Political Science ’65, WRM ’66, Law ’69
With an undergraduate degree in political science, a master’s in Water Resource Management (WRM), and a law degree, all from UW-Madison, Lew Posekany is, as he likes to call himself, a triple Badger. In fact, Posekany grew up in the Badger State, spending his early days at a cabin in Spooner, Wisconsin, learning about the outdoors and hunting and fishing with his father, a fisheries biologist, and his Conservation Department (DNR) colleague, Harold “Bud” Jordahl.
Although Posekany knew Jordahl as just a family friend, Jordahl would go on to become a leader in the environmental movement. And while Posekany chose a slightly different path, working in legal and senior management for a number of energy companies around the world, he too became an environmental leader in Wisconsin, helping to launch several initiatives as a part of the Nelson Institute Outreach Committee.
As the Chair of the Nelson Institute Outreach Committee, Posekany was a big proponent of community outreach. He believed that connecting with the community was the best way to promote the Institute’s work, so he worked on a number of initiatives that would expand that idea, helping to launch the very first Earth Day Conference and the very first Nelson Institute alumni event, Rendezvous on the Terrace.
“Serving on the Outreach Committee was a great experience,” Posekany said. “I got recruited to the Board of Visitors by Tom Yuill and Lori Rappe. Tom and Lori wanted me to help build better connections between the Institute and the Business and Law Schools, as well as help with organizational development, which I had done a lot of in my working years.”
During his time on the Board, Posekany did just that. Serving several terms, Posekany worked with Institute Directors and leaders such as Tom Yuill, Erhard Joeres, Frances Westley, Louis Gilbert, and Gregg Mitman, to promote the Institute’s work, while giving fellow WRM and Nelson Institute alumni the chance to connect, collaborate, and create change.
In addition to his alumni work, Posekany also worked with the Board of Visitors and his friend, previous Assistant Director for Community and Alumni Relations at the Nelson Institute, Steve Pomplun, on the very first Earth Day Conference.
Celebrating its 14th year in April 2020, the Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference is a one-day event that brings scientists, authors, innovators, leaders, and community members from around the world together to discuss some of the planet’s biggest environmental challenges as well as some of the most inspiring and innovative solutions. Past Earth Day Conference speakers include marine conservation advocate and filmmaker, Céline Cousteau, astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson, and renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall.
“I don’t recall whose idea Earth Day was initially, but it seemed to make sense in light of the renaming of the Institute,” Posekany said of the first event. “Steve Pomplun developed the concept with input from the Outreach Committee and others and with initial financial support from MG&E [Madison Gas and Electric] and others. The event was a success and has improved ever since.”
In addition to their collaboration on Earth Day, Posekany said he also worked closely with Pomplun on initiatives that would communicate the importance of the Institute and its ability to bring people together to solve environmental problems and create positive change. In particular, Posekany often met with Wisconsin political and business leaders to discuss the Institute’s work and its benefit to the state and the country.
“The goal wasn’t to persuade anyone of anything political,” Posekany said. “But to make a positive and credible impression of the Institute as a problem-solving resource to give them something to think about down the road and hopefully create a positive overall value impression.”
In fact, one of the benefits he always shared was the Institute’s ability to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among its faculty while also teaching this skill to its students. As one of the earliest graduates of the UW-Madison Water Resources Management program, which is now a part of the Nelson Institute, Posekany had learned the power of interdisciplinary collaboration and outreach. After graduating and working in business and law for several decades, Posekany said he really began to appreciate the lessons he learned about teamwork, community, and interdisciplinary collaboration.
“It’s a well-documented fact in the business world that many activities can be best accomplished by groups of people from an appropriate selection of disciplines that are trained in teamwork with clear expectations that they will perform that way,” Posekany said. “Learning this as a student gave me a big advantage. I knew what interdisciplinary collaboration looked like and how to do it and that gave me a step up over the other guys who hadn’t experienced this.
“To me, the interdisciplinarity that started with WRM evolved into projects like leading a team of American, Argentine, and Colombian engineers, financial experts, indigenous cultural experts, environmentalists, and energy marketers to compete for a contract to develop, install and manage a modern dispatching system for the Colombian electric grid, which serves largely industrial markets with generators powered by hydro, coal and natural gas with some from FARC-controlled areas.”
For Posekany, the WRM and Nelson Institute programs continue to be prime example of this collaborative model and, while his days on the Nelson Institute Board of Visitors are in the past, Posekany continues to support the collaborative efforts of the Institute as he believes it will be essential to the success of students, and the success of larger global environmental movements.
Posekany said, “What is essential is to have some organized vehicle to promote cross-campus, interdisciplinary collaboration on environment-related matters, so that people with solid qualifications as well as some level of charismatic skills are addressing important issues and projects.”