CNC Celebrates Three New Graduates

Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership

We live in an era of polarization and mistrust – and environmental challenges. The need for informed understanding and candid, empathetic dialogue is more pressing than ever before. Environmental issues can be particularly complex and potentially contentious. It takes collaboration and connection to find shared solutions.

More than 20 years ago, an advisory committee came together to forge a new way to address environmental issues in Georgia. The idea was to build a collaborative network of knowledgeable leaders – people from all sectors and every region of the state – to create solutions as an alternative to divisive debates and lawsuits. From that inspiration, the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) was born in 2001. At the core of the IGEL mission is an immersive leadership development program: a rigorous, year-long experience that brings together a diverse group of leaders to explore and grow together. Over the years, IGEL classes have grown in diversity, and, in turn, the network has expanded and diversified. Our leaders are united by one common trait: a love for the environment and natural resources that make Georgia unique.

Each year 30+ Georgia leaders are chosen in a competitive application process to form an IGEL class. The core program fosters a culture of curiosity, candor, and action. Three Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) leaders were selected for the IGEL Class of 2022: Clarence Jackson, CNC Board Chair; John Mulcahy, CNC Board Secretary; and Alicia Thompson, Senior Director of Learning and Engagement. In addition to those previously named, CNC leadership now includes nine IGEL graduates: Jim Stokes (’03), Helen Tapp (’03), Rick Hirsekorn (’04), Max Zygmont (’17), Aaron Mitchell (’18), and Nick DiLuzio (’19).

After graduation, alumni put their new skills and training to work addressing environmental challenges, often hand-in-hand with fellow IGEL-ians.


“I am proud, and deeply grateful, to be an IGEL graduate. The experience not only showcases the excellent work Georgia is doing collaboratively across the state’s regions and sectors but also fosters a fantastic network of colleagues to keep this critical work going. We get to really know one another, to understand each other as people and as professionals, and it creates some deep bonds. For me, the program reinforced the key role environmental education plays in our future as a society and challenges me to think creatively about how CNC can work with other leaders and partners to best empower our community to be stewards of our environment.”

– Alicia Thompson, Senior Director of Learning and Engagement, Chattahoochee Nature Center


“IGEL has created a fantastic forum for leaders in our State to both learn about and be better equipped to address the environmental and social issues that we face as Georgia continues to develop. During our five sessions, we visited urban centers, coastal wetlands, working forests, mountain streams, and agricultural lands. We engaged with experts and those impacted by development and resource use. My experience has made me more optimistic about our ability to be good stewards of our State.”

– John Mulcahy, VP of Sustainability, Georgia Pacific and CNC Board Secretary


“I’ve worked with and around a lot of IGEL graduates and have always heard how special it was. They spoke of an experience that seemed too good to be true. They talked about life-long relationships they form; of IGEL sessions that, I’ll have to admit, seemed so amazing they must have been made up. When I told them, one by one, that I was accepted and would be in the next class, they all told me how much I would get out of it and how it would change me for the better. It all just seemed like some weird and fanciful society they had all agreed to boast about. I couldn’t understand how IGEL, a Georgia-based program, could really be such an influential and progressive experience. Along my 25 years of professional experience, I’ve more recently begun working within the environmental sustainability area and didn’t think Georgia was leading, in any way, in environmental sustainability. Even when I was accepted into the 2022 class, I still felt that it was just another leadership program, especially focused on environmental sustainability. I attended the 20th IGEL anniversary, hosted at Chattahoochee Nature Center, where Rob Williams (IGEL ’17), Connie Wiggins (IGEL ’02), Mark Berry (IGEL ’17), and Casey Cox (IGEL ’16) reflected on the Past, Present, and Future of IGEL. After hearing that discussion, I knew I was going to be part of something special over the next year. All of my expectations were exceeded, 10-fold. I learned so much and formed some of the deepest connections in my life if just one year. I learned about the importance of partnerships and the value of courageous leadership and received so many other lessons over just one year, and I am so excited, even more than ever, to continue this journey of environmental sustainability leadership.”

– Clarence Jackson, Sr. Director Sustainable Supply Chain and Business Operations, Cox Enterprises, and CNC Board President