Featured IHE Graduate: Dani Dennenberg

Growing up, I quickly discovered how unique I was for most young people my age, and I discerned what it meant to become complicit to the world’s social ills. I “rebelliously” challenged complicity by acknowledging that the world did not have to be the way it was and that every choice I made could be an affirmation of my vision of a humane world.

It confused me that anyone could just accept things as they were and never question what was in front of them. In my younger years, I asked “Why?” frequently (I still do), and this curiosity helped forge my path.

Challenging complicity presented itself to me in many forms. In my elementary school years, it came in the form of sticking up for people who were picked on. In high school, it came in the form of a sheep heart dissection that I adamantly refused to be part of. In college, it came in the form of choosing a career path that was heart- and spiritually-rich rather than monetarily-rich.

In 1997 I was drawn to an article in an ASPCA Animal Watch magazine regarding the interconnectedness of animal cruelty and other forms of violence in society. My curiosity was piqued as I read about the integral role that a field called Humane Education played in addressing this phenomenon. Only then did it become evident to me that all social issues were connected and that paradigm shifts could be created, not by telling others what to believe or do, but by informing, encouraging critical thinking, challenging prevailing beliefs, and providing practical tools.

In 1998 I was one of a handful of students in the Institute for Humane Education's Humane Education Certificate Program. I became the first student in the U.S. to graduate with an M.Ed. in Humane Education. I was eager to put academia into practice in my community, and before I knew it, I was working through my seemingly insurmountable fear of public speaking. I founded and directed Seeds for Change Humane Education and offered programs to schools, universities and community organizations for nearly eight years and reached over 15,000 individuals. I was humbled to become part of IHE's staff in 2003, acting as director of the certificate program and serving as faculty for their M.Ed. program through Cambridge College.

In 2008 I moved to the Pacific Northwest after a long search for a city that would foster my sense of place, and I found that in Portland, Oregon. To quote Portland parody, “The dream of the 90's” really is alive in Portland!" I served as the Director of Organizational and Higher Education Partnerships at the Northwest Earth Institute, but quickly discovered that a 9 to 5 desk job stifled my creativity and made me feel disconnected from the planet.

Due to the recession and Portland's tight job market, I was forced to get resourceful. I spent last year with AmeriCorps (they called us 30 somethings “the recession cohort”) refining my skills in community leadership development by grant writing and fundraising for the Q Center (LGBTQ), mentoring capstone students from Portland State University in their partnership Friends of Tryon Creek, and expanding service opportunities for students at Portland Community College's Service-Learning Department.

I was then contracted with Portland Community College's Environmental Center as a Program Development Coordinator to create programming that includes academic, service learning, student leadership and career development components, aligns with PCC's sustainability mission, and reaches low-income and minority students. Quite the opportunity!

As of Fall 2012 I'm the Program Director for HEART's Portland operation.

I am also currently serving on Portland Community College's Service-Learning Council, leading projects for local volunteer agency Hands On Greater Portland, and showcasing art for Create Plenty's International Plastic Quilt Project. My latest piece is called “Swimming in Trouble.”

In my spare hours, I am curling up with incredible books, playing soccer for a couple of teams, learning canning and preserving techniques, teaming up with my twin sister to author a book about LGBTQ identical twins, and enjoying my garden with my girlfriend.

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