Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Jennifer Browndorf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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