Marcelina Lekawska, a University of St. Andrews Laidlaw Scholar, on educating youth on nature conservation and developing an inclusive leadership style.
Research title:Blue carbon as a nature-based solution for climate change; research, policy and citizen engagement within a UK and Scottish context
Through a mix of fieldwork, lab work and communication with researchers and government officials I studied the potential for climate change resilience that blue carbon, specifically saltmarsh habitats, provide; and to what extent this is currently accounted for within policy at a UK and Scottish level. Blue carbon fits into the nature-based solutions approach of the Scottish government to address climate change, making this an important area of study. My knowledge as a Sustainable Development student made me well equipped to study the translation of research into policy. Professor Austin, my project supervisor, collaborates with the Scottish government and advises Marine Scotland on matters of blue carbon science and policy. With his support, my work integrated with the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum.
The second objective of my research was youth education. I translated knowledge on the importance and state of blue carbon into videos, infographics and science experiments for youth. With these tools children could learn about the importance of this resource. Through a partnership with the Falkirk Council, I was able to gain advice on the content of these resources. Youth education is important because a policy regarding natural habitats, such as blue carbon, is more likely to be successful if supported by citizens. This also resonates with COP26, as Article 6 of the Paris Agreement recognizes the importance of education as a means of delivering impact.
Overall, my research outlines the state of blue carbon research and policy and increases youth engagement with the subject. There is potential to continue the youth education aspect of this research, with more focus on leadership, during the second summer of the scholarship.
Where did your passion for this research originate?
From an academic perspective, I have always loved nature and biology, which led me to choose a degree focused on ecology at university. Along with this interest, the other aspect of my degree (sustainable development) exposed me to the realities of climate change, as well as the importance of protecting coastal habitats for both biodiversity and carbon storage potential. The combination of this knowledge and interest instilled in me a high valuation of nature and made me aware of the fact that this is not information that young people are necessarily aware of. Growing up I was always taught that it is terrestrial forests that are ‘the lungs of the world’. Learning about blue carbon habitats completely changed my understanding of this reality.
Beyond my academic interests, from my experiences working on various sustainability campaigns, I believe that understanding the importance of something is the basis for successful conservation policies. Designating protected areas cannot be efficient if the people living in their vicinity do not understand why it is important to protect them. Thus, through my research, I wanted to both learn about the climate change mitigation benefits blue carbon habitats can provide and find ways to engage youth with this subject, so that they too can understand and value nature conservation.
Real-life leadership lessons
As part of the Laidlaw Leadership training scholars at my university completed a DiSC personality profile, as well as a weekend of leadership and group work training. I found these experiences to be extremely valuable as they taught me about how personality type influences leadership style. For example, I learnt that I tend to be a very goal-oriented leader. Although this is often a positive quality, at times this quality means I can overlook the needs and interests of my team members. Through understanding such areas of leadership where I struggle, I have been able to improve my leadership. This is proved especially useful in my role as the accommodation representative of the Environment Subcommittee at my University. When organizing meetings and delegating tasks I now organize brainstorming sessions during which the team members can be involved in deciding what our course of action is. In this way, my approach to leadership has become more inclusive of the needs and interests of the team.
Top leadership tips
⚡️ Lead by example. Do not ask anything of people that you yourself would not be willing to do.
⚡️ Establish a system of open communication through which each member of your team feels valued and like they can contribute ideas.
⚡️ Be understanding. Often things do not go to plan and deadlines have to be adjusted due to personal situations.
⚡️ Be open and transparent about your mistakes and short fallings.
⚡️ Take breaks! You can’t be an effective leader if you are overworked and tired.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
I think it means above all enjoying learning new things and gaining new experiences. Both my research subject and leadership training were completely new topics to me when I started this programme and due to this, I initially struggled with lots of feelings of imposter syndrome, comparing my ideas and experiences to those of other scholars. Over time I have realized that really what it takes to be successful on this programme is just working hard and embracing those moments when you aren’t completely sure of what you are doing. This has allowed me to grow both in my knowledge and in my confidence to take on new opportunities.
Which leaders inspire you and why?
The first answers that came to mind for me were both authors, who I believe can be classified as leaders for various reasons which I will outline. These authors include Vandana Shiva and Dr Sylvia Earle. Beyond writing, Vandana Shiva is a prominent conservation and climate justice activist, while Dr Earle is a marine biologist and conservationist. I look to these women as leaders as they began their careers as women within male-dominated fields, and confidently wrote about their views and experiences even if these at times did not fit the status quo. In this way, they have acted as role models instilling in me concern and care for the subjects they write about, confidence in my own opinions, and perseverance in the face of challenges. I believe that these are qualities of good leaders and that the best leaders are often those who inspire others through their actions and the passion they show for their work and beliefs.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
The work I have been exposed to with my research has led me to hope for increased education on climate change for young people in the future. More specifically, education that is positive, solutions-based, and focuses on the importance of nature in addressing climate change instead of perpetuating a narrative of technological fixes. I think it is important to educate young people on climate change as it is a pressing challenge that we will be increasingly faced with throughout our lives. However, as this is quite an overwhelming topic, I feel that positivity is required to generate engagement and encourage young people to work on addressing this issue. Teaching about the role of nature in combating climate change has additional benefits of increasing nature-connection in people, and bringing together environmental conservation and climate change action.
📺 Currently binging: The Witcher(mainly because I’m Polish)
🎵 My quarantine anthem: The Heathers musical soundtrack
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Walks on the beach in the snow
Marcelina is a Laidlaw Undergraduate Leadership and Research Scholar at the University of St. Andrews. Become a Laidlaw Scholar to conduct a research project of your choice, develop your leadership skills, and join a global community of changemakers from world-leading universities.
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