Friday, November 22, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Meredith Fish

Meredith Fish, an educator for the North Carolina Aquarium at Jennette’s Pier, recently completed her Environmental Education Certification. Meredith instructs several outdoor summer camps, fishing classes, school field trips and outreach programs.

Meredith created a “Drone Exploration Program” to bring STEM education to classrooms in northeastern North Carolina for her community partnership project. She received a grant through Dominion Energy and traveled with Jennette’s Pier to middle schools to teach kids what drones are, how they work and how they are used within the realm of environmental science.

“Most kids probably think that drones are just cool toys, but this program will teach them the various ways that drones can be used in the environmental research and conservation fields, which will help inspire potential future careers in these young bright students,” said Meredith. “The northeastern North Carolina community that I will be reaching is very rural and is typically underrepresented when it comes to educational opportunities such as this. Upon completion of this project, this drone exploration program will be added to the list of programs offered through Jennette’s Pier.”

Meredith says the program helped her see the environment through a kid’s eyes and allowed her to travel the state visiting environmental education centers. “I learned to teach different audiences about a wide variety of topics.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Secretary Regan Presents UNCG Doctoral Student with Environmental Education Certification

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan made a visit to UNC Greensboro on November 12 to award Ti’Era Worsley her North Carolina Environmental Education Certificate and to visit with faculty.

Ti’Era is a doctoral student in the Department of Teacher Education and Higher Education at UNCG. She researches informal science education with middle school youth and STEM. Ti’Era’s current research interest include looking at social interactions among African American youth and how it affects their quality of work. She focuses on STEM education but has a passion for environmental education and for working with minoritized youth. She likes working with this specific population because it gives them an opportunity to engage in STEM in ways that are culturally relevant to them.
Ti’Era’s community partnership project was working with a cultural/Spanish immersion program to host a professional development workshop that focused on outdoor education. They wanted ideas on activities that would support their curriculum and show them how to use the resources they have access to within their space. The teachers and assistants were interested in outdoor education but were unsure how to implement it into their curriculum. She was able to share resources and create a google drive that provided them environmental education activities in Spanish.

Ti’Era says she naturally takes a community-based approach to teaching and believes in co-creating and co-planning. “The EE Certification program has provided me the content knowledge to help bridge the gap of people's perspectives about environmental education and building environmental literacy. After participating in the certification program, I think about environmental issues with a diverse mindset. I understand that different people have very different connections to the outdoors and what may be pressing to some is not very pressing to others. I have become better at understanding the importance of the outdoors from different perspectives.”

Friday, November 1, 2019

Secretary Regan Visits Environmental Education Class at Appalachian State University

North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary Michael Regan visited Tom Randolph’s environmental education class at Appalachian State University last week to talk about climate change, and how North Carolina is working to mitigate the impact, including supporting the transition to clean energy.

Randolph is a North Carolina Certified Environmental Educator through the DEQ administered program and serves as the Lead Education Ranger at Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area, a part of the North Carolina State Parks system located in West Jefferson in Ashe County. He is also an adjunct professor of interpretive methods at ASU where he teaches the class in environmental education.

Secretary Regan presenting student Project WET certificate

Secretary Regan enjoyed hearing from students and was able to hand out certificates to students for completing their Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) Workshop, a national environmental education curriculum that is managed on the state level by the department. Students were interested in learning more about how they can engage the university, the local community and beyond to implement sustainable practices.

“It was such an honor to come to Appalachian State University and speak to a class of environmental education students who are passionate about the environment and looking for ways to protect what makes North Carolina special,” said Secretary Michael S. Regan. “The students raised some challenging questions about climate change and its impacts, but they also are actively engaged in being part of the solution.”

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Secretary Regan Presents UNCA Student with Environmental Education Certification

N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael S. Regan presents the Environmental Education Certificate to UNC Asheville student Emily Avery, as Chancellor Nancy J. Cable (right) and Provost Kai Campbell (left) look on.

Secretary Michael Regan visited the campus of the University of North Carolina Asheville this week to meet university officials and present Emily Avery with the department’s environmental education certification. Avery is a graduate student in environmental studies pursuing her teaching license to become a middle school science teacher.

She began the certification program while working as a seasonal naturalist at Chimney Rock State Park where she discovered her interest in environmental education. “That’s where I discovered my passion for science, nature and environmental education,” said Avery. “I quickly realized I wanted my full-time career to be in science education, which led me to pursue the teacher licensure program at UNCA.”

Avery says the program helped her discover the importance of environmental stewardship, hands-on learning and ways to bring the environment into the classroom. She plans to use her knowledge of environmental education in her future middle school science classroom. “When students have more opportunities for experiential learning it creates a deeper thinking and application of knowledge that can be used in the real world.”

For her community partnership project required for the certification, Avery worked with Asheville Middle School and The North Carolina Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORE program to create and teach environmental education lessons for the school's In Real Life after-school program. Through these activities, the students learned about the species that live in their own schoolyard and ways to observe and identify different species. Avery says that she will use the certification as a middle school teacher. “I will use what I learned from the certification program to become a better science educator and to share the importance of environmental stewardship with the community.”

From left, Nancy Ruppert and Evan Couzo of UNC Asheville’s education faculty, students Emily Avery and Julie Neumark, alum Amy Kinsella, and Alison Ormsby of the environmental studies faculty
Regan was joined for the recognition ceremony by UNC Asheville Chancellor Dr. Nancy Cable and Dr. Garikai Campbell, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Also in attendance were certified environmental educators Alison Ormsby, an adjunct instructor of environmental studies and humanities at the university and Amy Kinsella, a UNC Asheville environmental studies graduate who is an education ranger at Holmes Educational State Forest in Hendersonville. Julie Neumark, an environmental studies student currently working on her environmental education certification also attended the recognition and had the opportunity to meet the secretary as she looks forward to completing the program herself.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Amy Eldredge

Congratulations to Amy Eldredge on completing her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Eldredge currently is the Maui Program Associate with the Marine Sanctuary Foundation in Kihei, Hawaii. She leads the volunteer program which includes recruiting, training and scheduling new volunteers, hosts professional development meetings and oversees the visitor center. 

Her favorite part of the certification process was "taking the classes from such experienced and personable educators... I honestly retook some workshops because they are fun to attend and help with the retention of material. You never know what different birds you may see each time when going on a birding program!"

For her community partnership project, Eldredge organized and presented bat workshops on Bald Head Island and surrounding areas. Working with BHI Conservancy, local organizations, and N.C. state employees, she created lectures focused on bats and local pollinators with topics ranging from native gardening to bat boxes. "Two of the three workshops included hands-on projects, which they were able to take with them. These projects included creating native seed bombs to attract pollinator species once planted and in bloom as well as constructing bat boxes to be set up around the island at predetermined locations." This project seeks to educate people on the importance of bats to local ecology and "help break the stigma that bats are bad." Eldredge's project also help the local community become involved in citizen science initiatives and increased participation in creating healthy pollinator environments. 

Through this program, Eldredge learned new teaching techniques to present environmental information in an interesting and age-appropriate way. "This program is a great way to train those not formally trained in environmental education. I learned how to apply real-world issues to a classroom in a formal and informal setting and how to share these environmental issues appropriately with various age groups."

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Chandler Holland

Congratulations to Chandler Holland for completing the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification program. Holland is a sophomore at Warren Wilson College, where she is pursuing an Integrated Studies major and Business minor. She is also developing a community organization called Red Ridge, NC which serves to engage, educate and employ the local community through their programs and micro business opportunities.

The multi-day workshops that Holland participated in stood out as her favorite parts of the certification program. She found the "Heart-Based Environmental Education Training" at Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute particularly influential. In this workshop, Holland learned about the 8 Shields Program, which she credits with increasing her connection to nature and providing her with tools to share that connection with others. Holland also enjoyed the Certified Interpretive Guide training because "the focus on interpretation rather than education opened up an entire other part of sharing  information and creating engagement that I hadn't really thought about before."

For her community partnership project, Holland created the Saxapahaw Island Park Nature Bingo activity which uses the local flora and fauna on bingo playing cards. These cards use photographs from the trails and riverbanks of the park to encourage both children and adults to engage directly with the nature on the island." The project will enhance each visitor's experience in the park, as it encourages exploration beyond the playground and onto the many trails through the more natural areas." Additionally, participants are encouraged to share their findings on Instagram and Pinterest to increase the reach of the project and catalog findings.

The certification program provided Holland with a structure to further develop her teaching experiences and taught her different forms of teaching. "Though I have been a non-formal educator since I was 10 years old, I had never really been given a structure to form my teaching experiences around. Through the certification program, I have been given access to multiple formats to mold and combine into what I need and they are invaluable resources into developing my approach to teaching."

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Erin Crouse

Erin Crouse recently earned her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Crouse is a conservation manager with The Conservation Fund, working on community projects that focus on conservation and economic development. Through this role, she leads environmental education programs that connect people to local agriculture at Good Hope Farm

When asked about her favorite part of the program, Crouse said that she enjoyed learning more about North Carolina flora and fauna and connecting with other educators through the courses. In particular, she enjoyed teaching third graders about vermicomposting and pollinators, putting the skills she learned to practice. 

For her community partnership project, Crouse created a native plant arbor at the Merriwood Apartments' community garden in Cary. She worked with the Town of Cary and property management at the apartment complex to identify a high impact project. The garden is a new project between the partners and the arbor brought an integral educational component. Crouse also worked with Boy Scouts and Cary Teen Council members to construct the arbor. "The arbor build raises awareness of the importance of pollinators to our environment and allows Merriwood residents to learn more about the native plants that support pollinators. It also increases knowledge of how pollination works, and how pollinator species pollinate crops in the garden, helping grow food."

Crouse also found that, as she spends more time out in the field, she better understands "the complexity of the issues we face with our environment, and that there is not one solution, but many people working together." She also found that the certification program increased her confidence as an educator. "I'm now more relaxed in a teaching setting and am better able to handle questions that come my way."

Monday, August 12, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Bruce Young

Congratulations to Bruce Young on completing the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program. Young is a board member for the Virginia Association for Environmental Education, the Virginia state affiliate of the North American Association for Environmental Education.

Young currently serves as director-at-large for the association and chairs the association’s communications and outreach action team, serves as co-chair for their 2020 conference and represents the association on the Virginia Environmental Education Certification Advisory Board.

In his free time, Young designs costumes and props for local community theater productions and is a volunteer with the Rivanna Conservation Alliance providing instruction during field trips with local school groups. He also enjoys exploring Virginia’s local parks and nature centers such as Shenandoah National Park with his camera, binoculars and field guides.

When asked about his favorite part of earning his certification, Bruce says there was so much that stood out for him. “I think that being able to attend trainings across North Carolina and explore my home state's natural and cultural history was really exciting for me. Also meeting so many wonderful people at various trainings and events was really exciting for me.”

Bruce did note two specific experiences that stood out for him during the certification process. One was a Colonial and Native American Games Workshop at Stone Mountain State Park with Brian Bockhahn, a regional education specialist with North Carolina State Parks. The other experience was a trip to the Sandhills to learn about the longleaf pine ecosystem. Young was able to see a red-cockaded woodpecker at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve and to view a pitch, tar, and turpentine demonstration while learning about the history of the naval store industry in North Carolina.

For Young’s community partnership project, he used the North American Association’s Environmental Education Guidelines for Professional Development to create a workshop for Virginia’s Environmental Education Certification program. Young says the workshop serves as the "kick-off" for educators interested in becoming Virginia Certified Environmental Educators and provided a baseline for best practices in environmental education. “Prior to this workshop, there was very little professional development available for non-formal educators that weren't purely curriculum or programmatic in focus. This workshop provides the tools for environmental educators at all levels to self-assess their work, programs, and teaching styles to see where they may excel or may want to explore areas of growth.”

When asked if participating in North Carolina’s certification program led to any changes in his approach to teaching, Young said it had brought his focus closer to home. “Much of my teaching is very focused now on the bioregion that I am in which previously would have focused on ecosystems or animals elsewhere. I also have increased my comfort working with early child audiences due to the various workshops like Growing Up WILD and the PLT Early Childhood Guide that have become the backbone of much of my freelance work.”

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Ashley Meredith

Ashley Meredith just completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Ashley is the program coordinator at the Durham Public Schools Hub Farm, an outdoor educational facility for the school district.

Her favorite part of earning her certification was "meeting other folks working towards their certification... I enjoyed networking with others as well as brainstorming to fix common issues that arise at our workplaces." Ashley also found the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education course to be useful since she didn't previously have any formal training in education. "It was nice to have a more formal class to learn about some childhood developmental stages as well as different techniques for teaching outdoors."

For her community partnership project, Ashley planned and hosted the Hub Farm Spring Festival on World Bee Day, an event that highlighted teachers' outdoor education projects and fun on the farm. Ashley wanted to raise awareness of the Hub Farm and the resources it offers to community members and teachers. She partnered with BOLD (Building Outdoor Learning in Durham) fellows, teachers who had won mini-grants to do outdoor education projects at their schools. She also worked with other community groups in outdoor education to provide activities like canoeing, tree climbing, and arts and crafts. "By providing space and activities for families and individuals to have positive experiences outdoors, especially younger children, we hope that we helped shape their values and attitudes regarding the outdoors."

Ashley found that the certification program impacted how she plans for lessons. "I see the value in planning and practicing lessons as well as preparing an exceptional learning environment. I also know that there is a lot of curriculum out there, so when looking for something new, I don't try to reinvent the wheel, but instead try to modify other lessons that already exist."

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Carrie Harmon

Carrie Harmon recently earned her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. She is an education ranger with the North Carolina Forest Service at Turnbull Creek Educational State Forest in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. When Carrie is not managing the forest through prescribed burns, weed control, and soil and water management, she is teaching visiting groups about forestry.

Carrie said that her favorite part of the program was exploring new Environmental Education Centers across the state and learning about existing environmental education resources. A workshop at the Carolina Beach State Park especially stands out, where she took a bat workshop and skulls, tracks and scat workshop. "The identification handouts were really helpful, and I have used the information given when I teach classes at the forest."

Her community partnership project focused on increasing environmental literacy within Bladen County. She did this by setting up a Little Free Library at Jones Lake State Park and organizing a Summer Read and Hike Day to celebrate the official opening of the Free Library. "By stocking the library with books geared toward environmental literacy, citizens will hopefully become more aware and sensitive to problems in the environment and will have the knowledge to tackle them." Community members donated books focusing on nature and the environment and were integral in the success of Bladen County's first Little Free Library. "I wanted residents of Bladen County to have something that they could claim ownership of; something that was a lasting impact on the community. The out-pour of book donations from community members and local organizations has been incredible."

The Environmental Education Certification program provided Carrie with new resources and methodologies that she can apply to her work as a ranger. "I have gained so many resources for teaching thanks to EE Certification. I would never have attended all the fascinating workshops at all the various EE Centers if I hadn't gone through the program. Now, I have a plethora of guides, fact sheets, web links, workbooks, and tools to use in my teaching. This helps to broaden the information that I give in my classes."

Carrie also says that the program impacted her own interactions with the environment. "'I've definitely become more aware of the interrelationships of systems within the environment. A change in one thing, whether it's a population of an insect species or the temperature of a stream, can cause a ripple effect and change other things. This awareness has evolved my own interaction with the environment, hopefully for the better."

Monday, July 29, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Diane Mason

Congratulations to Diane Mason for completing the Environmental Education Certification program! Diane is a nonformal educator at Agape Center for Environmental Education where she leads field trips and teaches hands-on activities for all grade levels, from Kindergarten through high school.

Diane loves being outside and helping students experience "the wonders and mysteries of nature." Her favorite part of the certification process was the variety of classes offered and the opportunity to learn new teaching techniques. "I have loved all the different criteria and am so glad the program has multiple facets of learning."

For her Community Partnership project, Diane created a curriculum entitled "Monarch and Milkweed" for schools in the Triangle area including Lincoln Heights Magnet Elementary, an Environmental Connections Magnet School in Wake County. Diane's lessons centered around teaching students about Monarch butterflies and the importance of milkweed. Diane provided materials for students to plant their own milkweed plants and materials for teachers to develop pollinator gardens, along with associated lessons. "I saw an opportunity to really connect the lesson to [students] through hands-on models and the planting of seeds for milkweed plants and coneflowers. I was able to work with a variety of age groups and abilities at area schools. The feedback from the students, teachers and parents allowed me to see the positive ripple effects of the project."

Diane says that the program broadened her approach to teaching. "The two required workshops, Basics of Environmental Education and Methods of Teaching Environmental Education, challenged me to reevaluate my teaching methods. They have caused me to be more broad-minded and more adaptable in my teaching. More often now, I find myself trying to look at the lesson as a child might perceive it."

As an environmental educator, Diane believes it is important to instill a love of nature in children through these hands-on experiences. "On seeing the caterpillar and chrysalis on the milkweed for the first time, one fourth-grader kept saying, "Is this really real? I mean really, really real? Like alive and real?"

Friday, July 26, 2019

Asheville Teacher Receives Governor's Conservation Achievement Award for Environmental Educator of the Year

Congratulations to Lily Dancy-Jones for winning the Environmental Educator of the Year Award. This award is a part of the Governor's Conservation Achievement Awards presented by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. Each year, the N.C. Wildlife Federation honors individuals who work to protect North Carolina's wildlife and natural resources.

Dancy-Jones, a high school biology teacher in Asheville was recognized for her efforts to increase awareness of pollinators their habitats in her community and surrounding areas. Dancy-Jones completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification program in 2018 and for her community partnership project, she created an educational pollinator garden at Erwin High School and worked with students and other local organizations to build awareness about the importance of pollinators. Along with this work, she also founded an Eco Club at her school and chairs the steering committee for Youth for Environmental Stewardship.

You can read more about this year's Governor's Conservation Achievement Awards here and see more details about Lily's experience with the Certification program here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Secretary Regan Recognizes Ranger at Crowders Mountain State Park

Secretary Michael Regan visited Crowders Mountain State Park last week to award the North Carolina Environmental Education Certificate to park ranger Joshua Oksnevad.

“I was inspired by ranger Oksnevad’s passion for the mission of North Carolina’s state parks,” said Regan, who was given a tour and overview of the park on his visit. “I thank ranger Oksnevad for his service, sharing his journey, and for educating our young people.”

Oksnevad created programming for the park service’s Interpretation and Education database so park rangers will have access to materials on issues ranging from camping and safety to waterfowl, owls and elk. Whether it’s at Jockey’s Ridge at the coast or Elk Knob in the mountains, every park will benefit from the new programming.

Oksnevad is especially proud that while these programs will be directly utilized by other rangers, ultimately they will enhance the experience of visitors of all ages by engaging them on subjects that are fun, diverse and related to environmental education.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Lauren Huffstetler

Lauren Huffstetler recently earned her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Lauren is a natural resources assistant at McDowell Nature Center in Charlotte where she provides environmental programming for school groups, summer camps and visitors.

Lauren says the best part of earning her certification was the diversity of science topics offered. “From birding to plant identification to stream investigations, I was able to explore so many different types of ecosystems from the mountains to the coast. Receiving resources to use in my own programming as well as networking with fellow environmental educators was so beneficial.”

When asked about a stand-out moment in the program, Lauren notes an Advanced WILD workshop on raptors provided by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “I was able to meet a beautiful Red-tailed hawk and learn more about the sport of falconry. Participants were even able to practice falconry skills by handling some of the raptors with trained professionals.”

For her community partnership project, Lauren coordinated Alamance Creek Week, an opportunity for many organizations throughout Alamance County to engage in a week-long observance of the importance of our local wetlands and waterways. She coordinated the participation of local businesses, families, clubs, schools, and neighborhoods associations in volunteer activities such as paddle cleanups and litter pickups, educational events such as waste management tours, interpretive trail walks, and rain garden workshops as well as recreational activities that ranged from wine and design with a water theme to fun water-themed trivia. “Creek Week events gave residents the opportunity to get their hands dirty, do some hands-on learning, and have some fun contributing to the health of their watershed.”

Lauren said the program led to changes in the way she approaches teaching. “Environmental education should spark curiosity of the natural world and create spaces for students to participate in experiential learning. The environmental education courses were a great reminder that I am an ambassador for the environment and it's my job to instill a love for nature and the outdoors in my audiences, so they too will choose to protect and preserve our natural spaces.”

Lauren also says the program changed the way she views environmental issues. “While I was an avid environmental enthusiast before starting the certification, the courses and programs I attended broadened my horizons to new ideas and deepened my knowledge on topics I had not previously studied.”

Monday, June 24, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Jacob Brown

Congratulations to Jacob Brown on completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. As a park ranger for the City of Fayetteville, Jacob interacts with hundreds of people a day, especially the school children that visit the local nature center. Through this work, he educates the many visitors about local flora and fauna within the city parks.

When asked about his favorite aspect of the certification program, Jacob answered, "it was a lot of fun learning new programs to present and meeting other educators. Sharing ideas through these workshops was a highlight and a very good opportunity to learn." 

Jacob created a wheelchair accessible raised bed garden with the help of a local scout troop for his community partnership project, which currently serves as a butterfly garden. Jacob and the scouts constructed the wooden platform and created a connection to existing sidewalks by laying down slate. They planted parsley in the bed to attract black swallowtails and plans to use the bed to teach visitors about the life-cycle and behaviors of butterflies through hands-on experiences, including smelling the swallowtail's odorous defense mechanism! Other plans for the space include native species education and gardening lessons. ADA accessible outdoor spaces are minimal in Fayetteville and Jacob is excited about how this project will allow for more educational opportunities for all people in the community. "By making the garden handicapped accessible, we were able to open the door to a whole new community for outreach."

Boy Scouts helped Jacob construct the raised bed garden.

Thanks in part to the certification program, Jacob sees environmental education as an ongoing learning experience. The program increased his literacy of environmental issues and, through each course, he "picked up on many subtle things that would bring more awareness and curiosity to visitors. It was a great way to hone skills as well as bring things to my attention that I could be doing differently." 

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Secretary Regan Recognizes Western North Carolina Educator Bethany Sheffer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Mary Hannah Cline

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Megan Tumpey

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

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

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

Jade Woll, Coastal Citizen Science Ambassador

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

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

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

More about our guest blogger, Jade Woll

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Ariel Lowery

Ariel Lowery, an Environmental Educator at McDowell Nature Center, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Educator Certification. Through her job at McDowell, Ariel leads environmental education programs for people of all ages through field trips, summer camps, workshops, and other activities.

Ariel said her favorite part of the certification program was becoming a facilitator for Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), Project Learning Tree, and the Leopold Education Project. All three of these programs provide workshops to help educators incorporate environmental education into their curriculum. As a facilitator, Ariel helps adult educators learn how best to present material and involve students in hands-on learning experiences. Ariel appreciates that her unique position as an environmental educator and workshop facilitator allows her to work with both children and adults. "While I love educating children (they have the best quotes), I also enjoy adult education. I feel as though when I'm teaching adults I'm creating more connections and more opportunities to share our natural world."

Ariel also enjoyed the networking aspect of the certification program. "Through this whole 200 hour certification I have met so many people who are like minded and enjoy educating and sharing their experiences. Our network of environmental educators are incredibly passionate people who I often rely on for ideas and feedback!"

For her community partnership project, Ariel partnered with Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation and a local Girl Scout Troop to enhance a pollinator habitat at McDowell Nature Center. The Girl Scouts had received a grant from Disney and were looking for potential locations to build a pollinator garden. Ariel realized that there was an existing pollinator habitat on the grounds of McDowell, and that the area could benefit from some new plantings and upkeep.

Over a series of workdays, Ariel and the Girl Scouts created a pollinator habitat that included native flowers and bushes, a walkway, a bench and picnic tables, an interpretive sign, and a fence around the garden. Just in time for spring, the project was finished and the area was opened to the public. When asked how the garden will impact visitors to McDowell, Ariel replied, "The community will benefit from their new pollinator habitat by learning what to plant in their gardens to attract all of the wonderful pollinators they have observed while visiting."

The butterfly habitat before the community partnership project (bottom photo) and after (top photo)
Reflecting on her experiences in the certification program, Ariel found that what she learned changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. "I have learned to educate without bias so that my participants are able to form their own opinions. If someone is inclined to know my opinion, I will share it, but I will not force it on the whole group."

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Jessica Janc

Congratulations to Jessica Janc for completing the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification! Jessica is the High Country Watershed Coordinator for Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development, a non-profit organization that works with local communities to improve the quality of life and standard of living in western North Carolina. Jessica works in Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany Counties developing environmental education and outreach programs and assisting area partners with current projects in the New River and Watauga River watersheds. She also serves on the board of Two Rivers Community School, a K-8 school in Boone founded on the design principles of expeditionary learning.

Jessica said the certification program had a strong impact on the way she views her role as an educator. "I think this program helped show me how important it is to listen and connect with those you're teaching. Understanding their background and presenting information in a way that makes them comfortable is almost as important as the content itself."

For her community partnership project, Jessica partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and several schools in Alleghany, Ashe, and Watauga Counties to create watershed education materials for fifth and eighth grade teachers. Jessica compiled a variety of educational materials for the Watauga River and New River watersheds, including watershed maps provided by the USFWS, map usage guides, and lesson plans relevant to each grade level. Jessica is also developing a website for the watershed resources that can be used by teachers to support their curriculum. When asked about her goals for the project, Jessica replied, "I hope the information presented will motivate students to be more invested in their watershed and inspire them to participate in local conservation efforts."

While completing her certification, Jessica spent a summer assisting a teacher with a summer class for high school students in Boone. One day she accompanied the students and their teacher on a trip searching for macroinvertebrates and salamanders in a local stream. Jessica remembers one moment from the trip very clearly: "There was one student who was unable to find and catch a salamander. I spotted one and encouraged him to pick it up. I could tell it took every amount of courage he had and he did it. He looked at me and said, 'This is the proudest moment of my life.' He was genuinely happy and that moment reaffirmed my love of environmental education."

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

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

DEQ Secretary Recognizes North Carolina’s Certified Environmental Educators

On March 30, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan joined several partnering agencies and organizations to recognize more than 220 educators who have completed the state’s Environmental Education Certification Program.

The certified environmental educators included nature center and museum educators, naturalists, teachers, park rangers, academics, and many other professionals in the private and public sectors. Educators completed 200 hours of professional development in environmental education, including teaching and a community-based partnership project, to earn the designation.

Several of the attendees had already met Regan at their work places. Secretary Regan often visits educators in their classrooms or education centers while traveling the state. His remarks at the recognition event ended with a quote from Thomas Berry, a famous eco-theologian from North Carolina: “Without the soaring birds, the great forests, the free-flowing streams…the sight of the clouds by day and the stars by night, we become impoverished in all that makes us human.” Regan told the crowd, “As educators you are there to provide that experience so that one day we’ll become faithful stewards of North Carolina’s shared environment. And for that we thank you.”

The event, held in Cary, included dinner for honorees and their guests, a slideshow featuring photographs and quotes from certified educators, and the premier of a new environmental education certification film which spotlighted several educators who had completed the program. The film includes footage of educators from around the state and explores the experiences of four recently certified individuals:  a teacher at Central Park School for Children, a teacher outreach specialist with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, a NCSU PhD student and ORISE Fellow at EPA, and an operations and administrative coordinator with SEEDS in Durham.

Dale Threatt-Taylor, district director for the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District, delivered the keynote and encouraged participants to keeping reaching forward to serve and backwards to help mentor. Threatt-Taylor, also known as the “conservation evangelist,” is recognized for her passion for the environment and she did not disappoint. One participant said it was the most inspiring keynote she had ever heard and was especially inspired by Threatt-Taylor’s advice to have courage, focus, to be able to “bounce” when challenged or criticized, and most importantly, to serve others and the community.

Keynote speaker Dale Threatt-Taylor and DEQ Secretary Michael Regan
The certification program is administered by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in DEQ and is a partnership between DEQ, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Environmental Educators of North Carolina, the N.C. Association of Environmental Education Centers, the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, and the N.C. Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The slide presentation featuring quotes from more than 60 honorees that was  shown during the ceremony and can be viewed on the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs website.

Other special guests included Division of Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Patterson, N.C. Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Executive Director Bryan Evans, N.C. Department of Public Instruction Section Chief of K-12 Mathematics and Science Beverly Vance, Wildlife Resources Commission Deputy Director of Constituent Support and Engagement Lisa Hocutt, Environmental Educators of North Carolina Past President Shannon Culpepper, North Carolina Association of Environmental Education Centers President Kellie Lewis, and the Division of Soil and Water Conservation Director Vernon Cox.

The North Carolina Environmental Education program was the first of its kind in the nation and has served as a model for other states. The North Carolina Environmental Education Program establishes standards for professional excellence in environmental education while recognizing educators committed to increasing environmental literacy. Individuals must complete 200 hours of professional development to be certified, which includes 70 hours of instructional workshops, 50 hours of outdoor environmental education experiences, 30 hours of experiences that promote awareness of the state’s environmental education resources, and 30 hours of teaching experiences. 

The required community-based partnership project addresses a need in each educator’s community. These projects have had far-reaching impacts on communities throughout the state, providing projects such as interpretive trails, recycling programs, school and community gardens, outdoor classrooms and even small ecological restorations. Examples of these projects can be viewed on the office’s Teachable Moments Blog.

For more information about N.C.’s Environmental Education Certification Program, or to enroll, visit

Monday, April 15, 2019

Governor Cooper proclaims April 22nd through April 26th National Environmental Education Week

Governor Cooper has proclaimed April 22nd through April 26th as National Environmental Education Week. With this proclamation, North Carolina joins the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and other states in the nation's largest celebration of environmental education. The theme this year is “Greening STEM” which encourages educators to use the natural environment and real-world challenges to engage learners and deliver high-quality STEM education. In support of these efforts, NEEF has released the “Greening STEM” toolkit for educators in advance of the week’s events. Visit the National Environmental Education Foundation’s website for this and other Environmental Education Week toolkits. 

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) kicked off environmental education celebrations early with the release of the new North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program Video on March 30th in conjunction with a recognition event honoring more than 200 educators for completing the department’s Environmental Education Certification Program. The nearly 1,000 certified environmental educators and the programs they provide make North Carolina a national leader in environmental education. 

Trail hikes, stream clean-ups, nature tours and storytelling are just a few ways you can explore and learn about North Carolina’s diverse environment. To help you find events in your area on Earth Day (April 22nd), during Environmental Education Week and through the month of April, the DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs provides an online calendar on their website, Events can be searched by city and zip code. 

Follow and share your events, photos, video, environmental education news and cool nature stories on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtags #EEWeekNC and #NCEarthDay. Many of these events are also part of the North Carolina Science Festival which runs through April 30th. To find “green” STEM events and other science activities going on near you, connect with the Science Festival at or follow along with #NCSciFest.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Rachel Woods

Rachel Woods recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Rachel owns a company that teaches North Carolina ecology to young learners ages two to 12.

Woods says that although she had many years of teaching experience when she started the program, the hands-on, outdoor classes were especially helpful in gaining knowledge specific to the state’s flora and fauna. “This program made me fall in love with North Carolina. It feels more like home to me now than before I traveled all around, learning about its rich resources. Now I get to share that first-hand knowledge and love with my students!”

She was recently selected by her town to chair a tree committee to promote Arbor Day celebrations and to qualify her town as a Tree City USA through the Arbor Day Foundation and she credits the certification with opening those opportunities for her.
Her favorite park of earning her certification was the outdoor trips. “We have so many wonderful places to visit and so many knowledgeable and talented park staff, rangers, museum staff, and teachers. I've learned so much from so many and I have now visited so many new places in North Carolina and know of so many more to visit! I definitely feel more connected to my state now.”

Woods says the birding trips to Halyburton Park in Wilmington was an experience that stood out to her in addition to exploring a wetland with the staff from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “One night I went with the museum in Raleigh to find frogs in some wetland off the side of the road that I never knew was there, although it was four miles from my house. I go there now to see the salamanders and frogs regularly.”

For her community partnership project, Rachel installed an outdoor classroom at Holly Ridge Elementary School in Holly Springs. It began as a pollinator garden registered as a N.C. Wildlife Federation Butterfly Highway Garden, and she expanded it to include trees and shrubs for birds and enough outdoor seating to hold two classes at once. The school now has a garden club and families volunteer over the summer to care for the garden. Their network includes more than 200 people, teachers and community members who share teaching and gardening information. This April, they are using grant money to bring staff from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences to conduct professional development for the staff and other teachers from neighboring schools on how to use a school's campus for teaching and learning through the museum’s UTOTES (Using the Outdoors to Teach Experiential Science) program.

Rachel says that the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “My business also stays strictly within North Carolina in terms of what I choose to teach about. Kids love tigers and polar bears and the rainforest, but they won't go out and see those things after my lesson. But since I keep things seasonal and local, they do immediately see what I was talking about. I hear from teachers all the time how kids go outside to look for what I was sharing with them after my lessons. I hear that from parents too."