Monday, June 26, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Megan Chesser

Megan Chesser, teacher education specialist with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences recently earned her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Chesser works on the Teacher Education Team at the museum, where she provides professional development workshops for educators of all kinds - in the field, at schools and at the museum. Her job allows her to take educators outside to learn about the many connections to the natural world, whether on their school grounds or in a new habitat or ecosystem they have never explored before.

Chesser’s favorite part of the program was the networking opportunities it provided to connect with so many like-minded people who are also dedicated to educating the next generation about the natural world. The experience that stands out most to her took place during one of her workshops at Haw River State Park. Several participants were informally surveying the plants and animals around the building during a break when they discovered a beautiful, abundant flower that looked like a dogwood that had them completely stumped.

“After scouring field guides, comparing notes and thoughts, cross-checking, and with everyone’s help, we were able to identify it as an invasive plant; Houttuynia cordata, a fishy smelling plant!” said Chesser. “The park didn’t even know it was there! This experience stands out because our relentless dedication to identification and education at the onset brought them together, and every time I see those colleagues we remind each other of the mystery we solved together!”

For her community partnership program, Chesser created a set of backpacks, each full of activities and resources, that could be checked out by members of the public visiting Walnut Creek Wetlands Center. She hopes the backpacks will be a tangible way for families with young children, youth, or even adults to actively engage in outdoor exploration and to build connections with the natural world. Chesser said of the project, “The fun activities in the backpack make it safe, approachable and entertaining to explore the outdoors for people with little experience.”

Chesser is excited to use her new EE Certification in her career educating teachers at the museum. She reflects, “If teachers are inspired themselves, they are more likely to create opportunities for their students to connect to the natural world, too!”

Friday, June 23, 2017

Lunchtime Program Teaches Employees How to Compost at Home

The DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs took their Lunchtime Discovery Series to the Archdale Building recently to show DEQ and other state employees the benefits of composting.  The workshop was held outside on the Halifax Mall where a small composting program has been in place since 2012.

The workshop was led by Corinne Law, Environmental Specialist with the DEQ’s Division of Waste Management. Corinne has been teaching backyard, community and farm-scale composting for over a decade including work in Haiti and Egypt. In 2016, she led Atlanta’s first comprehensive composting course before joining the Solid Waste Section in Raleigh. She’s been a presenter at the U.S. Composting Council’s annual conference and at Georgia Organics’ annual conference.

The workshop was well attended and the questions raised were thoughtful. A lot of people are nervous about composting or have tried and felt like they failed but the truth is the amount of effort required for backyard composting is minimal while the benefits are numerous!

The reasons to compost are the same as the rewards and almost everyone can relate to at least one of them. Backyard composting:

  • Diverts organic material from landfills where it decomposes anaerobically and creates methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is a precursor to ozone.
  • Reduces a family’s carbon footprint by reducing the material hauled to a landfill.
  • Creates aggregates in soil which increases the pore space in clay soils and binds together sandy soils. This allows for better transfer of air, water, and nutrients.
  • Creates a valuable soil amendment that builds healthy soil by increasing soil biology and healthy plants by returning nutrients to the soil. Compost also buffers pH which affects nutrient availability and can eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Conserves water, mitigates erosion, and deters garden pests.
  • Offers a hands-on learning opportunity for children (and adults!) that teaches environmental stewardship. 

There are a thousand ways to compost and the important thing is to find the way that works for you and your household. It may be vermiculture (composting with worms), an enclosed tumbler, or an open pile. It may even be a collection service that picks up your food scraps and composts them for you! Either way, it’s well worth the effort. Send your backyard composting questions to Corinne at For more information and composting tips, click here.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Christine Brown

Christine Brown is an environmental educator for Asheville GreenWorks where she focuses on urban forestry, water quality, pollinators and waste reduction through recycling and composting. GreenWorks’ clean and green programs add service learning opportunities for students with tree and pollinator garden plantings and river/roadside cleanups. Through a partnership with Land of Sky Regional Council, Brown coordinates the Recycling Education Vehicle that promotes waste reduction education in four counties including Madison, Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania County.

Brown recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certificate, which she feels helped her become a better educator by introducing her to different curricula and adding “more tools to her belt” for working with children at GreenWorks. Before completing the program, she had a science background but was not fully confident in her teaching abilities. Environmental education certification gave her the knowledge and skills to design a lesson plan and teach children of all ages.

Brown’s favorite part of the program were the outdoor experiences at local state parks and educational state forests. “I would not have been aware of some state parks if it was not for the certification, including ones in my area. I especially enjoyed the tree and wildflower identification hikes at Holmes Educational State Forest,” said Brown. Another favorite feature of the program was meeting other educators from across the state, which was a great networking opportunity and a way to foster new partnerships and collaborations.

For her community partnership project, Brown partnered with the N.C. Arboretum to install one of their ecoExplore HotSpots at the North Asheville Library. She designed and planted a pollinator garden as well as installed a bird feeder and bird bath. The HotSpot will provide a space for children to explore and take pictures of nature for the citizen-science program, iNaturalist. It also beautifies an urban area while providing habitat for native pollinators.

Reflecting on her time completing the program, the experience that stands out most to Brown was a field trip to Mt. Mitchell and the guided hike with Dr. Daniel from Montreat College. “He did a teaching exercise called ‘Rotation Station’ that I will never forget and will use for the rest of my teaching career,” said Brown. “He started the field trip by teaching a group of people in the front facts about a plant, rock or something interesting he saw. That group became a ‘station’ and had to stay behind and teach the others in the hike. Dr. Daniel would continue to assign ‘stations’ to the next people in front until the entire group was constantly rotating between stations. I enjoyed this exercise because the back of the line soon became the front and I will always remember my station because I taught it to others.”

To learn more about Asheville Greenworks, visit For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Environmental Educator Spotlight: Deanna Alfaro

Deanna Alfaro recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Deanna currently teaches nature programs at White Deer Nature Center in Garner and at the Clayton Community Center, and credits the program with expanding her knowledge base and increasing her available library of environmental education resources. "It has given me many more resources to tap into for future programs." She also enjoyed the trainings, notably the "Investigating Your Environment' workshop provided by the North Carolina Forest Service.

For her community partnership project, Deanna partnered with the Town of Garner Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, coordinating volunteers to turn several large sewer main access portals in White Deer Park into very attractive public works of art that educate visitors about native animal tracks. You can see Deanna's work along the South Garner Greenway/White Deer Loop trail on the west side of the park. As you can see below, it made quite a difference!


Monday, June 5, 2017

Summer Lunchtime Speaker Series Kicks Off June 7

What do bees, bears, crime and chocolate have in common? They are all part of the environmental education summer lunchtime speaker series which kicks off on June 7! Come prepared to explore one of North Carolina’s unique ecosystems as Larry Earley, photographer and author of Looking for Longleaf, speaks on the “Saga of the Longleaf Pine.”

The upcoming series will include a variety of interesting presentations, including Dr. Walt Wolfram from N.C. State University discussing how dialects define us as North Carolinians; Justin Maness from Bee Downtown on the honey bee decline and rise of urban beekeeping; Bill Lea, nature photographer and bear advocate who has been photographing black bears in the wild for two decades and Hallot Parson, co-owner of Escazu Artisan Chocolates on getting the cacao bean from the farm to his Raleigh chocolate shop.

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Department of Environmental Quality and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds representing local and state agencies, college and universities, and other organizations throughout the state. The series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to give attendees the opportunity to interact directly with experts in their respective fields.

The lectures are held from noon until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center.

These are just a handful of the many experts the Office of Environmental Education is excited to welcome throughout the summer. Click here for the full Lunchtime Discovery lineup. We look forward to seeing you there!