Thursday, January 19, 2023

Educator Spotlight: Marta Toran

Marta Toran

Marta Toran, an instructor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Appalachian State University has completed her NC Environmental Education Certification.

Marta teaches environmental science courses, oceanography labs and climate change seminars at ASU and serves as the K-12 Outreach and Education Coordinator for the department. In this role, she writes and manages grants for environmental education, trains undergraduate students in science communication, facilitates professional development with regional STEM educators and develops geoscience outreach programming for on-campus and off-campus events.

Marta says the certification program provided a new way to get her environmental science and geology students engaged in environmental education. “My favorite part about going on this environmental certification journey was getting my own undergraduate students involved in the program. I have enjoyed participating in workshops with them, like the Flying WILD taught by Wildlife Resources Commission educator Tanya Poole, where I got to watch them fight for sips of water while avoiding vicious competing birds, and seeing them teach little kids about endangered native species, water and rocks.”

When asked what experience in the program stood out for her, Marta said discovering some of the different nature centers and resources for environmental education around the state was a highlight of her certification experience. “The Kathleen Clay Edwards Family Branch Library, for example, is amazing and offers some great environmentally centered events. I visited the Piedmont Environmental Center right when they were feeding the snakes which was seriously awesome to watch and enjoyed the walk around their grounds. I got to see quite a few snakes and lizards in the wild basking in the sun when I visited Eno River State Park. I was also thankful for all the virtual opportunities offered, which have taken me on journeys from Alaska to learn about the Dogs of the Iditarod, to the largest wetlands in the world in Brazil.”

Eastern White Pine Sign Before Marta's Project
Eastern White Pine Sign After Marta's Project

For her community partnership project, Marta installed interpretive signs along the nature trail at Parkway Elementary School in Boone. As part of the project, six bird boxes were also installed at the school. “I raised the funds for the production of the signs in brushed aluminum and for the materials to install then. I collaborated with the Garden Coordinator, School Principal and a 4th-grade teacher at the school on this project and involved about 30 undergraduate students in researching plant species for the signs and helping to clean up the overgrown ecological education area. To wrap up the project, I created a bilingual webpage with information about the nature trail featuring nature area etiquette and the different species of trees along the trail. The signage enhances the educational value of the nature trail and ecological area at the school which is open year-round to the public and will hopefully stir up some curiosity among the community for native flora.” 

Parkway Elementary School's Nature Trail Entrance

When asked if the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues Marta says it emphasized the importance of a sense of place when teaching and learning about environmental issues. “It's very important to learn about endangered species in exotic corners of the world and climate-related problems facing other countries, but when there is a personal connection to a place, learners become much more deeply interested in the issues and committed to further their knowledge of the environment and acting to protect it. Starting at home also provides a solid foundation for local to global connections.”

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