As a young Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, Professor Jeff Langholz was horrified when the people in his village began cutting down the nearby rainforest to clear space for agricultural fields. He pleaded with them to preserve the rainforest and its invaluable biodiversity. Then came what the villagers called “the hungry season,” and he was asked to save a very sick two-year-old child. The child died in his arms.
“The next year I was out there leading the charge—we were going to plant more crops so no other children would die in my arms,” he says. It was a tough lesson about land management, one that changed the trajectory of his life. “You could say I found my passion.”
Today Langholz is a faculty member in the International Environmental Policy program. On one level, his Peace Corp experience laid the foundation for his approach to life. “When I look back on my life as I take my last breaths, I want to be able to give myself a high five for having made a lasting, positive impact.”
After working on environmental policy issues in Washington D.C. for several years, Langholz went on to earn a PhD in natural resource policy and management at Cornell. “If creating policy is the best way to leverage your impact, then nothing can beat training groups of amazing young people to do that every year.”
At six feet two inches, Langholz cuts an imposing figure, but students quickly warm up to his frequent smiles and encouragement. “I get a lot of satisfaction from helping students.” He has a system for taking any goal a student might have—a dream career, a prestigious fellowship, a memorable speech—and working backwards to identify all of the steps needed to get there. As a self-described “life-hacker,” he even publishes tip sheets for achieving your goals. “They work like a charm,” he says with a big grin that’s full of contagious enthusiasm.