transition from the military into my next career.”
As Trevor Hughes DEL-MEM’19 started thinking about the end of his U.S. Coast Guard career, he wanted to prepare himself for a future outside the military.
“Retirement can be pretty intimidating and I wanted to take the next step in my development to ensure that not only was the transition smooth, but that it was also an upward trajectory,” he said.
Hughes, who was promoted to master chief marine science technician after graduation, chose the DEL-MEM program because it appealed to his continued desire to grow as a leader in the military while also providing access to a world-class Duke education.
Hughes’ background primarily focused on environmental response and disaster recovery—having worked on the decontamination of Lower Manhattan after 9/11 and cleanup efforts after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The program challenged him to grow outside his comfort zone.
He said that learning from others in the program was greatly valuable. With three kids at home and a demanding career, he also found comfort in seeing his classmates persevere through personal and career changes.
“Life didn’t stop for my cohort, like it didn’t stop for me,” he said. “That kept me from feeling isolated as a working professional and a father.”
As one of only 10 master chief marine science technicians in the nation, Hughes is responsible for ensuring regulatory compliance of environmental protection regulations along the Puget Sound region in the Pacific Northwest.
In his 17th year in the Coast Guard, Hughes plans to continue mentoring the next generation to ensure that they understand the systemwide importance of what they do.
“The DEL-MEM program gave me the tools, the education, the network and the confidence necessary to successfully transition from the military into my next career.”
Position: Director of Federal Affairs at General Motors
My colleagues in the program and I were inspired to find ways to bring about change to challenges, such as climate change, on whatever scale in whatever our sphere of influence may be.”
Cherie Wilson DEL-MEM’15 was still a relatively new mom working full-time at an environmental consulting firm in Washington, D.C., when she began looking at master’s programs.
“I needed to find a program that would allow me to maintain my day-to-day life and have the flexibility to accommodate the pretty demanding schedule that I had,” she said.
The Duke Environmental Leadership program fulfilled her need—and more.
“I loved the live online platform, which made me feel like I wasn’t missing the classroom experience,” Wilson said. “And the place-based sessions really allowed for bonding within the cohort.
“The program’s unique leadership module was like having amazing therapy sessions, where we all had a chance to unload and talk about challenges in the workplace, and how to get through them while keeping our eyes on the prize.”
Wilson, who now serves as director of federal affairs at General Motors, said that those lessons were priceless.
“It was really a value-add to the program because everyone came in with very different backgrounds and perspectives and interests,” she said. “You really got to see the diversity of the field. People were able to bring their real-life experiences in the workplace and that really made for rich discussion. That helped strengthen the work in the classroom.”
Wilson joined GM soon after graduation in a role primarily responsible for advocating at the federal policy level on behalf of the company’s financial services arm, GM Financial.
But, as the leadership training in the DEL-MEM program taught her, she was able to leverage her passion and influence to broaden the scope of her role to include sustainability advocacy.
“My colleagues in the program and I were inspired to find ways to bring about change to challenges, such as climate change, on whatever scale in whatever our sphere of influence may be.”
Position: Director, Water Finance Center at U.S. EPA
After I graduated, I used all the research that I had done, and all the ideas I developed, and really put them into action ... I believe it’s what helped me get to where I am now.”
For more than a decade, Sonia Brubaker, DEL-MEM’14 has worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure that the public has access to sustainable sources of safe drinking water.
Not long into her time at the EPA, she found that an integral part of that mission is communicating the value of water—which would go on to be the focus of her DEL-MEM master’s project.
“It’s really expensive and people often don’t understand what it takes to get water in your faucet,” Brubaker said. “Getting people to understand what they’re paying for—and why it’s important—is a big part of the job.”
Brubaker said that what she learned through the DEL-MEM program led her in 2018 to become the director of the EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center, which helps local leaders make informed water infrastructure decisions.
“After I graduated, I used all the research that I had done, and all the ideas I developed, and really put them into action,” she said. “I believe it’s what helped me get to where I am now.”
Brubaker said that the emphasis on leadership in the DEL-MEM program was a strong complement to her Duke education, and something she still relies on.
“It allowed us to discuss how we inspire people, how we get these new ideas out there to make a change in the world,” she said.
Brubaker added that an unexpected benefit of the DEL-MEM program was making lasting friendships.
“It was great to go through it with other people who were also working full-time, had a family and had other stuff going on,” she said. “I found that it was a great way to meet people who had similar goals—but also brought different perspectives on the world. It was eye-opening to work so closely with them for two years and learn from their experience.”
Position: Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park
Classmates were in different lines of work—in the public and private sectors—and most of them were further advanced in life and career, so that was an enhancer."
Cam Sholly, DEL-MEM’10 worked his way up the National Park Service (NPS) ranks to become Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent in 2018. Along the way, he decided to search for an opportunity to broaden his environmental experience. The DEL-MEM program caught his attention.
“One of the top-rated schools in the country offering a program conducive to people working full-time was one of the most attractive—if not the most attractive—part of it,” Sholly said.
“It’s just an outstanding program and I highly recommend it around the country. No matter where you are in life, it can be very enriching. Even if you have a family, and you’ve got a busy job, it’s still something you can fit in and get something real substantive out of.”
Sholly said he also benefitted from the real-world experience other members of his cohort brought to the program.
“Classmates were in different lines of work—in the public and private sectors—and most of them were further advanced in life and career, so that was an enhancer,” he said.
After graduation, Sholly served as an associate director for the NPS and as the NPS Northwest regional director, overseeing 61 parks in 13 different states.
At Yellowstone, where he began his NPS career in 1990, Sholly is charged with managing the largest national park operation in the world with 800 employees and about 4 million visitors each year.
Sholly credits a combination of experiences and education for his career growth.
“You don’t necessarily come across a decision and think, ‘Hey, I learned that at Duke,’“ he said. “But the experience as a whole exposed me to a lot of different perspectives that I didn’t have earlier in my career. All together that continues to help advance sound decision making for me and hopefully anyone else who attends the program.”
The Duke Environmental Leadership Master of Environmental Management (DEL-MEM) provides mid-career working professionals with the real-world, interdisciplinary skills and knowledge needed to accelerate their leadership journey and advance their careers.
Students reap the benefits of both online and face-to-face learning models to engage in challenging coursework, develop core leadership skills and foster lasting relationships with their professors and peers.