Monday, October 17, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Emily Davidson

Emily Davidson, a former teacher and IT professional who volunteers as an environmental educator, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification.

Emily was a classroom teacher before changing careers last year to work in IT. She continues to volunteer as an environmental educator.  

Emily says her favorite part of the certification program was the instructional workshops and being able to take advantage of all the environmental education facilities in North Carolina.

When asked about an experience in the program that stood out for her, Emily says it was the hands-on experiences. “Anything that was hands-on and in the field that I could bring back to my students. I took them on a field trip at Holmes Educational State Forest and they had an amazing time.”

For her community partnership project, Emily led a tree-planting event with her students and the organization, TreePlenish at her school. The students were part of a high school elective class at The Franklin School of Innovation called Eco-Warriors, which focused on climate change, particularly its effects on Appalachian ecology and communities. Community members also purchased and planted saplings.

Emily says the tree planting event was the culmination of several units she structured around the Project Learning Tree Southeastern Forests and Climate Change curriculum, and an educational field trip she led to Holmes State Educational Forest, Pisgah National Forest, and the Blue Ridge Parkway where students could experience and investigate managed forests in their area. “This was the capstone to our year-long class on climate change and forestry in North Carolina. This was an exciting and encouraging project for my students and it gave them a sense that they could do something tangible about climate change and urbanization in our community.”

Emily says the program changed her approach to teaching. “I learned to be much more patient with those who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the outdoors, and I learned a lot about other people’s perspectives and concerns about the environment.”

Friday, October 7, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Brooke Hullings

Brooke Hullings recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Brooke, a former educator at the NC Zoo, joined the National Guard during the pandemic. During the time away from her full-time position, she has enjoyed spending time with the children in her life and completing her certification project. Brooke enjoys any opportunity to educate children and adults and enjoys hiking, geocaching, camping, and biking. “My goal is to instill a love of nature in the children and adults around me by sparking their curiosity.”

Brooke’s favorite part of earning her certification was being able to visit as many state parks as possible. “I used state parks for my site visits and luckily was able to complete the State Park Passport Book. It was a fun adventure exploring so much of the state.”

She says the experience that stood out for her was an activity during one of the workshops where a statement was presented, and you had to pick a stance. “I strongly agreed with one statement but then, I talked with someone who strongly disagreed, and they presented points that I had not considered. I left the conversation with more open eyes and realized it was not so cut and dry.” She said these discussions are important to have on a one-on-one basis.

For her community partnership project, Brooke created a pollinator station wthin a townhouse community. “The garden is filled with native flowers and positioned so its viewable from the sidewalk as well as the community. A large oak holds the new bench swing that we installed offering an invitation for the community to spend some time outside.” Brooke partnered with The Oaks of Guildford, the townhouse community, the City of Greensboro White Street Landfill, and Freecycle to make the project a reality. “I wanted to plant a pollinator garden with mostly natives, to invite nature back into a barren urban environment. The community I chose to implement this in is a manicured community willing to change and become more nature friendly. The location of the site is near enough to the road and sidewalk that I hope to inspire others to do something similar.”

Brooke says the program changed the way she views environmental issues. “I see there are many things causing environmental issues, more than I knew before, but I have also seen how everyone can do a little something to help in their own way. Most people want to help in some way, they just don't know how, or they want to do something bigger but don't have the time. Linking people with the desire for change and those with the time or resources to spare is a key part of making change.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Jennifer Browndorf

Jennifer Browndorf, a retired public-school teacher, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Jennifer credits the certification with helping her start an “encore” or post-retirement career with NC State Parks as the School Education Assistant. 

In this role, Jennifer helps teachers, schools, students, and other youth connect with rangers and parks to learn more about the natural resources that make NC State Parks special. “I develop and facilitate professional education to support classroom teachers' efforts to teach using the outdoors. I also conduct park field trip programming for school and youth groups.” In her personal time, Jennifer says one of her hobbies is volunteering with the Friends of the Mountains to Sea Trail. “I am the trailhead litter coordinator for Segment 10. I also am a backpacker and bikepacker. I enjoy bird watching, day hiking, and nature journaling.”

Jennifer says her favorite part of earning her certification was the workshops and site visits. “I loved getting to learn such a wide variety of topics in diverse locations. Exploring new topics and places gives me such inspiration that when I returned, I was ready to try out something that I had learned or to share info about something that I had seen.”

When asked about the part of the program that stood out for her, she says it was the teaching experiences. “I was trained as a formal educator, however, the EE programs or lessons that I completed for my certification were in a non-formal setting. I was really applying what I had learned about teaching in the outdoors, creating engaging hands-on lessons, and making the content relevant to inspire the visitor. The teaching time was a great way to practice and learn how to transition from traditional to non-traditional. The goal isn't to master content but to inspire stewardship action.”

For her community partnership project, Jennifer worked with volunteers from Friends of the Mountains to Sea, Keep Durham Beautiful, and Big Sweep of Wake County to host litter clean-up events at trailheads, along shorelines, and creeks at both Falls Lake and Eno River State Parks. “I planned and executed several large cleanup events resulting to this date in about 8,000 pounds of litter being removed from our watershed. I have maintained these relationships and have more cleanups planned throughout the coming months. The project is not over - it is ongoing.” Jennifer wants to continue to increase people’s awareness for their impact on their watershed and how they can reduce it.  

Jennifer says participating in the certification program helped her become more comfortable teaching outdoors. “I am more confident about how to manage groups in an outdoor/field setting. In addition, I have increased my knowledge about NC natural resources, wildlife resources, and the agencies that protect and serve our public spaces. I learned that teaching a person about different natural resources is great, but if you can teach them why it is special, they will be more inspired to protect it. People need to experience the environment using all their senses to help them move stewardship from awareness to action.”

She also says the program changed some of her thoughts about environmental issues. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have organic conversations with students and visitors. I am more open to learning about the issue from their point of view. The door to dialogue about environmental impacts is more open when people have had a positive experience with the environment. People are more willing to share thoughts and ideas after they have learned why it is special.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Katy Menne

Katy Menne recently completed her Environmental Education Certification. Katy, a Curator of Education with the NC Maritime Museum at Southport recently took a position as the Education Director at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon. 

Katy says her supervisor at the NC Maritime Museum encouraged her to pursue her environmental education certification. “When I started at the NC Maritime Museum at Southport, my supervisor was passionate about folding maritime culture and environment together as they help tell each other’s stories. That passion has rubbed off on me.”

The certification program helped Katy grow her comfort in nature. “Starting out I didn't wonder about the natural world around me - it was not something I grew up with, so getting to learn about it in my adult life has been wonderful.”

For her community partnership project, Katy worked with four organizations: Potters Seafood, NCDEQ’s Marine Patrol, Cape Fear River Watch, and the City of Southport to create a wayside educational sign on the Southport City Pier to help educate residents and visitors about maritime culture and the maritime environment. The sign includes a map highlighting the Cape Fear River, Intracoastal waterway and Atlantic Ocean in addition to information on how to measure a fish. A QR Code links to more information.  

Katy says the program also changed her approach to teaching. “I deliberately look at the natural world when discussing maritime topics. Plus, I have found I have more compassion and I'm more cognizant of the world around me than I ever have been before.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Andi Webb

Andi Webb, a teacher, and instructional coach at Forest Hills Global Elementary School in New Hanover County has earned her NC Environmental Education Certification. 

Andi says she is passionate about international education and sustainability. Her favorite part of earning her Environmental Education Certification was the in- person workshops at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher. “I always felt very welcomed, and they were fun opportunities with activities that would easily translate into working with children.”

Andi says the sea turtle workshop at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher was an experience that really stood out for her. She also partnered with the aquarium for her community partnership program which is required for certification. “I worked with them to review their online modules they created in response to the pandemic. They wanted feedback and suggestions. The modules were already very good, but I believe having a practicing educator's perspective helped them solidify the modules and make a few updates that may be beneficial to other educators.”

When asked how the program changed her approach to teaching, Webb says it strengthened her approach. “I already knew how valuable it is to get children outside, but this program truly helped reinforce it. It also reminded me how much I enjoy being outside.”

Andi says she can see multiple perspectives when she thinks about environmental issues. “We can be quick to condemn people, but we may not always understand the rationale for the actions of others. However, we need to try and work together to improve sustainability in North Carolina, around our country, and throughout the world. Sometimes this means inconveniencing ourselves and advocating that businesses we work with improve their sustainability practices.”

Andi is a National Board-Certified Teacher who has a Master of Education degree with a K-8 science focus from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Doctor of Education in educational leadership from East Carolina University. She has received numerous awards including the 2012 North Carolina Elementary Social Studies Teacher of the Year, a Career Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers through Burroughs Welcome Fund and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program in Singapore and of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program. 

Monday, August 1, 2022

Rhonda Horne, A School Counselor at Lumberton High School in Robeson County Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Rhonda Horne, Katie Fountain, Gail McLean

Rhonda Horne, a school counselor at Lumberton High School in Robeson County recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Rhonda’s school is one of two high schools in the county, and in addition to being the school's counselor, she serves as the school's registrar, 504 Coordinator, and alternative program liaison. In her personal time, she enjoys organic gardening, bird watching, camping, hiking, and traveling to state parks and national parks. “I enjoy anything that takes me close to nature whether it be the mountains, seashore, or prairie. I have visited all North Carolina State Parks and Recreation areas.” 

Rhonda says she enjoyed all parts of the program but especially liked the site visits. “As part of the NC State Park Passport Program, I visited all the state parks and recreation areas in three years. I started with the mountain region, then the coast and finally the piedmont. Each area was abundant with its own flora, fauna, wildlife, and regional history. During those visits I explored museums, battlegrounds, and botanical gardens in each area. I learned a lot about North Carolina, its history, people, and wildlife.” 

To complete her teaching requirement, Rhonda volunteered at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island. “Teaching at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island last summer was the experience of a lifetime. I spent a week volunteering and working in a variety of workstations and departments. Each day I had a different assignment working with a variety of animals. It was a big learning curve for me because I had to learn about the animals while teaching children and adult visitors. One day I would work with turtles and the next day, sharks.”

For her community partnership project, Rhonda partnered with the Public Library of Robeson County, The North Carolina Arboretum, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Whiteville to install a pollinator garden and wildlife viewing station as part of The North Carolina Arboretum’s K-8 grade citizen science project, ecoEXPLORE. The main library in Lumberton shares a beautiful garden with the City of Lumberton and Rhonda worked with a volunteer master gardener Gail McLean, and the director of the library, Katie Fountain, to make the project a reality. “I wanted to do something new in my community that would be far-reaching and accessible to all youth in Robeson County. There are many children that rarely leave the county and now they can become a part of citizen science while discovering and learning about nature and wildlife.” 

Rhonda says after participating in the program, she has a more positive and optimistic outlook on the impact educators, programs, and agencies are having on the public’s awareness of environmental issues and concerns. “I think such programs as the ecoEXPLORE program and the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification are grassroots approaches that aim to educate and teach environmental awareness in a manner that leads an individual and groups to think for themselves and formulate their own opinions about how they as individuals can impact changes in small or large ways, working individually or within their own community.”

Monday, June 27, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Amy Schmitte

Amy Schmitte, the nature and events coordinator for the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) in Tryon recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification Program. Amy provides environmental education programming for K-5 students in Polk County both at schools and on-site at FENCE. In addition to working with students, she also organizes community outreach evens and coordinates the summer camp programs. In her personal time, Amy enjoys bird watching, exploring local hiking trails, and visiting local restaurants and bakeries. 

Amy says she enjoyed all the parts of the certification program, but she especially appreciated the opportunity to travel around the state visiting Environmental Education Centers for workshops or site visits. “I was able to visit many neat facilities and places around the state that I may not have otherwise known about. The program provided great opportunities to meet like-minded individuals and to network with other people in your field.” 

When asked what experience stood out for her, Amy says it was the outdoor experiences and especially one program. “There were a lot of great experiences! I think the most memorable experiences are any of the hands-on/outdoor ones. I really enjoyed attending the Salamander Diversity and Biogeography Workshop at Highlands Biological Station. It was an educational workshop with an indoor presentation and an outdoor fieldwork portion. We were able to explore the Highlands Biological station (always a treat!) and then took a field trip to another location with a high Salamander population to work on locating and identifying salamander species.”

For her community partnership project, Amy created a sensory garden using native plants at FENCE to give new life and purpose to some unused garden beds. “I was able to partner with a local elementary school (Saluda Elementary) and their second-grade classes took a field trip to FENCE to learn about plants and animals, learn about how we can engage our senses to explore our environment, and assist in planting the gardens. The students gained a sense of ownership over the gardens, and many talked about their excitement in visiting the garden on future field trips to see how the garden has grown and changed. The garden also benefits the community both humans and animals. By incorporating many native plants into the garden, we have created a space for pollinators to visit, as well as a place for human visitors to explore, enjoy, and engage their senses.”

Amy says participating in the program gave her a wealth of knowledge on many environmental topics. 

“I feel more confident in my teaching and the program has given me the flexibility to adapt when things don't go exactly as planned. I think the biggest change would be that I am more aware of all the environmental education resources that are available to me when planning lessons and activities and how to access and use them.”

Amy says the program strengthened her views on the effectiveness of environmental education and outdoor experiences for children and adults. “I don't feel that the way I think about environmental issues has changed drastically since beginning the EE certification program but participating in the program has definitely solidified my thoughts on the importance of environmental education. I feel strongly that meaningful environmental education and meaningful outdoor experiences are key in instilling a love and care for the environment in individuals of all ages.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Jane Shrader

Jane Shrader, a retired teacher and volunteer librarian for a school in Pitt County, has completed the NC Environmental Education Certification. In addition to volunteering as a librarian, Jane also volunteers for the after-school program and occasionally substitute teaches for the school’s upper elementary math and science teacher. In her personal time, Jane enjoys the outdoors, hiking, and learning to bird.

Jane says her favorite part of earning her certification was meeting other educators. “I enjoyed all the classes and meeting folks of like mind. I love being outdoors and learning more about our environment.” She said the instructional workshops really stood out. “The hands-on, instructional (Criteria I) classes were always a joy and well taught - from Fort FisherAquarium to Becky Skiba (NC Wildlife Resources Commission) and birds.”

Jane’s community partnership project reflected her enjoyment of the outdoors and birding. She brought citizen science programs like theGreat Backyard Bird Count and Project FeederWatch to students at the Third Street Education Center in Greenville. Jane describes Third Street Education Center’s property as an “urban forest” with 20 or more mature hardwoods, magnolias, dogwoods, green space and fruit trees.

“During my occasional volunteer times at the school, I noticed that the students, in casual conversation, knew very little about birds, habitats, or thought much about animal needs, or the effect of seasons, etc. Their ability to enjoy and understand the ‘inner-city forest’ that existed on their school grounds never went beyond playing tag and racing around. In general, the students did not appear to have much “environmental experience” let alone understanding. Many had not been to large parks, or forests, were not particularly observant of the setting around them.”

Jane’s project made a lasting impact on the students. “The use of birding activities simply opened the door for greater conversations about nature, about the environment, about specific life needs by bringing it directly into their daily setting. I am told, that even during recess, students are "looking up" and examining the trees and fence rows, looking for the different types of birds.” Her project has also impacted the adults at the school and has led to building and grounds conversations between staff about the uniqueness of their location and about how to preserve and adequately maintain the unique school site. “The adults are beginning to express an understanding of the need to preserve this place and to maintain the health of the trees.”

Jane said the certification program changed her approach to teaching. “I'm a retired teacher and I've always used hands-on lessons. But this has inspired me to be more explicit in how I teach environmental ed. I particularly love the new PLT (Project Learning Tree) book - Explore YourEnvironment - and Project WET (Water Education for Teachers). The lessons were clear and easy to use. Also loved the adaptability to different age groups.”

“The environmental education programs have had many underlying social and emotional learning emphasis. I'm more concerned about the numbers of people who never get to experience or appreciate the importance of the outdoors to our mental health. Working with inner city kids, I've been caught up in the need for kids to get out, to touch, to see, to breathe. If they never have those opportunities, they may never recognize how important the natural world is to their well-being.”

Educator Spotlight: Shelley Moore

Shelley Moore, educator, and park attendant at Walnut Creek Wetland Park in Raleigh recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Shelley has a master’s degree in natural resources, and an academic background in psychology and education. “I began working at Walnut Creek just under a year ago, and I am so appreciative of the opportunities I have been given there to engage with the community, teach programs, and complete my environmental education partnership project.” In her personal time, she enjoys camping and hiking with her family, trail running, reading, and gardening.

Shelley says that the certification program helped advance her career and enable her to explore the state and connect with other environmental educators. “I moved to North Carolina five years ago, and the certification program has given me a wide variety of opportunities to learn about, explore, and feel connected to our state’s incredible natural resources. I have had wonderful experiences visiting EE centers for workshops and site visits, that I might not have come across without this program. I have also enjoyed meeting other people that are part of the N.C. environmental education community.”

For her community partnership project, Shelley planned and installed a new pollinator garden at Walnut Creek Wetland Park. Partnering with a group of volunteers from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, the garden was planted last fall and provides habitat for pollinators and adds beauty to an area in front of the Norman and Betty Camp Education Center. Going forward, Shelley says the garden will also be used to provide community education and volunteer opportunities. “Working with others to install the pollinator garden was a rewarding experience. This spring, it has been exciting to see the plants thriving and starting to bloom, and to find monarch caterpillars on the milkweed. I’ve also enjoyed talking with park visitors and nature program participants about the garden.”

Shelley says the program helped her become more confident teaching environmental education programs. “When planning programs, I refer to the resources and knowledge I acquired throughout the certification program. I also focus on making programs as interactive, engaging, and hands-on as possible.” 

After participating in the program, Shelley says she changed the way she views environmental issues. “I have a greater appreciation of the many ways in which environmental education can help people connect to the environment and gain an understanding of it, so that they will feel encouraged to take action to address environmental issues in their communities. I feel that this program provided me with an excellent background in environmental education and helped me to become confident in my abilities to provide quality educational programs. I enjoyed the in-person workshops that allowed me to engage with other educators but was also very appreciative of the virtual options that made it possible for me to participate in programs I wouldn’t have been able to attend in person. I look forward to being a part of more workshops in the future!”

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Maggie Miller

Maggie Miller, the lead interpretation and education ranger at Pilot Mountain State Park recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Maggie has been working for NC State Parks for five years and in her role, she works with local students from public and private schools and with homeschool students. She also leads programs for Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and other organizations. 

Maggie says her favorite part of earning her certification was attending workshops, learning different teaching methods and her community partnership project. “I engaged with so many wonderful educators and learned new ways of teaching through those classes.”

For her community partnership project, Maggie worked with Charles H. Memorial Library in Pinnacle, NC. With the help of local high school students, she created a native pollinator garden in several of the library's open beds, provided 60 free native wildflower seed packets that included native plants such as common milkweed, purple coneflower, and black-eyed Susan and offered pollinator programs at the library. 

Maggie says participating in the program changed her approach to teaching. “When I started my NC EE Certification, I was new to North Carolina and new to being a NC State Park Ranger. I was a beginner with some experience from working at a state park in Florida. The program really showed me the basics through professional educators. Learning how to provide programs that engage the visitor through observation and place-based education.”

Maggie says the program also changed the way she views environmental issues. “By attending so many wonderful classes through this certification process, I was exposed to issues or topics I didn't know existed. I was already very environmentally aware, but this opened my eyes up to even more and provided me with tools to teach without overwhelming students.”

Educator Spotlight - Jake Swinson

Jake Swinson, a park technician for Wake County Parks, Recreation & Open Space and environmental educator for the City of Raleigh recently completed his NC Environmental Education Certification. 

Jake says working two positions creates variety in his day-to-day work and keeps him working in different locations and multitasking. “Some days I'm opening the preserves or providing educational programming to families and school groups. On other days, I may be doing natural resource surveys or trail maintenance... no two days are the same and I enjoy that! Outside of work I like spending time with my wife and dog, playing music, and going hiking/camping with family and friends. I've been piecing the Appalachian Trail together over several years and hope to finish it soon!”

Jake says his favorite parts of the program were learning new things, visiting new places and meeting new people and the community partnership project he led. “Of the many great experiences within the certification, the overnight camping site visit with my dad at Goose Creek State Park was probably the highlight.” 

For his community partnership project, Jake planted Longleaf Pines at Sandy Pines Preserve in Wendell with help from Wake the Forest Foundation and from volunteers from the community. Jake says, “Although this species is historically native to this location, in recent centuries, it has been diminished greatly. These newly planted trees will establish habitats for different animals, provide a historical, cultural, and environmental centerpiece for educational programs offered by the county, and help to provide cleaner air to the area!”

Jake says that participating in the program helped him become comfortable teaching school-aged children and increased his awareness of the extent of people’s involvement with the environment and environmental education. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Sarina Dellinger

Sarina with a Big Leaf Magnolia at Hurley Park

Sarina Dellinger, a horticulturalist for the City of Salisbury completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Sarina is the Public Garden Manager for Elizabeth Holmes Hurley Park, an 18-acre garden park in Salisbury where she maintains the landscape, gardens, and interacts with the public. Sarina says the certification program helped her find a job. “I work within parks and recreation, so I am always pushing to bring environmental education to new and existing programs. I am passionate about native plants, maintaining landscapes in an environmentally friendly way and sharing that knowledge with everyone I meet.”

Sarina says her favorite part of earning her certification was meeting people from across the state with similar interests. “I enjoyed getting out of my comfort zone in the programs and learning more about how environmental education connects to classroom teachers. Her time working with Mary Meyer at the US National Wildlife Center really stood out to her. “She introduced me to the world of hands-on environmental education programs, and it was great to work and learn under her direction. I received most of my teaching hours from working with the whitewater center, and I couldn’t have had a better role model.”

For her community partnership project, Sarina focused on bring multiple environmental education programs to the City of Salisbury including tours of the park and a native plant tour and swap. “It was great to see citizens interested in adding native plants to their landscape.”

When asked if the program changed her approach to teaching, Sarina says the program gave her more confidence. “It helped me to learn from more seasoned educators and gave me a new perspective on what it takes to run a successful program.” 

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.”