Leader Spotlight: Brian Nikodym

April 30, 2024
Emmaline Giles

For MCU leader Brian Nikodym, being an educator is a spiritual calling. His journey to the classroom began when he started working with children in his church, MCU member congregation, St. John’s United Church of Christ. At the time, Brian was working as a computer programer for the U.S. Department of Defense and feeling conflicted.

He was working with children at his church and felt drawn towards teaching as a career, but it was no easy decision. It would mean walking away from career opportunities in multiple sectors of the federal government and a significant income reduction for his family. It was stressful to consider, but Brian received a lot of support from his associate pastor.

As a teacher, Brian has shown tremendous leadership in advancing environmental education. After ushering in the STEM program Project Lead the Way (PLTW) at Ritenour School District, he found ways of adapting the curriculum to incorporate environmental stewardship into his lessons. This care for the environment was something instilled in him as a youth living in San Fernando Valley, California. His older brother kept goats and chickens, and Brian spent a lot of time helping tend the animals on his brother's property and tagging along with him to collect aluminum cans for recycling.

Similar to how his brother inspired him, Brian motivated a new generation of young people to take leadership in Earthcare efforts. Under his mentorship, Ritenour students in his school’s Green Club created a sustainability plan for their school, led a successful effort to have rooftop solar panels outfitted on all schools in the district, and worked with their municipality to obtain permits so that chickens could be legally kept in their schoolyard. 

Brian eventually transferred to the Brentwood School District, where he led similar efforts in environmental stewardship and education. Before his recent retirement, he made a special effort to strengthen their PLTW program, ensuring that it would thrive under new leadership. He remains connected to the school district as a mentor in the Missouri Green Schools Quest program.

Brian also continues to work as a trainer for the national PLTW program and advocating to update their Energy and Environment curriculum to include more sustainability education, which will help teachers everywhere inspire students to become better environmental stewards. 

As an MCU leader, Brian invests his time in MCU's Environmental Justice work. The Ferguson Uprising inspired him to look more closely at how environmental risk factors are distributed inequitably in the St. Louis region.

MCU is currently developing climate action hubs in partnership with the Gamaliel National Network. These hubs are funded by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency and will serve as spaces where impacted communities can find resources and build leadership skills that will help them address environmental justice issues. He is supporting MCU efforts to create these Climate Action Hubs in the community and is hoping St. John’s will be selected as a site so he can use his environmental education skills in support of environmental justice in the Fairground Park Community where the church is located.

No doubt Brian’s skill at helping young leaders take effective environmental action will be a benefit to the St. Louis community for years to come. We are so lucky to have Brian’s support and investment as a mentor, teacher, and leader for environmental justice work in our community.

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MCU puts faith into action by developing leaders who move their congregations, organizations and communities to change public policy for the common good.
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