Thursday, May 30, 2019

Secretary Regan Recognizes Western North Carolina Educator Bethany Sheffer

Secretary Michael Regan recently received hands-on experience beekeeping when he visited an environmental educator in Haywood County.

During a trip to Western North Carolina, Regan stopped at the Mountain Research Station to present Bethany Sheffer with her certification for completing the department’s environmental education program.

“We congratulate Bethany for completing her certification. Visiting the hives and learning about her work to provide essential services to young people in western North Carolina was an amazing experience. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to see it from a child’s perspective.” said the secretary.

Bethany is the outreach specialist for HIGHTS, an organization which services vulnerable young people in the area. HIGHTS has four beehive sites in three counties including the site at the Mountain Research Station. Bethany is responsible for managing the 20 hives with the help of the Jackson, Haywood and Macon County beekeeping associations through their beekeeping mentorship programs.

Prior to working with HIGHTS, Bethany worked for Southern Appalachian Raptor Research (SARR), an organization dedicated to the conservation and protection of birds in the Southern Appalachians. There she educated students and groups about migratory birds and conservation.

Bethany has also served as a Conservation Trust for North Carolina AmeriCorps member at Balsam Mountain Trust in Sylva. She is an at-large board member for the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society in Asheville and an outreach and education volunteer for Phoenix Landing Parrot Rescue.

A native to the forested lands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Bethany grew up exploring nearby creeks and catching crayfish in the small town of Rapid River. Bethany credits these experiences, and her father’s enthusiasm for the outdoors with instilling a lifelong appreciation of the natural world.

For her community partnership project, as part of her certification, Bethany created, organized and led a community festival that focused on migratory birds and bird conservation through an existing global initiative called World Migratory Bird Day.

With the support of her AmeriCorps host site, Balsam Mountain Trust, she was able to offer an environmentally-themed community event free of charge to residents of the surrounding counties Jackson and Haywood. The effort engaged residents and bolstered regional partnerships. In its second year, the event attracted more than 250 participants.

Bethany says her certification changed the way she approached environmental issues. “Completing the certification program really helped me to understand how to communicate to people of varying ages and backgrounds about environmental issues; not to necessarily be a full-blown advocate for environmental policies during programs, but to instead give participants the scientific facts along with meaningful outdoor experiences to help them make connections.”

Bethany relished the professional relationships and friendships she formed during the workshops. “I could not have hoped for more insightful workshops, skill-building opportunities, or interdisciplinary collaboration through this program. Not only did I glean practical skills and knowledge but the confidence I found in myself now allows me to mentor others in the field.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Mary Hannah Cline

Mary Hannah Cline recently completed the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program. Cline is a first grade teacher at Pioneer Springs Community School, a nature-based charter school in Charlotte.

Cline says her favorite part of the program was meeting other educators at the instructional workshops. “I always really liked the sense of camaraderie and friendship at all of the instructional workshops. I always met the most fascinating and like-minded people, and each time I found myself searching for some program or unique school that I learned about from meeting somebody at the workshop.”

The night hikes and owl prowls are environmental education experiences that stand out for Cline. “It’s so peaceful walking in the dark by moonlight once your eyes have adjusted, even though you don’t think they will at first! When an instructor calls an owl and they actually respond back? Pure magic. I get chills every time.”

For her community partnership project, Cline applied for and received at PTA grant to establish a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat at Green Hope Elementary School in Wake County. She noticed that the students were seeking out ways to connect with the natural world and hoped that the creation of an outdoor education space would provide an opportunity for the students to have a meaningful experience with nature that they may not get otherwise. “I believe adding this feature to the school will provide a venue for teachers to meet curricular goals through authentic experiences in nature,” said Cline. Cline encouraged the staff at the school to use the habitat for citizen science projects such as Project FeederWatch, The Great Backyard Bird Count and eBird.

Cline says participating in the certification program made her more of an “out of the box” teacher who encourages students to engage in activities that are purely exploratory in nature. “While I feel that I have grown tremendously in my knowledge of the natural world through completing this program, I feel that this program has also shown me that curiosity is more important than knowledge. Closely inspecting the features of a found mystery creature together with a child to figure out what to search for is such a powerful experience.”

Monday, May 13, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Megan Tumpey

Congratulations to Megan Tumpey for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification! Megan is a senior at NC State University. She will be graduating in May with a major in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, and minors in Forest Management and American Environmental History. Megan has worked in a variety of environmental education settings, including county parks and summer camps. Currently, she works as the Children's Program Assistant at JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh.

When asked what she enjoyed most about the certification program, Megan replied "One of my favorite aspects is the relationships you form with others who are pursuing their certification. I became familiar with many participants as we saw each other frequently at the same workshops and events." She also mentioned the physical resources participants receive while taking part in workshops. "I love the plethora of materials and resources I now have as a result of obtaining this certification. Those activity guides have come in handy with my program planning already!"

For her community partnership project, Megan designed and installed a new orienteering course at Lake Crabtree County Park in Morrisville. As Megan explained, "Orienteering is a fun outdoor activity that involves trekking through the woods using a compass, map, and directions to guide you from point to point." The park had an existing orienteering course, but park staff members were interested in improving the course and making it more accessible to the public. Megan partnered with the park and a local Girl Scout Troop to update the current course and expand it to cover a larger portion of the park. Megan also created an "Adventure Backpack," which provides all the materials and instructions needed to complete the course.

Through funds from Lake Crabtree County Park, Megan was able to purchase the necessary materials to complete the orienteering course. The Girl Scouts assisted Megan in building new markers for the navigation points along the trail (pictured below). "The girls gained self-confidence and had a great time getting to use drills to attach the signs to the posts, digging the holes, leveling the posts, and attaching the punches. I love seeing young girls empowered by completing projects like this one."

The Girl Scouts helped Megan construct markers for the "control points" along the course.
Now that Megan has finished her project, she is preparing to graduate from college and start a new chapter in her career. She said she is looking forward to using the skills she gained through the certification program. "The certification program has helped me learn how to tailor the same content to different grade levels. I had struggled with knowing exactly what to include or how much depth to go into, but after interacting with the certification materials and activities, as well as seeing the differences between programs geared towards different ages, I am much better!"

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the N.C. Office of Environmental Education website.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

MarineQuest Launches A New Citizen Science Project that Supports Healthy Coastal Wetlands and a Storm-Resilient Coast

Guest Blogger: Jade Woll, UNCW MarineQuest’s Coastal Citizen Science Ambassador and Conservation Trust for North Carolina AmeriCorps Member

Jade Woll, Coastal Citizen Science Ambassador

Storm Surge Protectors is UNCW MarineQuest’s new citizen science project. The project collects long-term data to help determine the ecological conditions of coastal wetlands in New Hanover and Brunswick Counties. Community-based citizen scientists will collect observational data through ongoing monitoring at local coastal wetlands. UNCW MarineQuest will use the data collected by Storm Surge Protectors to make future recommendations for potential restoration sites and build environmental education materials demonstrating the connection between a healthy coastal wetland and a storm-resilient coast.

Our project is currently partnering with Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, Carolina Beach State Park and the Town of Wrightsville Beach. Each of these partners has agreed to allow Storm Surge Protectors to collect data on the coastal wetlands within their property. Additionally, Storm Surge Protectors partnered with research biologists from the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and Estuarine Research Reserve to help solidify the projects protocol and data sheets. Storm Surge Protectors is also working with the Department of Environmental Quality’s North Carolina Wetlands project which will share our citizen science project on their website as well as the data we are collecting at certain sites found on their interactive wetlands map.

Storm Surge Protectors Workshop
To participate in this project, interested community members must attend a free workshop where they will learn more information about the project and how to conduct a wetland assessment. After you have attended a workshop, you are now officially a trained Storm Surge Protector and can collect data whenever you are available. If you are interested in participating in this project, please visit our website and signup for an upcoming workshop.

More about our guest blogger, Jade Woll

Queen's Creek Elementary School Partners with
Coastal Land Trust
Jade Woll is serving a third term as an AmeriCorps Member with UNCW MarineQuest as their Coastal Citizen Science Ambassador and has been responsible for creating and implementing their new citizen science project, Storm Surge Protectors. Woll graduated from Lynchburg College in 2016 with a degree in Environmental Science. Following graduation, she moved to Pensacola, Florida where she served as the Forestry Intern for Naval Air Station Pensacola in the Natural Resources Department. Her internship was through the Student Conservation Association which partners with AmeriCorps for some positions. In that position, she assisted with prescribed fires, invasive species control and dune restoration planning. After finishing her term in Florida, she headed north to Wilmington, North Carolina to serve her second AmeriCorps term with the Coastal Land Trust as the Education and Volunteer Coordinator. She assisted in curriculum development, partnership building with local schools, and implemented the Coastal Land Trust’s environmental education program in four surrounding counties. Upon arriving in North Carolina, Jade also enrolled in the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program along with several other Conservation Trust for North Carolina and Conserving Carolina AmeriCorps members. It’s an honor to work with Americorps members like Jade!