Everyone’s got a story

Everyone Has a Story

No matter how prestigious the university or gifted the professors, some of the most important lessons a university student learns take place outside the lecture hall.

As a student in the legal studies department at UC Berkeley, Susan Kamprath lived in a co-operative residence unit on campus, and experienced her career-defining moment at a national co-op conference.

“There were all different kinds of people there who had made decisions about what they were going to do with their professional lives that were really in keeping with their values, their politics, and their ideas about who they wanted to be in the world. A light went on for me,” says Kamprath. “Prior to that I’d thought, ‘You do your social activities here, and your politics here, and then you go to work.’ It was the first time it occurred to me that those things can actually come together, that your job could reflect your beliefs.”

After graduation, Kamprath put her beliefs in action by working on the co-op housing staff, at a community YMCA in Berkeley, and at the East Bay Conservation Corps in Oakland, before joining Earth Island Institute (EII) as director of project support in 1997. Her job includes sifting through the 25 to 30 project applications she receives annually to find those projects that best exemplify the mission and goals of EII. Kamprath screens the applicants not only for feasibility of their goals, but also for the motivation, passion, and drive of the project director—elements she’s identified as critical to the success of an environmental organization. Once the board of directors has accepted a project, Kamprath then helps the project directors to guide their organizations to maximum effect. Kamprath facilitates the directors’ access to resources, while acknowledging that ultimately the impetus for success must come from the project directors themselves. To this end, Kamprath organized the first Green Action Summit in October of 2003. The Summit summoned leaders from all the projects to one location, where they could network with fellow environmentalists and benefit from one another’s experience.

“One of our challenges is that at any given moment, we have projects working literally all over the world, and at a pretty dramatic range of organizational maturity, experience, and scope. It’s a challenge as a service provider to meet all those needs, but it’s also a tremendous resource,” says Kamprath, who recognizes that her expertise does not have to be all-encompassing. “Within our community, there is probably someone who is an expert in any given area. The idea of the Summit was to bring together as many projects as possible to experience each other, to build relationships with each other, and to establish a stronger sense of community.”

More than 70 people attended the two-day conference, benefiting from seminars on such topics as public relations, using the internet for fundraising and organizing, and media relations.

“The Summit gave me the chance to talk to other EII project directors on a variety of topics that relate to me and the work UniversitÁrea Protegida is doing down in Nicaragua,” says Olin Cohan, director of one of Earth Island’s newest projects. “It provided us with the structure to hit on a lot of the important parts of international environmental work, while still giving us plenty of time to get to know each other personally. Being new to the Earth Island community, I came out of the Summit feeling inspired to continue to fight for what we believe in.”

As the daughter of public school teachers, Kamprath was raised with a respect for education, and has recently returned to Sonoma State University to pursue her MA in Organization Development, which she hopes to have completed by May 2004. In addition to her studies and work schedule, Kamprath continues to volunteer at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, where for the past 11 years she has helped rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured marine mammals for release to the wild. “The work is such a great counterbalance to my professional life, which is largely three steps removed from the action,” says Kamprath. “The experience of working with the animals is so immediate. It’s about this one animal for whom I can make a difference today.” And as Kamprath is well aware, experience is one of the best teachers of all.

—Audrey Webb

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