Leading Universities in a Warming Planet 

Ariadne Fellowship Program for University Leaders

How might university leaders step up to address the climate crisis? 

As our planet faces rising temperatures and escalating environmental challenges, we need to harness humanity's collective intelligence and action, much like we did during the pandemic. Remember those initial pandemic months? It felt endless and without ready solutions.  Similarly, with climate change, the path ahead appears dire, leading towards more extreme weather, species loss, poverty, and a pervasive sense of climate hopelessness.

But we cannot afford to let climate despair define the next generation's worldviews. 

What if universities played a pivotal role in reversing this downward trend? Imagine a future by 2040 where the climate has begun to cool, ecosystems have begun regenerating, and humanity has evolved to become more humble, wise, and deeply respectful of our planet.

Empowering young adults with skills and mindsets fit for a world in crisis becomes crucial. It's about equipping them not just for today's challenges but to drive a future of planetary renewal.

Intro by Sharon Welch, PhD

Program Co-convenor

I am a social ethicist, academic and lifelong activist. At every institution in which I have studied and worked, I have been fortunate to have been part of multiracial and cross-cultural teams of faculty, students, staff and administrators that have embodied self-critical and generative educational practices within our institutions and for the larger society. I am now working with others to build on what we learned in graduate and undergraduate education at Harvard Divinity School, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Meadville Lombard Theological School (Unitarian Universalist) about the power of constructive community engagement to form the building blocks for an expansive, inclusive, and thriving democracy. I have written six books on this topic, the most recent being After the Protests Are Heard: Enacting Civic Engagement and Social Transformation (New York University Press, 2019). 



This Ariadne Fellows program aims to cultivate curricular, cultural, and structural change in the academy to accelerate planetary regeneration. Fellows will deploy leadership, try out interventions, influence public policy, and interpret resulting system dynamics within their universities.

Many agree that transformative change in educational systems is required for future social well-being. However, catalyzing transformative change in educational institutions is emotionally exhausting and politically risky.  

Planetary regeneration will require new mindsets and a breed of young professionals who can skillfully work across disciplines and organizational boundaries, and universities need to start developing millions of such young changemakers.  

This program will help fellows prototype new ways of cultivating a culture of co-creation across disciplines, universities, and countries by bringing the Fellows together as an online community. Ideas and techniques for inducing systems-level change will be introduced, drawing from various leadership and systems change authors.

The Ariadne Fellowship in a nutshell*

The consumerist, hierarchical, and anthropocentric mindsets where humans treat planet Earth as a grocery and landfill are deeply ingrained into our culture and curricula.

The Ariadne Fellowship is a community for individuals seeking to cultivate transformative change in universities and in the city/national ecosystems that the universities are part of.  We will go beyond the usual managerial approaches such as strategic planning and organizational development and engage in difficult deeper conversations about the often-hidden mindsets, structural inequities, and cultural biases that produce global warming.    

In this community, we’ll work through common obstacles and political dynamics. This is dynamic, ambiguous, and often exhausting work, and we'll labor as a community to renew ourselves and learn from each other. 

Who is it for?

Designed for university presidents, VPs/provosts, and AVPs/vice-provosts, this Fellowship is for those who want to engage in the work of leading transformative change in the academy. Working in the area of confronting biases and reimagining the mental models in the academy requires time and space for reflection, and this Fellowship aims to organize and support a community of leaders willing to take on this work individually and collectively. 

You're welcome to join us regardless of what type of planetary regeneration program you want to start on your campus. Many of you will have programs that fall under any of these categories: sustainability, energy transition, zero carbon university, engaged scholarship, student engagement, project-based learning, sustainable enterprise incubators, extension programs, creative inquiry, etc.

How does it work?

The University-led Planetary Regeneration Fellowship has the following components:

1. Ongoing Discussions: The ongoing asynchronous discussions (via email and other preferred platforms) are an important way to deepen our diagnosis of how our systems are reacting to our interventions. This is the place to take a step back from the fray and discern patterns of behavior that reflect the institutional dynamics that we are in, especially signs of institutional resistance. These conversations will happen through an online message board where Fellows can type in their thoughts and have peer-to-peer exchanges at their convenience. There will also be regular Zoom conversations among small groups of six, as well as the entire cohort of up to 60 Fellows. Recordings of the Zoom conversations will be made available to Fellows.  

2. Transformative Change Prompts: Biweekly discussions and collective conversations will be cultivated along seven categories (mindsets, narratives, thinking politically, student engagement, tensions, tactics, balcony views). With the Transformative Change Prompts, we’ll help you diagnose your organization's social and organizational systems and deploy your influence using techniques drawn from adaptive leadership

3. Community Learning: Throughout the program, you will have the support of peers who will challenge you to go further and dig deeper.  There will be activities for Fellows to gather online, share insights, and help renew each other. The heart of this Fellowship comes from connecting with your peers. Its spirit comes alive when Fellows support each other on this journey.

4. Climate Action Labs Network: Our universities will need to evolve the language of partnering to heal the planet. Hosting a Planetary Regeneration Lab within the campuses helps the different disciplines comprehend the interdependency and scale of the work ahead of us and serves as a hub that connects different silos. 

5. Scalable Intra- and Inter-University Learning Networks: Many lead universities with multiple campuses and dozens of schools. We will work with some tools and strategies to help you maneuver through networks to compensate for the limitations of hierarchical behaviors.

6. Transnational Student Impact Projects: Global Citizenship mindsets will be cultivated among instructors and students through collaborative transnational impact projects.