Geri Unger, former director of education and research at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, has been named the executive director of SCB.
Her first day with SCB is 15 July. Read our Q&A with Geri to get to know SCB's third ever executive director.
Your official start date is still a few weeks off, but what are your initial impressions of SCB?
I see the potential of SCB to serve the broader conservation community through membership services and public programs including policy development and inclusive conversations internationally. The staff is great, board is dedicated and SCB is poised to take off to provide more depth to members and collaborative partnerships with other organizations.
What about this job makes it right for you right now?
Coming to SCB I see a challenge, learning new skills and engaging with new audiences, ideas and actions in conservation, ecology, resilience of systems and educating new generations to seek solutions to complex resource problems. I’ve been interested in working internationally again and working with SCB will afford me these opportunities. I enjoy building organizational capacity, learning and knowledge communities and SCB presents this opportunity. I’m excited about working with individuals in higher education, academic publishing, and conservation policy with diverse backgrounds.
What can you draw on from your experiences working for the Cleveland Botanical Gardens that can guide you in your new leadership role at SCB?
They are very different organizations, however I will take my skills in mentoring staff, organizational development, grantwriting and partnership building along to SCB.
What do you expect will be the biggest differences between your previous job as the Director of Education & Research at the Botanical Gardens and your new job as the Executive Director of SCB?
Working directly with the Board of Governors, managing diverse interests and prioritizing the needs of the entire organization. It will be a challenge to diversify the ability of SCB to raise funds and develop membership.
Do you envision your role as executive director more as executing the board’s ideas or advising the board on where SCB should be heading based on your professional experiences in the non-profit world (or both)?
I think that the ED needs to facilitate the discussion with the board to arrive at a palette of ideas and strategies that the board brings to the table as well as outside ideas that affect the conservation community and professionals. So the answer is both.
It might be too soon to answer this question, but from the outside looking in, what do you see as the biggest challenge(s) facing SCB?
I think that the niche that SCB fills is very defined and that there are many conservation organizations in the field. SCB will need to continue to distinguish itself as an organization, provide benefits to members and seek new members to strengthen its impact and reach internationally.
Soon you will attend your first International Congress for Conservation Biology. What are your expectations for the meeting and is there one thing in particular that you’re looking forward to?
I’m excited to meet SCB members, listening to their work and aspirations, and understanding the culture of SCB.
Do you have a scientific background?
Yes, once an ecologist, always an ecologist. My background is in environmental biology, and systems ecology, and most recently I’ve been involved in setting up field work to measure ecosystem services on restoration of vacant properties in the Great Lakes cities.
What about your career do find most rewarding and why?
Working with dedicated individuals and building staff and organizational capacity that can address and solve multifaceted problems. There is no way that we can solve complex environmental issues in a vacuum or within one laboratory or office, or with one individual. I find that developing human capacity to understand, cross-boundaries, and develop solutions very rewarding.
What have you found most challenging and why?
Family work balance issues, especially when my children were younger.
Is there a particular conservation-related issue that is especially important to you?
I am very interested in measuring ecosystem services, fragmentation, restoration of damaged systems including urban areas, and conservation psychology. I think that it is important to bring new perspectives into the field of conservation, from many nations and cultures, couch policy in scientific pursuit and connect the field of conservation to the daily lives of people.
Favorite non-work related activity?
Bicycling, reading, hiking, visiting with family and friends, travel. I like to bake and eat great food.
Favorite place in the world?
Don’t want to play favorites now!
Do you have a favorite book and author?
I usually read a broad swath of non-fiction and fiction. I just recently re-read Silent Spring and Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson, in preparation for a lecture. I’m currently reading Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, a non-fiction work by Timothy Egan about the life of Edward Curtis. Now for a novel…The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Do you have a conservation hero?
I’m not usually given to hero-worship, but I am inspired by the work of Rachel Carson and Wangari Maathai.
You're on "The Voice." What song do you sing to win the competition?
When folks ask me this question I immediately go blank. Maybe Stevie Nicks’ Landslide.
You have one dance in front SCB members. What's your song?
How about choreographing an interpretative dance with SCB staff? Dance can be a group activity.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m looking forward to working with the staff, board and members of SCB.