Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Melissa Amoabeng

Melissa Amoabeng, a farm educator with the Durham Public Schools Hub Farm recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification. Melissa manages the gardens and landscape of the 30-acre Hub Farm site and teaches hands-on environmental programming for all ages. “Working with a small team, I also help manage volunteers, run community events, and write grants. I love how our work is always different every day - but always outside!” 

Originally from Maryland, Melissa grew up exploring the Chesapeake Bay watershed. She found a new home in North Carolina while studying Environmental Health at UNC-Chapel Hill. After earning a master’s degree in Public Health, Melissa worked in school garden education with Guilford County Cooperative Extension 4-H, taught English in France, and worked on several local farms. Most recently, Melissa received a Master’s in Horticultural Science from NC State University focused on public gardens and landscape design. 

When asked about her favorite part of earning her environmental education certification, Melissa says it was a coastal experience. “I loved going out to the coast to participate in the migratory shorebird count on Topsail Island.” She still hopes to do one of the educator institutes of excellence offered by the NC Museum of Natural Sciences one day. Another outdoor experience also stood out for Melissa. “I loved doing native wildflower hikes with other local plant nerds in Durham and getting to really know fellow environmental educators working in my area.” 

For her community partnership project, Melissa organized a series of family fishing events at the Hub Farm with partners including the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, The Ebony Anglers, Boy Scouts, and the UNC-Chapel Hill APPLES Service Learning Program. “These events engaged a different part of our community that we hadn't been serving before, and also connected us to new partners including local scout troops and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.” 

Melissa says the fishing events bring families together outdoors to experience the joy and wonder of catching freshwater fish, which creates a feeling of belonging and positive environmental attitudes. “Older visitors to the Hub Farm often say things like, "Oh, I used to fish these ponds in the 1980s." We also know that the local high school agriculture program used to run an aquaculture program to raise tilapia, trout, and catfish in our ponds in the early 1990s. And students on field trips always ask if there are fish in the pond. So, we decided to merge the historical relevance of fishing in this community and the enduring interests of our current youth by offering a family-friendly environmental education opportunity that is culturally relevant to our majority Black and Hispanic student population.” 

When asked if the program changed her approach to teaching, Melissa said, “Before this program, I really didn't understand the importance of teaching people skills for understanding and engaging in environmental issues, as described in the NAAEE (North American Association of Environmental Education) Guidelines for the Preparation and Professional Development of Environmental Educators. The certification program challenged me to add this new component to my teaching practice, and gave me tools to do so through curricula like Project Learning Tree.” 

Melissa also says the certification program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “I learned that it is more important when working with young children to focus on the place where they live - not on faraway places with rainforests and ice caps. I think more locally now about teaching, and that sense of place has become very important to me.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Megan Rodgers Lane

Megan's Turtle Basking Project at Bass Lake in Holly Springs

Megan Rodgers Lane recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Megan is the public science and internship coordinator for the UNC Institute for the Environment's (IE) Center forPublic Engagement with Science. “I work on many different projects all with the goal of engaging diverse audiences in environmental science and public health using hands-on demonstrations, interactive workshops, and science communication.  We want the public to better understand how the environmental science emerging from UNC-Chapel Hill is important and relevant in our daily lives. K-12 teachers and students are among some of my favorite audiences with which to engage.”

Lake Observations by Citizen Scientists and Satellites Project
During the past two summers, Megan managed a watershed science and stewardship program  for middle and high school teachers. “During a four-day teacher institute, I introduced the participants to researchers and experts in the field and took them on excursions to estuaries and marshes so they could then bring their new experiences and knowledge back to their classrooms.” She also works on a citizen science project called LakeObservations by Citizen Scientists and Satellites (LOCSS) which uses lake level measurements and satellite imagery to better understand how the volume of water in lakes is changing over time around the world. “I am excited to be a part of this NASA funded project because I get the opportunity to engage with citizen scientists in the field and share my excitement about the research our team is conducting.” Before joining UNC IE, Megan earned a BS in Environmental Science with a minor in Nonprofit Studies from NC State University. Then, during her first few years as a research assistant with UNC IE, she earned a MEA in Environmental Assessment with a graduate certificate in GIS, also from NCSU. In her personal time, Megan enjoys hiking, camping, playing disc golf, and taking care of her five backyard chickens with her husband, Joe. They also have a small part-time dog sitting business and love meeting and taking care of new dogs.

Megan at home with her backyard chickens

Megan says the certification program helped advance her career. “Earning my EE certification allowed me to take a larger role in some of the environmental education programming we offer within the Center for Public Engagement with Science.” Megan says her favorite part of earning her certification was getting to know so many people in the environmental education field. “Everyone I met, and continue to meet, has been so knowledgeable about their work and excited about the environment and teaching. I feel so lucky to be part of such a welcoming and fun community. I appreciated the opportunity to take so many different workshops on new topics and visit different areas of the state, and I look forward to continuing that trend as I fulfill my CE credits every year.” Megan notes a few of the workshops that she really enjoyed included NC CATCH, the Great Backyard Bird Count, and Plant Identification: Trees, Shrubs, and Conifers. “I also really enjoyed working on my community partnership project, which involved building turtle basking platforms and applying my expertise in science communication to develop signage for Bass Lake Park in Holly Springs.”

The certification experience that really stood out for Megan and encouraged her to pursue the certification program was the Environmental Education course at NC State University taught by Dr. Gail Jones and Renee Strnad during the fall 2017 semester. “At the time, I was enrolled in the MEA graduate program and was looking for an elective course that interested me and filled a requirement for my degree. I think fall 2017 was the first semester that the course was offered, and I was extremely lucky that I found it and that it was approved to count toward my degree. This course allowed me to earn credit for Basics of Environmental Education and Methods of Teaching Environmental Education, but more importantly, it solidified my interest in environmental education and my desire to learn more and get more involved.” 

For her community partnership project, Megan built turtle basking platforms and installed signage about why turtles bask in the sun for Bass Lake Park. “I live near Bass Lake and visit the park to walk and run almost weekly. During my visits, I often see park visitors pointing at the turtle basking platforms I built and reading the informational signage, which reminds me of the impact my project has on the community. I hope the platforms and signage last for many years and many people get to enjoy them and learn about why turtles bask in the sun.”

Megan at the Water Science and Stewardship Progran for teachers
Megan says the program changed her approach to teaching. “The program has also taught me best practices for implementing environmental education and programming for people/students of all ages and backgrounds and increased my confidence in teaching.”

She says the program also changed the way she views environmental issues. “After participating in the certification program, I now look at environmental issues with a more open-minded approach, instead of bringing in my previous biases. I appreciate learning and teaching about all sides of an issue and letting participants discover and make their own assumptions. All in all, I’ve embraced the emphasis on education, not advocacy.”

Thursday, April 21, 2022

NC DEQ Secretary Biser awards NCSU Senior and Park Scholar Grace Baucom with Environmental Education Certificate

From Left: Secretary Biser, Renee Strnad, Dr. Daniels, Grace Baucom, Dr. Floyd, Eva Feucht and Dr. Jones

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary, Elizabeth S. Biser joined Dr. Myron Floyd, Dean, College of Natural Resources and Dr. Harry Daniels, Senior Associate Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at NC State University this morning to present senior Grace Baucom with her NC Environmental Education Certificate. Grace is earning a double major in Extension Education from the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences and in Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems from the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, both in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her concentration is Community Food Systems within the Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems degree.

Eva Feucht, Director, Park Scholarships Program was also in attendance to recognize Grace who is Park Scholar. The Park Scholarships Program brings exceptional students to NC State, based on outstanding accomplishments and potential in scholarship, leadership, service, and character.

Grace has three minors--in Environmental Education, Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management and Spanish. NC State is the only university to offer a minor in environmental education and DEQ partners with the minor program to make environmental education certification available to students. The minor is a collaboration between the College of Natural Resources and the College of Education. Kathryn Stevenson, Associate Professor, College of Natural Resources, Renee L Strnad, Extension Forestry, College of Natural Resources and Dr. Gail Jones, Alumni Distinguished Graduate Professor in the College of Education were present to celebrate Grace’s accomplishment.

“It is an honor to award Grace with her Environmental Education Certification. I was so impressed with all her accomplishments at NC State, and I know I will be seeing more of Grace in the future as she pursues her career goals,” noted Secretary Biser upon presenting the certificate.

Grace is active in the campus community as a Food-Inspired Resilience and Equity Intern for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and as a Communications Assistant for the Agricultural and Human Sciences Department. She is passionate about asset-based community development, nonformal education, and program evaluation. She lives with her family, along with a menagerie of pets, plants, livestock, and honeybees, on a small homestead outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In her personal time, she enjoys photography, crafting, listening to podcasts, and going for very long walks – her record so far is a half marathon.

Grace says her favorite part of earning her certification was visiting Environmental Education Centers. “I loved having the opportunity to explore a variety of state parks, museums, and EE centers across the state, and meet wonderful current and aspiring Environmental Educators while doing it.” Relatedly, attending the 2020 virtual Environmental Educators of North Carolina Conference was a highlight.

When asked what experience in the program stood out, Grace said it was during the Spring 2021 semester when she took "Environmental Education in Practice," a NC State course taught by Dr. Kathryn Stevenson and Lauren Gibson.

Grace’s partnership project requirement continues to have positive community impacts: “I completed my community partnership project during the summer of 2020, in response to a community need for virtual resources that could help young students experience the outdoors during the early stages of COVID-19. I researched, filmed, and edited a 10-minute educational video about honeybees, using my family's farm and hives as my "set." This project was in partnership with Orange County Cooperative Extension's 4-H Youth Development Program. In addition to sharing the finished video on their YouTube channel, they included my video in a Farm to School curriculum for fourth grade students in Orange and Person Counties. In this way, my project was able to directly reach hundreds of young students, and provide a means of incorporating nature exploration into remote learning.” Link to video: 

Grace notes that participating in the EE Certification program was instrumental in the development of her nonformal education philosophy. “It has allowed me to explore and implement environmental education lesson design in accordance with best practices, it sparked my interest in program evaluation, and it taught me the critical importance of culturally and developmentally appropriate instruction. I now approach teaching through the lens of growth and exploration, and I've been motivated to explore career paths in evaluation, lesson and curriculum design, and educational communication.”

Grace also felt the program gave her new perspectives on the environment and environmental education. “After participating in the certification program, I think about environmental issues with more nuance, and I'm highly aware of framing and context: I pay closer attention to what information is provided – and left out – of articles and speeches about these issues, and what inclusion or omission might suggest. I am also more focused on systems-level change, and I have an increased understanding of conversation science, as well as the distinction between education and advocacy.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

NCDEQ Hosts Career Panel for Wake County Middle School Students for Students@Work℠ Program.

On February 23rd, the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs held a Students@Work℠ virtual career panel for 23 Science Olympiad students from Moore Square Magnet Middle School. The Students@Work℠ program serves a critical role in our state's work-based learning efforts by helping local students become aware of potential careers and the necessary skillsets for those careers.

The 2022 Students@Work℠ initiative includes 150 employers and approximately 27,000 students statewide. During the month of February and March, students will engage in virtual programs that will help them learn firsthand about the careers available throughout the state and in their local communities.

During the NCDEQ career panel, students had the opportunity to talk with four professionals from different divisions in NCDEQ including: 

Diana Felix, an engineer in the permitting branch of waste management. Diana has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and is studying to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam to become a licensed professional engineer.
Tony Pendola, an environmental engineer who serves as our department’s Small Business Ombudsman and is the director of the Small Business Environmental Assistance Program. Tony serves as an advocate for small businesses in the regulatory development and compliance enforcement realms. In 2014, he was on a team that won the Governor’s Award for saving NC Citizens tens of millions of dollars each year on unnecessary special summertime gasoline blends. 

Victoria Thayer, Ph.D., a conservation biologist with the NC Division of Marine Fisheries, is the Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for North Carolina and responds to marine mammal strandings on estuarine and ocean shorelines. Vicky performs necropsies on stranded dolphins, whales, seals, and manatees to collect information on life history, disease, contaminants, and feeding ecology. Vicky teaches for NC State University CMAST and collaborates with UNC Wilmington, NC, Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, the NC Maritime Museum, and local towns and municipalities.

Shelby White, a biologist with marine fisheries. Shelby is working on the southern flounder satellite tagging project with the NC Division of Marine Fisheries to determine the migration behavior and spawning location of southern flounder. 

Students asked the panel about their careers, their career paths, and challenges for their profession. The DEQ employees gave helpful advice on how the students can connect their passions and interests with potential careers and how students can begin to develop the qualifications necessary for working in STEM fields through internships, job shadowing, and other opportunities.

The Students@Work℠ program is a joint initiative between the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

For more information about the Department's participation in Students@Work℠ Month, contact the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs at For more information about NCBCE, visit

Friday, January 28, 2022

Sampson County Educator Battista Bennett Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Battista Bennett recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Battista lives in Sampson County and last fall she completed an internship with Jones Lake State Park. She has a passion and love for the outdoors and hopes to become a park ranger with NC State Parks so she can educate others. Battista also enjoys hiking, bird watching, and nature photography.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Battista says it was the opportunity to meet and connect with like-minded people in person and virtually. She says her teaching experience in environmental education really stood out for her. “I gained confidence for teaching inside and outside while using a hands-on approach.”

For her community partnership project, Battista planned and coordinated the construction and installation of two benches and a pop-up educational program at Browns Creek Bike Park and Nature Trail in Elizabethtown NC. She partnered with Cape Fear Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association. She provided information on smart ways to hike at Browns Creek and how to utilize apps to identify plants, birds, snakes, and trees. Battista says the benches provide places for people to rest near steep trails and at the same time they can observe nature. “Near the benches are various trees, birds, and plants that are fun for visitors to identify.”

Battista says the program change her approach to teaching. “As a nonformal educator, I gained confidence and a better understanding of how to break down educational programs for younger audiences.”

Monday, January 3, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith, an educator at McDowell Nature Center with Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. 

Rachel is an environmental educator and outdoor travel enthusiast. “I love sharing and teaching what I know about the natural world in North Carolina as a native of the state. I enjoy traveling and visiting nature preserves and parks to discover new species of wildflowers, butterflies, and birds that I can check off my life-lists. When traveling I love exploring new ecosystems for their weather, climate and topography and finding dark sky locations to bring my telescope to working on my new hobby of astrophotography.”

Rachel says her favorite part of the program was being able to complete some of the requirements that were more challenging for her such as the documentation for the teaching and partnership project. “My father passed unexpectedly this fall and it really changed my perspective on some life goals, and I wish he was able to see me complete my certification.”

When asked what experience stood out for her, Rachel says it was the outdoor instructor-led experiences. “I learn the best by hands-on, active learning where I can reinforce the knowledge almost immediately. These learning opportunities gave me a chance to expand my own knowledge by allowing me to find and work on my 'weaker' subjects. The outdoor experiences and along with the other workshops led me to meet some incredible environmental educators across the state and a network for resources and new programming ideas.”

For her community partnership project, Rachel worked with the Carolina Butterfly Society to develop and lead butterfly programs at the preserve. She provided butterfly hikes on the weekends and a summer camp 'fieldtrip' to the piedmont prairie for a butterfly hunt. She also created a custom butterfly field guide for the society’s annual trip to the National Butterfly Center in Texas. “My project engaged the members of my community because it brought to the forefront the importance of butterflies, not only locally, but nationally and globally.  While leading hikes and butterfly specific programming allows the community the opportunity to discover local species and delve into what makes butterflies an important pollinator.  Also, it can lead into other opportunities for programming and community development like planting pollinator gardens in backyards and public areas in neighborhoods.”  

Rachel says the program has changed the way she approaches teaching. “I feel that I am doing more inquiry-based, hands-on programming versus more lecture-based programs that encourages participants to be actively engaged in problem solving and critical thinking.”

Educator Spotlight: Meredith Owens


Meredith Owens, a nature programmer at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in Cary and at White Deer Park in Garner, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. In her role, Meredith plans and delivers programs and attends to the facilities on site. In her personal time, she likes to knit and read.  

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Meredith says it was meeting other people in the field that shared the same interests and traveling to other sites. “I loved going to different parks and seeing different parts of the state that I may not have visited if it weren’t for the classes offered at those parks.”

Meredith says one class really stood out for her while getting her certification. “I love animals, so when I went to a class about reptiles and amphibians where live animals were present, that was a highlight for me. And it was such a nice experience, everyone else in the class was just as excited as I was to meet the animals.”

For her community partnership project, Meredith prepared a large area at White Deer Park for a future town sensory garden. This involved working with the town of Garner and with a service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, from North Carolina State University to remove overgrown shrubs and grasses and invasive plants around the nature center. Meredith says the sensory garden will benefit anyone in the community who goes to White Deer Park. This includes people who may have a disability, use a mobility aid, or have a visual impairment, because the sensory garden will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Meredith says the certification program gave her the tools that she needed to teach kids about the environment in different ways and strengthened her view on volunteerism. “I have a new appreciation for community projects and volunteer projects, in general. Using the power of the people is such a unique and instrumental tool that I feel like we need to take advantage of more often. People in the community like to help take care of the parks and forests that they live near.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Educator Spotlight: Dr. Joel McCormick


Dr. Joel McCormick, Associate Professor of Recreation at Chowan University in Murfreesboro recently completed his NC Environmental Education Certification. When Dr. McCormick isn’t teaching, he and his family enjoy being in nature. “We enjoy visiting National Parks, State Parks, and other natural areas to camp, explore, and spend time on the water boating, fishing and snorkeling.”

When asked about his favorite part of the certification experience, Dr. McCormick says he enjoyed many of the experiences, especially the ones that got him out in nature. “I enjoyed visiting the different regions of the state and taking in the diversity of North Carolina's natural areas. My son went with me to the training at Grandfather Mountain three years ago and he is still talking about the great time he had there. We also camped out at The Great Smoky Mountains National Park while attending the NC Division of Air Quality's Ground Level Ozone workshop. This training was great! I took my family with me, and the wildlife was amazing - especially the elk who visited our camp site.”

For his community partnership project, he worked with the planners of the Bertie County Government on their “Tall Glass of Water” (TGOW) Project. “I was able to help with the planning of future recreational and environmental educational programming with a 147-acre site at the mouth of the Chowan River. The TGOW Project will promote sustainable ecotourism, outdoor recreation, and environmental education for many in Eastern North Carolina.”

Dr. McCormick says the program changed his approach to teaching. “The Environmental Education Certification program has expanded my network of natural resource professionals and professional organizations. I have been able to use some of the programming I learned in my classes, and I have been able to have some of my new contacts conduct educational programs at Chowan University. It has been a great benefit for myself, my students, and my community.”

The Year in Review: NCDEQ's Division of Water Resources: Water Education in 2021


Author: Lauren Daniel, Water Education Coordinator, NC Department of Environmental Quality's Division of Water Resources 

Water Education found a new stride in 2021 as it adapted programs and partnerships to reach communities throughout North Carolina.  We are celebrating all the great achievements from the year as we plan for bigger and better water education opportunities in 2022.  

Full newsletter article can be found here.

Project WET: 

In 2021, about 110 educators completed Project WET workshops offered throughout the year.  We even trained 8 new facilitators to offer the trainings in their host institutions.  The highlight of the year was bringing Rebecca Coppa (NC DEMLR) on board as a co-coordinator for PWET.  With Rebecca's help, we can expand this program to offer more resources and support. To learn more about Project WET North Carolina, visit our website.

NC Stream Watch:

NC Stream Watch has seen more activity this year than ever before.  Community members are able to use this tool to go out and explore the quality and health of their stream by following a simple survey that walks through the stream monitoring process.  Strictly for educational purposes, NC Stream Watch offers teachers and students a tool to learn as well as share their observations.  If you have a chance to explore the statewide NC Stream Watch Map, be sure to check out the areas near you as well as far away. Remember, you can view the latest dashboard and observation surveys by visiting the NC Stream Watch website.

It's Our Water:

It's Our Water continues to be offered as a 10 hour Criteria I EE Credit course for educators throughout North Carolina.  If you're interested in participating in this online, self-guided module please email to gain log in credentials.  This online module is ideal for 8th grade science teachers as well as anyone interested in learning North Carolina specific water resource management issues and teaching students about these topics.

NC Climate Education Network:

Through virtual "Open Houses", the NC Climate Education Network provided participants a chance to connect with climate experts right here in our state.  Each live virtual event had anywhere from 25-60 participants, and the recordings were watched over 100 times. The Open House format offered an informal space for teachers and other educational leaders to learn more about various topics, ask questions, and connect with additional resources to support student learning.  You can learn more about this network on our NCCEN website. The four open house topics in 2021 included:

NC Climate Education Data Art Contest:

I believe one of the best ways to engage students in science education is through creative expression, art, and design. The NC Climate Education Network has given me the opportunity to do just that through our 2021 Climate Data Art Contest.  We had so many amazing entries from students from elementary through high school!  Take a moment to look through our map to explore the various designs, drawings, and even paintings.  Many thanks to the students and educators who took time to create submissions. There was so much interest in this contest that we decided to let this map and submission form stay open throughout 2022. While you can't enter the contest after December 17, 2021, you can still upload your art to be viewed by the public.  

Link to the Online Map of Climate Data Art

Link to the Online Submission Form

Water Education Coffee Talks:

One of my favorite projects that came out of this year were the Water Education Coffee Talks.  These virtual Teams meetings were offered every other Thursday at 9:00 a.m.  The objective of these Coffee Talks were to connect water educators with personalized support and customized resources.  These Coffee Talks did not feature presentations or guest speakers- just real people connecting with others and sharing ideas to inspire lessons and projects. Want to get updates for an upcoming Coffee Talk? Sign up here. 

Watershed Wisdom: 

Another great partnership resulted in national recognition this year. Working with NC Sea Grant and PBS-NC, we were awarded an Apex Award for Publication Excellence in the area of "Campaigns, Programs and Plans". The Watershed Wisdom Lesson Plan Unit is as much fun to teach as it was to create!  To view the award-winning unit, click here.

A look ahead in 2022:

Water Education Pen Pals: Offering a pen pal program to connect students with their peers in other watersheds and maybe even other portions of the country. What better way to learn about the value of your own watershed by comparing and contrasting observations with someone in a different corner of the Earth? 

NC Stream Watch Leadership Program: We will be inviting water educators from throughout North Carolina to take a leadership role in training and engaging with their local water resources through visual observations and stream side litter pick-ups.  

Interested? If you want to learn more about these programs or ask questions, don't hesitate to reach out:

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

11th Annual Meeting Brings Formal and Informal Educators Together

The NC Department of Environmental Quality and the NC Department of Public Instruction’s Science Section will co-host the 11th Annual Nonformal Educators’ Meeting on December 9. Last year, the virtual meeting attracted more than 140 educators in all regions of the state and this year’s meeting promises to reach even more educators.

Each year in December, the two departments bring the nonformal education community together to talk about ways they can partner with classroom teachers in North Carolina. This unique collaboration supports nonformal educators who provide environmental science to school-age children and encourages collaboration between schools, school districts, NCDPI, and the nonformal education community to support science learning and environmental literacy.

The meeting also provides an opportunity for educators to get updates on curriculum standards from NCDPI and resources to help align their educational programs and field trips with the state’s essential standards for science. 

Most of this year’s discussion will focus on how nonformal educators can partner with schools to create outdoor classrooms and other learning spaces on schoolgrounds. Several teachers will highlight ways they have partnered with nonformal educators and organizations to develop creative outdoor learning opportunities for their students. In addition to these models, there will be a session featuring programs that come to the school to help develop wildlife habitats, encourage students to participate in citizen science, and provide resources on how to use the outdoors to teach the required standards in not only science but across disciplines. 

The meeting will feature a panel discussion with teachers and a principal to learn on how nonformal programs can best meet the current needs of classroom teachers while increasing environmental literacy and knowledge of North Carolina’s diverse ecology and natural resources. 

This partnership between the state’s education agency and the state’s environmental agency is unique to North Carolina. It was highlighted in the National Science Teachers Association’s online journal, Connected Science Learning in the May-July 2017 edition (Volume 1, Issue 3). You can read the article entitled Collaboration + Good Coffee = Connected Science Learning Success: State Agencies Partner to Unite Formal and Informal Educators in North Carolina online at this link

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Educator Spotlight: Yanina Salerno

Yanina Salerno, a nonformal educator from Buncombe County recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. 

Yanina is a forest guide and offers nature walks that give participants an opportunity to learn about their natural environment and how to be in relationship with Mother Earth according to indigenous teachings and knowledge.

When asked about her favorite part of the program, Yanina said it was the plethora of information, resources, and teachings she received from so many amazing and passionate teachers through the years. She says her trip to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont for a long weekend to participate in their Naturalist program was a unique experience and one that really stood out for her. "Living, learning and sharing meals alongside so many other nature-loving students of all ages was an experience I will cherish forever."

For her community partnership project Yanina created a trans-cultural medicine wheel Bee City USA certified pollinator garden on a local greenway. “The project brought community members and local organizations together during workdays and it will be a continued source of environmental and cultural education for the community as well as a continued benefit to the ecosystem.”

When asked if the program changed her approach to teaching or her views of environmental issues, Yanina said the certification helped her look at her own program from more than one perspective and that helped her to further enrich the program. “Now I look at things like learning styles, curriculum, evaluation, qualitative and quantitative data and how I can use these tools to enrich my program. The certification program has developed and deepened my understanding of environmental issues and has also given me resources to be a better steward of our natural environment.”

Monday, December 6, 2021

Educator Spotlight: Katherine Baxter

Katherine Baxter, a horticulturist at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Gaston County recently earned her NC Environmental Education Certification. Before joining the botanical garden, Katherine worked as an environmental educator at Haw River State Park for five years. As an environmental educator, Katherine is enthusiastic about cultivating an appreciation for nature in every audience. In her personal time, Katherine enjoys spending time growing vegetables and flowers in her garden, walking in the woods, and watching wildlife.

Katherine says her favorite part of the certification program was the opportunity to constantly learn, grow, and improve. “Whether I was in a creek identifying aquatic organisms during a workshop or attending a virtual lecture on environmental justice, I was always learning and growing as an educator during this program. Of course, I also enjoyed meeting teachers, homeschoolers, and non-formal educators from all over North Carolina who are also passionate about the environment and education.”

When asked what part of the program stood out to Katherine, she said it was the “Playing Out” or Playful Pedagogy workshop series by Linda Kinney at the NC Zoo. “I found those workshops unique, fascinating, and engaging. This workshop series is enthralling to me because I am interested in the relationship between childhood play outdoors and developing a connection with nature. Through this experience, I gained an appreciation for freely chosen play and I learned practices to support my student’s play.”

For her community partnership project, Katherine identified a need for an educational garden in her community and established a pollinator garden that provides park guests of all ages the opportunity to appreciate and learn about the importance of pollinators and native plant species. “The pollinator garden is a beautiful, interactive space to increase environmental awareness for the community while providing essential food sources and habitat for pollinator populations!”

Katherine says the certification program changed her approach to teaching. “The program has equipped me with a beneficial set of teaching strategies. I've learned about inquiry-based approaches and have increased the quality of my programs by applying the 5E Teaching Model. I've learned classroom management methods, tips for motivating learning, and the value of embracing teachable moments.”

Katherine said the certification program changed the way she views environmental issues. “While I studied Environmental and Sustainability Studies in college, every day I was learning about environmental destruction caused by human activity. Consistently learning about devastating environmental issues was overwhelming, so when I began the EE Certification Program it was refreshing to change my focus to something constructive: facilitating positive outdoor experiences and promoting environmental literacy. Instead of focusing on environmental degradation, I find it more helpful to emphasis the beauty and wonder of the natural world and feasible solutions to protect the environment. As an environmental educator I can make a positive difference in my community by supporting student's questions, investigations, understanding, knowledge, skills, and decisions.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

NCSTA Awards Ceremony Features Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, Recognizes Teachers and Nonformal Environmental Educators

Join the North Carolina Science Teachers Association for a very special awards ceremony Thursday, November 4, 2021 at 4:00 pm Eastern. The virtual event is free and open to the public but registration is required (

This year's event will feature guest speaker Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, COVID-19 researcher and lead developer of the Moderna Vaccine. Born in North Carolina and a graduate of Orange High School in Hillsborough, Dr. Corbett received her PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While in high school, Dr. Corbett participated in the North Carolina section of the Project SEED (Summer Experiences for the Economically Disadvantaged) program for students, and credits it for sparking her interest in a STEM career. She recently joined Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as an assistant professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.

NCSTA will be presenting awards to teachers, administrators, nonformal educators and other individuals who exhibit leadership in science education and contribute to improvements in the field.

The North Carolina Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs congratulates all the NCSTA winners, but would like to recognize these four educators dedicated to environmental education:

Annette Steele and Renee Pagoota-Wight
Annette Steele and Renee Pagoota-Wight

Annette Steele
, Lincoln Heights Environmental Connections Magnet Elementary (Wake County), will be presented with the 2021 NCSTA District 3 Outstanding Elementary School Science Teacher Award and Renee Pagoota-Wight, Sherrills Ford Elementary School (Catawba County), will be presented the NCSTA District 7 Outstanding Elementary School Science Teacher Award. This award is given to a person exhibiting leadership in science education; contributing to improvements in science education; and excelling in the aspects of science education.

Steele and Pagoota-Wight are also North Carolina Certified Environmental Educators through the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs administered program.

Matthew Poston

Matthew Poston of Walkertown Middle School (Forsyth County) will be presented the NCSTA District 5 Outstanding Middle School Science Teacher. Poston enrolled in 2021 and is actively pursuing his North Carolina Environmental Educator Certification.

Tanya Poole, Regional Education Specialist for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and a state Project WILD coordinator, will receive the NCSTA Distinguished Service in Science Education in a Non-school Setting for her work as a non-formal educator providing professional development and support to classroom teachers. Poole is a North Carolina Certified Environmental Educator and serves on the NC Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs Environmental Education Certification Committee. Tanya her NCWRC educator colleagues are essential partners in the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program. 

Tanya in field with dogs, Tanya in stream study
Tanya Poole 

Please register for the event and join us in congratulating these and all the award winners!

Friday, October 1, 2021

Virtually meet role models with disabilities at the STEAM Showcase Oct. 19

STEAM Career Showcase for Students with Disabilities

The great jobs of today and tomorrow are in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM). Yet people with disabilities remain underrepresented in these fields. To help turn that tide, the 9th annual STEAM Career Showcase for Students with Disabilities will be held virtually Tuesday, October 19 from 1 to 3:30 p.m., hosted by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. This free event, developed in partnership with SAS, is designed for students with disabilities in grades 6-12, and gives attendees a chance to meet and be inspired by role models with disabilities who have thriving careers in STEAM fields.

Event collaborator Ed Summers is a visually impaired software developer and Director of Accessibility at SAS. “I’m living proof that a disability can be an asset rather than a liability,” he says. “People with disabilities must be creative and adaptable. Those qualities are exactly what employers need in today’s ever-changing business environment.”


The STEAM Showcase will include a Keynote Speaker, Panel Discussion and Breakout Sessions, where participants will have an opportunity to directly engage with the speakers and will gain practical knowledge that they can apply to their interests and future career paths. For more information or to register visit (registration is free but required). For additional questions, contact Coordinator of Accessibility and Inclusion Jessie Rassau ( / 919-707-9976).


Keynote Speaker Brandon Winfield grew up playing sports until he found his first true love of motocross, when he traveled the country racing dirt bikes. In 2008, Brandon was injured in a motocross accident that left him with a thoracic spinal cord injury (paralyzed from the chest down). Now he is the founder of iAccess Life, a mobile app that allows people with disabilities to rate, review and research accessible venues, such as restaurants, retail shops, grocery stores and more. Through his start-up, Brandon aims to empower users to “know before they go” and to feel confident making plans with their friends, colleagues and loved ones.



  • Myles de Bastion is an artistic director, musician and creative altruist who develops technology and art installations that enable sound to be experienced as light and vibration. His search for ways to bridge his passion for music with his Deaf identity led him to found CymaSpace, a non-profit that facilitates arts and cultural events that are inclusive of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. His work has appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! Show and he has built large-scale installations for musical festivals and Grammy-award winning jazz artist Esperanza Spalding.
  • Kiara Gomez is a PhD Candidate in the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also a first-generation college student with Colombian roots, and a person who stutters. Kiara’s path as a geoscientist has been multidisciplinary and her love for geology and organic geochemistry has grown from her exposure to its diverse applications across different disciplines. She is passionate about increasing diversity in STEM fields through mentoring and community outreach.
  • Bob Moran is a Content Developer for the Global Partner and Technical Enablement team at Red Hat. He has been with the team for eight and a half years working on video editing, image animation and SCORM packaging. Bob is very interested in working with students with disabilities. He shows them that like himself (Bob is visually impaired), with the correct training and use of assisted technology, they will be able to find work in technology or the arts unhindered by their disabilities.
  • Laura Feldberg is a technical writer working at SAS. She is passionate about communicating content in a way that is equitable so that everyone has access to the same information. She has a lifetime’s experience in managing anxiety and depression before they manage her (usually). She wears hearing aids (when she wants to hear you). She lives with a few chronic illnesses, her family, and some very demanding pets.


Please note: ASL interpretation and live captions will be provided for the entire program and for each breakout room. This year’s STEAM Showcase is sponsored by SAS Institute, Inc.; Red Hat; Labcorp; SAAVAS Learning Company; and the Vaught Family.



NC Museum of Natural Sciences Press Release



Jonathan Pishney | Head of Communications

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences 
11 West Jones Street | Raleigh, NC 27601 
T 919.707.8083 C 919.244.7913