Gail Hesse

Gail Hesse 2014Inspired by Connections to Land, MSES Grad Now Directs NWF Great Lakes Water Program

Gail Hesse’s motivation to study the environment came from the long-distance bicycle trips she took as a student. The connection she felt to the landscape caught her attention. Those trips encouraged her to forge ahead academically as she earned her bachelor’s degree in geography and her master’s degree in environmental studies at Ohio University.

A 1988 graduate of the Master of Science in Environmental Studies program, Hesse is the former executive director of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission. The commission is a collective of state government agencies including the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the departments of agriculture, health, transportation and developmental services. The commission connects local governments on watershed issues and funds research and projects that impact the lake.

Hesse will continue her work on Lake Erie issues when she enters the next chapter of her career as director of the Great Lakes Water Program at the National Wildlife Federation.  Hesse’s position at the NWF is newly created, and she’ll focus on a wide variety of Great Lakes issues such as the harmful algal blooms plaguing Lake Erie.

The NWF hosts conservation and education initiatives nationally — many are familiar with Ranger Rick, their children’s outdoor education program. The federation has evolved into a more comprehensive organization that addresses all environmental issues, especially those around water.

Mike Shriberg, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center, is excited to have Hesse on the NWF team.

“Gail Hesse is a strong advocate for Great Lakes protection and restoration and we are thrilled that she is joining our team,” Shriberg said in a press release. “Gail has the experience, energy, passion, and knowledge to advance solutions that will make a difference for people, communities, fish and wildlife.”

Hesse is equally excited to build her new position at the NWF.

“The diversity of skills I’ve gained and unique content areas I’ve worked on have made a big difference in getting me to this point in my career,” Hesse said. “In environmental professions, you develop expertise in very technical areas, but I’ve been lucky enough to study and work in lots of depth in lots of areas.”

The MSES program prepared Hesse for work with a variety of projects and disciplines by exposing her to many different topics and ideas.  “Working with a wide variety of programs has been a theme throughout the arc of my career,” she said. “The ability to make connections has been an invaluable skill.”

Hesse said the MSES program also helped her develop skills in governance and collective decision-making. Her abilities in this area were amplified by her volunteer work with Hostelling International, a nonprofit organization that coordinates hostel accommodations around the world. Hesse started with the organization as a bicycle trip leader, leading trips in the U.S. and Europe. As she became interested in nonprofit governance, she got involved with the group’s local chapter in Columbus and eventually became president of the national board of directors of Hostelling International-USA. She went on to become an internationally elected board member of the organization’s international board.

Throughout her career, Hesse’s bicycle trips as a student have inspired her, and she attributes much of her success and respect for the environment to the deep connection she felt to the land as she cycled on different roads and trails.

“On those bicycle trips you understand the feel of every mile, in all senses of that phrase,” she said. “I think that that had a very significant impact on me. It coupled nicely with my academic career.”


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