Dana Thomason, the Lead Special Activities Instructor and Summer Camp Coordinator at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification.
Among her many responsibilities at the aquarium, Dana develops and leads curriculum-based public environmental educational programming, both indoor and outdoor, facilitates special educational events and conducts program evaluation. When not working, she enjoys beachcombing for unique sea glass and Mollusca sea treasures, taking hikes through the maritime forests, uploading photographs of nature to iNaturalist, reading books and traveling to new places.
When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Dana says she benefitted in some way from all the components of the program. “Instructional workshops aided me in gaining further knowledge on certain environmental topics/issues, build positive relations with fellow environmental educators, and have access to hands-on activities with keeping booklets provided at the workshop. Outdoor experiential learning allowed me to emerge myself into nature and use a practical application to identifying certain shorebird species, leaf-mining insects, and nature play learning to the test. Teaching reinforced the fact that my unique educational interpretation style and skills reach participants at a level that helps them find a connection to nature and want to act to protect it. Perhaps my favorite part was traveling to other NC regions and attending conferences/seminars that served as a platform to foster collaborative efforts in EE interpretation/skills for educators.”
Dana says that she gained a wealth of knowledge on the many environmental topics during the program and seeing the passion of workshops facilitators like CC King and Becky Skiba with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission for informal teaching made an impression on her. “Embarking on the EE Certificate Program led to many memorable experiences and the ones that have stayed with me are the instructional workshops led by enthusiastic facilitators such as CC King and Becky Skiba. Many interpretation techniques I witnessed from the two educators, are now added to my programs and activities.”
For her community partnership program which is required for certification, Dana created "Earth Fair OBX VII", a free event held annually in the Outer Banks and organized by a member of CEEN-Coastal Environmental Educators Network of North Carolina. Members of the Outer Banks community were invited to attend this free event where local organizations hosted a table showcasing what they do to educate, promote sustainability, and protect the environment. “Earth Fair OBX VII event shined light on environmental awareness, individual and community action, and the sheer joy of celebrating the valuable resources our planet gives us. Adults and children were able to enjoy interactive and informative tables, a live band that created a friendly, fun-loving vibe and the chance to enter in a few locally donated raffle items that support future Earth Fair OBX events! The community gained knowledge on the many local organizations that value, appreciate and protect our coastal habitats and ways to support, volunteer or participate.”
Dana says the program changed the way she teaches. “Participating in the EE Certification program led to the fine-tuning of my interpretation skills and expanding my knowledge on topics my Marine Biology degree did not cover in my college career. Before embarking on this program, I was fortunate to have had three years of informal educational teaching experience, but never truly had the opportunity to get trained on environmental hands-on workshops. The program helped me to recognize that by understanding my target audience, I could then work to build a positive connection for them and the natural world. As an active listener, I taught my programs and activities with my audience's needs and questions at the forefront.”
Dana says that her mindset on environmental issues did not change because of the certification program but that it did change her interpretation techniques and hands-on activities to help the audience understand, connect and care about environmental issues. “If not presented correctly, many environmental issues can be seen as "doom and gloom" where an individual's actions may not be portrayed as making a positive impact. Or the general misunderstanding of scientific data can negatively curve the audience's outlook on these issues. It is the interpreter's role to help build a foundation of awareness, knowledge, relevancy and potential action to help change the tide of some of these issues.”