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."

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

DEQ Secretary Regan Recognizes Environmental Educator Cynelsa Broderick

On March 12, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan visited SEEDS, an urban garden and kitchen classroom in the heart of Durham, to recognize SEEDS staff member Cynelsa Broderick for completing the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification.

Founded in 1994, SEEDS has a mission to develop the capacity of young people to respect life, the earth, and each other through growing, cooking, and sharing food. SEEDS is located on a two-acre plot in Northeast Central Durham. Over the past 25 years, SEEDS has grown and developed to meet the changing needs of the community, particularly by adding an after-school program for children in first through fifth grades.

Cynelsa currently serves as the Operations and Administrative Coordinator for SEEDS, where she staffs the front desk, manages the office, and works in the educational garden and kitchen classroom. Cynelsa started the certification program while serving as an AmeriCorps member at the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. She has also worked in the NC State University Sustainability Office. Cynelsa is an accomplished visual artist and calligrapher and is passionate about making connections between STEM and the arts.

For her community partnership project, Cynelsa developed and presented 14 classes as part of the SEEDS summer camp. During the classes, students recorded observations in a nature log and worked together to design a new mural for the SEEDS building. The classes helped the youth participants experience nature, gardening, and cooking in a new way that combined art with gardening and environmental education.

Describing the classes, Cynelsa stated, "The objective was for students to learn what important details to capture in their observations and how to transfer them to our mural. Each week, I worked with about 20 young farmers and went through lessons that touched on topics from environmental stewardship to color theory, patents to biomimicry." As a result of Cynelsa's project, SEEDS has new curriculum materials and a colorful new mural on what was once a dull, blank wall.

Cynelsa said her favorite part of the certification program was traveling to different parts of the state. "Visiting so many state parks and meeting new people was a good way for me to become familiar with North Carolina."

Her experiences in the certification program also led Cynelsa to become a more versatile teacher. "I discovered various styles and ways people learn through this program and that has helped me be more aware of my methods in teaching others."
Participants in the SEEDlings after-school enrichment program for grades 1-5 students gave N.C. DEQ Secretary Regan some hands-on agricultural education! SEEDS also has programs for middle and high school Students and workshops and volunteer opportunities for adults. 

For more information about SEEDS, visit For more information about the NC Environmental Education Certification, visit the NC Office of Environmental Education website.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Department of Environmental Quality Hosts Wake County Middle School Students for Students@Work℠

On March 5, the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education hosted over 30 students from Moore Square Magnet Middle School for Students@Work Month.

Students@Work 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. Throughout the month of March, students will hear from guest speakers and take part in worksite visits where they learn firsthand about the careers available in their communities.

Upon arriving at DEQ's Green Square building in downtown Raleigh, students heard an inspiring speech from DEQ Secretary Michael Regan. Secretary Regan told the group about how we became involved in the environmental field and explained the career path that led him to DEQ.

Next, students participated in informational breakout sessions with staff from different DEQ divisions. Elliot Tardif and Tira Beckham from the Division of Air Quality showed the middle school students how the division forecasts the air quality index and explained why data manipulation is an important skill for many careers.

Students joined Amanda Mueller, Kristie Gianopulos, and Greg Rubino from the Division of Water Resources on an exciting journey through North Carolina's wetlands through the use of an online, interactive map. Marty Wiggins and Sarah Sanford from the Office of Environmental Education led a building tour where students learned about the Green Square building's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

The morning concluded with an informative session with Human Resources Director Ursula Hairston. Ursula helped the students connect their passions and interests with potential careers and explained the types of qualifications necessary for working in the STEM field.

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. The 2019 Students@Work initiative includes more than 280 businesses and 46,000 students statewide.

For more information about the Department's participation in Students@Work Month, contact the Office of Environmental Education at 919-707-8125. For more information about NCBCE, visit

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

DEQ Secretary Recognizes Elementary School Teacher Rebecca Masters

On February 19th, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan visited Central Elementary School in Elizabeth City to award Rebecca Masters the department's NC Environmental Education Certification.

Ms. Masters has been an elementary school teacher for 20 years, teaching every grade from kindergarten through fifth grade. She has worked at three different schools in Elizabeth City, and most of her career has been spent teaching kindergartners. Ms. Masters has a passion for bringing her interests to the children at her school. "My loves are science, art, and reading. There is no kind of feeling in the world like seeing a child read for the first time, or seeing their eyes light up when they learn a little bit about the natural world."

Mr. Shel Davis, Interim Principal at Central Elementary School, and Dr. Joanne Sanders, Acting Superintendent for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, joined Secretary Regan in congratulating Ms. Masters on her achievement.

During Secretary Regan's visit to Ms. Masters' classroom, he took part in a "Bird Beak Breakfast," part of the students' curriculum on birds and their adaptations. Bird Beak Breakfast is an activity from Growing Up WILD, a program of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies offered to educators through the NC Wildlife Resource Commission. Growing Up WILD was one of the many environmental education workshops Ms. Masters completed for her Environmental Education Certification.

Ms. Masters said her favorite part of the certification program was "traveling around North Carolina, seeing more of my home in the past four years than I have in 31 years that I have lived here. I have hiked more, seen more waterfalls, driven more landscapes, experienced more ecosystems from the mountains to the sea."

She also said she fell in love with workshop facilitators like CC King (NC Wildlife Resources Commission) and Mir Youngquist-Thurow (Agape Center for Environmental Education) and their teaching styles: hands-on, inquiry-based, action-oriented. “I played with insect larvae in creeks and ponds and learned to love bugs. I also learned to catch my first fish through Project Catch with Becky Skiba (NC Wildlife Resources Commission). I attended a several treks with Megan Chesser and Melissa Dowland through NC Museum of Natural Sciences - kayaking, hiking, learning to draw and take detailed field notes, identifying plants and birds, spotting my first bears in the wild, and experiencing tens of thousands of Canada geese and tundra swan in the icy cold pre-dawn hours of wildlife refuges. I just cannot fully explain to you how all of these adventures have deeply affected me on a personal and professional level.”

For her community partnership project, Ms. Masters coordinated environmental education stations for a festival at Dismal Swamp State Park. The stations were part of an event called Dismal Day, an annual celebration of the park's nature and history. Families in the counties surrounding the park come to Dismal Day to enjoy cultural exhibits, food, music, boat rides, and other festivities. Ms. Masters saw a need for a kid-friendly environmental education component at the festival and worked with park rangers and local volunteers to set up education stations. Five stations were set up along a walking trail, and each station had volunteers who taught abbreviated versions of lessons from environmental education programs. Youth participants from the surrounding area took part in brief activities and lessons that, in Ms. Masters' words, "opened their eyes and their minds to the park, the trail, and environmental issues."

Participant at one of the environmental education stations at Dismal Day
Through the certification program, Ms. Masters found opportunities to step out of her established role as a teacher and once again become a student. "All of my courses, treks, and classes taught me to be more open and that it is OK to not know all the answers. Observation and education are key, not necessarily getting everything right the first time..."

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

Monday, February 11, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Gretchen Stokes

Congratulations to Gretchen Stokes for completing the NC Environmental Education Certification. Gretchen is a PhD student in ecology at the University of Florida, where she also serves as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Gretchen studies movement ecology, tropical ecology, and global biodiversity conservation.

As a scientist, Gretchen had years of academic coursework in ecology, but little teaching experience. She said she pursued the program because of her interest in gaining hands-on experience as an educator. Gretchen found the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop to be the most helpful part of the program. "I learned a lot about inquiry-based teaching, group facilitation, and group management while teaching in the field." The networking aspects of the certification program were also a highlight. "I enjoyed the diversity of workshops...and getting to meet a diversity of instructors, educators and others who I might otherwise never have run into."

Gretchen conducted her community partnership project on a farm in Catawba, VA, a rural community near Virginia Tech. At the farm, she worked with Dr. Mary McDonald, a veterinarian who runs a training program called FARM. FARM stands for "Farm Animal Refresher for Missions." The one-week programs provide training in animal health care for veterinarians and veterinary students going on mission trips to developing countries. Gretchen noticed that the trainings had no environmental component, so she worked with Dr. McDonald to create trainings that would prepare veterinarians to lead mission projects that combine farm animal health and environmental health.

Gretchen also developed curriculum for an aquatic ecology and conservation lab for local college students who visit the farm. During the field course, students conduct water quality testing and biotic sampling in Catawba Creek, a stream that runs through the farm. Students also take part in a discussion of the role of humans as stewards of the earth, and record their reflections in nature journals. During the farm's first field course, students helped plant over 300 trees along Catawba Creek to serve as a riparian buffer. As Gretchen said, "This will not only improve water quality for a small section of Catawba Creek, but it will provide a working example to neighboring farms and other residences in Catawba Valley about how to have cattle and protect the stream. Hopefully having this as a model stream for improved conservation efforts will have a ripple effect."

A survey after the first field course showed successful results. "In the post-teaching evaluation, almost all students reported that the course helped them think more about the environment and that they are more motivated to change their behavior in at least one way to benefit the environment," Gretchen said.

Recently, Gretchen returned from teaching the second year of the aquatic ecology field course. The students did some maintenance on the riparian buffer, as well as another round of water quality sampling, physical stream measurements, and biotic sampling. Reflecting back on the weekend spent at the farm, Gretchen explained the impact of the course. "Many of these students have never spent time doing anything related to field biology so it's really cool to see their interest grow as they spend time outside. Some even, at the end of the day, approached me asking how they could pursue a career in environmental science or biology."

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Sarah Goodman

Congratulations to Sarah Goodman for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Sarah works at Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., as a sixth through eighth grade science teacher and environmental sustainability coordinator.

For her community partnership project, Sarah implemented a Trout in the Classroom project at her school. Trout in the Classroom is an environmental education program in which students raise trout from eggs to fry and eventually release the fish in a nearby stream, all while learning about water quality, conservation, and stream habitats. Sarah partnered with Rocky River Trout Unlimited and South Mountains State Park to complete the project. Starting in September, Sarah's students raised rainbow trout in their classroom at Providence Day School. During science classes, Sarah taught the students about bio-indicators in rivers, such as macroinvertebrates that indicate good water quality.

"I felt there was a need to connect the students in my classroom with outdoors spaces that went beyond school gardens and river cleanup," Sarah said. "By connecting the need for clean water with environmental stewardship, the students are able to see the impacts of keeping the land around our water systems clean." The students also learned the importance of cleaning the tanks where the trout eggs were kept and taking periodic water samples. At the beginning of the school year, Sarah taught the students about potential causes of death for the trout. This included a lesson on a fungal infestation that can kill the trout eggs before they hatch.

On release day, Sarah took the students (and the trout) to South Mountains State Park, where a park ranger gave the students an introductory lesson about the park's aquatic ecosystems. After releasing the trout in the river, the students spent an hour in the river collecting macroinvertebrates, fish, and other bio-indicators.

Students use nets to search for macroinvertebrates on the river bottom.
Sarah said the project "connects human activity to the health of an ecosystem and encourages youth to continue sharing their knowledge while doing their part for the environment."

Trout in the Classroom wasn't the only new project that Sarah started at Providence Day School. She also implemented a nature journaling component in the student's semester work. "Once or twice a month, the students receive a prompt and we take a break from content to go outside and observe the natural world...The hope is that the students are able to reflect better but also use their observation skills on their own explorations." Sarah said that participating in the certification program prompted her to approach science from a different angle, and to encourage her students to do the same.

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification program, visit the N.C. Office of Environmental Education website. If you are interested in implementing Trout in the Classroom at your school, visit the Trout in the Classroom website.

Educator Spotlight: Molly Gillespie

Congratulations to Molly Gillespie for recently completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Molly has an enviable career, with work locations in both the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and the National Parks of Alaska. Between October and April, she works at Muddy Sneakers in Brevard, N.C. teaching fifth grade science lessons in various outdoor locations in western North Carolina. Between May and October, she lives in Denali National Park in Alaska, where she works as a naturalist and wilderness guide leading 10-day expeditions through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Molly is passionate about both of her jobs. Describing her position with Muddy Sneakers, she said, "I love that during the school year, I get to teach students science on public lands-- learning in nature allows them to appreciate the natural world while understanding that they are a part of it. Perhaps I am impacting the next generation of people who care about the environment!"

When asked about her favorite part of the certification program, Molly replied, "I enjoyed the networking that naturally occurred at the various workshops I attended. I enjoyed making professional contacts, new friends, and gaining great knowledge of the EE resources in the area."

For her community partnership project, Molly helped establish a pollinator garden at The Park at Flat Rock in Flat Rock, N.C. The Park was formerly a golf course, which was converted into a natural area with trails, streams, a playground, and meeting areas. To build her pollinator garden, Molly partnered with volunteers and the head naturalist at The Park at Flat Rock, as well as the Mountain Trail Outdoor School. Mountain Trail Outdoor School is a local environmental education center that shared their greenhouse space so Molly could store plants over the winter.

Molly established the garden as an official Monarch Waystation, an area that provides the necessary food and habitat for monarchs to survive their long migration. Along with a group of dedicated volunteers, Molly weeded, watered, and planted for over a year to help establish the garden. Eventually a local naturalist donated owl boxes, and a local beekeeper established some hives next to the garden, adding to the diverse array of pollinator species.

Molly said that the pollinator garden "raises awareness of the importance and the current issues plaguing pollinators. By visiting a garden designed to specifically provide habitat for beneficial insects, migrating monarch butterflies, and honeybees, visitors can become aware and sensitive to the importance of pollinators and the need for gardens and habitat that support their role in our lives."

Reflecting back on what she learned during the certification program, Molly found that she had made some changes to her approach to environmental education. "I am careful that I don't preach an environmental agenda to my students. Rather, my goals are to connect them to nature and guide them to consider their entire environment in all that they do, while teaching them critical thinking skills to form their own values and attitudes."

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Rachel Collins

Congratulations to Rachel Collins for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. During the certification process, Rachel was a student teacher for fifth grade math and science classes at Lindley Elementary School in Greensboro. As a classroom teacher, Rachel said her experiences in the certification program led to more integration of science in other subjects and curriculum.

For her community partnership project, Rachel partnered with the Lindley Elementary School PTA to coordinate a number of water-related projects for her students. First, students read the book, A Long Walk to Water, a story about the struggle to access clean water in Sudan. After the students read the book, Rachel arranged for two refugees from the region of Sudan where the story takes place to come to Lindley to speak to the students about water shortages in Sudanese villages. Rachel and the students led a fundraising campaign, and eventually they raised enough money to fund the building of a well in south Sudan.

Rachel also helped coordinate a school-wide Water Day at Lindley Elementary. During Water Day, community partners came to the school to talk to students about the importance of water and the water treatment process. Volunteers from UNC Greensboro's biology and education departments also came to Water Day to help students participate in hands-on educational activities.

Rachel felt that the lessons on water addressed a knowledge gap for many of the students. "We determined the need for this water project because students need to know that water is a limited resource. Most of our students at Lindley have never had to go a day without water...Teaching the students that water is a natural resource, which we must conserve, will lead to more globally aware children willing to preserve our water source and cut out unnecessary water uses."

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

Educator Spotlight: Chris Goforth

Congratulations to Chris Goforth for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. As the Head of Citizen Science for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Chris wears many hats. She coordinates the Museum's citizen science efforts, develops and manages several citizen science projects, educates the public, and provides citizen science trainings. In addition, Chris continues her own entomological research through the citizen science projects she runs. As Chris explained, "My background is aquatic entomology and I am in my happy place when I get to lead citizen science programs focused on insects, especially for the EE and formal educator communities. I also love working with kids and getting them involved in citizen science and/or excited about bugs!"

For her community partnership project, Chris developed a new self-led citizen science project on butterflies at J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. The citizen science project operates in conjunction with eButterfly, a nationwide effort that brings together citizen scientists and professional entomologists to collect and share data on butterfly sightings. "One of the main reasons I wanted to install a new citizen science project at Raulston was because it gives people a call to action, a means of participating in basic scientific research and conservation related to butterflies through data collection in the field."

Chris created a butterfly guide, a datasheet, and garden signage that highlights butterfly hotspots and lets visitors know that the citizen science project is available. Chris used her own photos to create the butterfly guide, and took additional photos for species she was missing. She also led several butterfly programs at Raulston to introduce visitors to the project.
Chris said that participating in the certification program made her more aware of how much her program attendees appreciate activities that build skills and provide resources. In describing her insect citizen science programs, she stated, "...people are generally thrilled when I send them home with a custom guide to an insect group so they can practice their skills and/or collect data on their own after the program is over. While the big field guides are of course useful, they can be intimidating to beginners, so I try to simplify things by creating my own guides."

It's clear that Chris genuinely cares about helping her program participants to become better citizen scientists. "I spend time walking program attendees through the guide and build their ID skills during the program as well. My goal is now to send my program participants home with enough information about the natural history of the focal species and experience with the protocol that they'll feel comfortable participating on their own after the program is over."

When asked about experiences in the certification program that stood out, Chris was quick to name one particular day at Raulston. "I think perhaps the best moment of my certification came when I started leading a butterfly walk with a group of about 15 adults at Raulston and it began to rain fairly hard. Seven of the attendees left immediately, but the remaining eight walked the gardens with me for an hour in the rain! It is unbelievably gratifying as an environmental educator when you have people come to your programs who are so determined to learn what you have to teach them that they're willing to get wet and miserable."

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