Rachel Smith, an educator at McDowell Nature Center with Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification.
Rachel is an environmental educator and outdoor travel enthusiast. “I love sharing and teaching what I know about the natural world in North Carolina as a native of the state. I enjoy traveling and visiting nature preserves and parks to discover new species of wildflowers, butterflies, and birds that I can check off my life-lists. When traveling I love exploring new ecosystems for their weather, climate and topography and finding dark sky locations to bring my telescope to working on my new hobby of astrophotography.”
Rachel says her favorite part of the program was being able to complete some of the requirements that were more challenging for her such as the documentation for the teaching and partnership project. “My father passed unexpectedly this fall and it really changed my perspective on some life goals, and I wish he was able to see me complete my certification.”
When asked what experience stood out for her, Rachel says it was the outdoor instructor-led experiences. “I learn the best by hands-on, active learning where I can reinforce the knowledge almost immediately. These learning opportunities gave me a chance to expand my own knowledge by allowing me to find and work on my 'weaker' subjects. The outdoor experiences and along with the other workshops led me to meet some incredible environmental educators across the state and a network for resources and new programming ideas.”
For her community partnership project, Rachel worked with the Carolina Butterfly Society to develop and lead butterfly programs at the preserve. She provided butterfly hikes on the weekends and a summer camp 'fieldtrip' to the piedmont prairie for a butterfly hunt. She also created a custom butterfly field guide for the society’s annual trip to the National Butterfly Center in Texas. “My project engaged the members of my community because it brought to the forefront the importance of butterflies, not only locally, but nationally and globally. While leading hikes and butterfly specific programming allows the community the opportunity to discover local species and delve into what makes butterflies an important pollinator. Also, it can lead into other opportunities for programming and community development like planting pollinator gardens in backyards and public areas in neighborhoods.”
Rachel says the program has changed the way she approaches teaching. “I feel that I am doing more inquiry-based, hands-on programming versus more lecture-based programs that encourages participants to be actively engaged in problem solving and critical thinking.”