Each year the Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC) publicly recognizes environmental educators, members, organizations, and partners for their valuable contributions to environmental literacy, the field of environmental education, the EENC as an organization, and the environmental well-being of North Carolina.
On September 20, 2019, EENC celebrated seven individuals and organizations for their amazing work. From EENC Membership Chair, Trent Stanforth: “The decisions were very difficult, and we are honored to be able to identify and shine a light on the incredible work done in our field.”
Environmental Educator of The Year
The 2019 Environmental Educator of The Year was awarded to Meredith Morgan. Ms. Morgan has been overseeing public programming at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Whiteville. She oversees the Museum’s very popular Storytime and Nature PlayDays, as well as the Museum’s large events, including Movies on Madison and Bugfest South. She has been valuable to the Museum in expanding programming beyond the confines of the former bank building where the Museum is housed by developing a relationship with a private landowner who shares their space for teaching outdoor programs. She truly understands the value of getting people into nature to learn more and become better environmental stewards.
Exceptional Environmental Education Program
North Carolina Envirothon won the 2019 Exceptional Environmental Education Program Award. The North Carolina Envirothon is one of the oldest environmental education programs in North Carolina, starting way back in 1991. For the past 28 years, this extracurricular program culminates a statewide contest in the subjects of aquatics, soils, forestry, wildlife, and current environmental resources for 5th-12th grade students. This program increases interest in the environment within older students by exposing them to adults working in a variety of “green” fields, from Soil & Water Conservation District employees to Forest Service Rangers. This program took the lead internationally this year by hosting the 2019 National Conservation Foundation Envirothon Competition in Raleigh, which welcomed teams from across the United States, Canada, and China.
This year’s Outstanding Partner Award was given to Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. Part of the NC Department of Environmental Quality, the Office served a vital role this past year on a variety of EENC accomplishments. They helped co-author a document with EENC on how funding from Every Student Succeeds Act can be used to fund environmental education. Their 2018 annual non-formal educators meeting joined EENC’s half-day diversity, equity, and inclusion workshop to provide two full days of professional development for educators. Finally, they were instrumental in the facilitation of EENC’s third Environmental Education Summit, which brought together leaders from statewide organizations in education and the environment to get to know one another better and identify strategies to work together toward common goals.
The 2019 Outstanding Practitioner Award recognized Mandy Smith-Thompson. Ms. Smith-Thompson is a certified environmental educator, a Central Carolinas Master Naturalist and Habitat Steward, and a newly designated Master Gardener who has served the City of Concord for the past 12 years. She has created programs that have led to cleaner streams, addressed the need for native plants in Concord, assembled Cabarrus area environmental educators, installed a pollinator meadow, and more. She partners and collaborates with outside organizations, including Concord Wildlife Alliance, Master Gardeners, and NC Wildlife Federation. She’s known for putting projects into motion, some that help solve some of the environmental issues she teaches about. She reminds humans of that which they used to know - how the natural world works and where we fit into it.
EENC’s 2019 Outstanding Service Award was given to Brad Daniel. Dr. Daniel has grown EENC exponentially since he started serving on the board seven years ago. During his term, he helped designed the research symposium that is now integral at our yearly conference, guided statewide environmental education summits, and pushed the growth of EENC’s relationships with other organizations, to name a few. More recently, he was integral in this year’s EENC joint mini-conference in conjunction the North Carolina Association of Environmental Education Centers’ annual meeting. This was the first time these two organizations have partnered on an event since the 1990’s. He has been providing outstanding service to EE for decades, showing no signs of slowing down.
EENC celebrated Tanya Poole with a Special Recognition for a Lifetime of Environmental Education Award. Tanya Poole serves as the outreach education specialist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Her 20+ year career also includes teaching as an adjunct environmental education professor, two years of service on the EENC board of directors and leading a multitude of professional development workshops ranging from Project WILD: Bears to Methods of Teaching Environmental Education. She keeps her eye on the prize and works tirelessly for the cause of environmental education in North Carolina. She’s a fantastic professional, well-loved, regarded and respected. From award winner Tanya Poole: “There are a thousand people in our community who are very deserving of this award, and it is a privilege to receive it.”
The votes are in! EENC is pleased to share that our membership approved the addition of the conference co-chair positions for 2020. Your 2020 Board of Directors will be:
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about what you need as an environmental education professional in EENC's recent survey. We received a total of 148 responses from current members, previous members, and people outside our current network. We heard from folks across the state, at all levels of professional experience, and in many different settings. Thanks to the team at NC State University for designing this survey and analyzing all the data.
What did we learn, you might ask? First, that you all are pretty knowledgeable about what EENC can can offer you! We were pleasantly surprised to see how many people were familiar with our professional development events, conference, and push to professionalize the field of EE.
It was also exciting to see how many of you are here because you care about this work. The community benefits you reported were the pieces you knew the most about and were most important to you.
We also heard clear calls for better support of K-12 classroom educators and more communication about our work to address diversity, equity and inclusion within the field of EE.
EENC is planning to refocus our programs and membership offerings to better serve you. Thanks for lending your voice to help guide our efforts!
So, what does EENC do beyond the conference? What do you hope people gain by being a part of EENC? What impacts do you hope to make in our state? All questions commonly asked by EENC's funders, members, and partners.
We've been trying to better answer these types of questions about what we do and why we do it more clearly over the past year. EENC offers a huge variety of programs and services to North Carolina's EE community. Being a small nonprofit with limited capacity, we are very strategic about the projects we take on - because we want to help change the world. As part of this effort, we recently developed this logic model to describe our efforts: 2019 EENC Overall Logic Model (PDF).
You can find many of these projects described here on our website (tip: use the search bar if you're looking for something specific!), and we're always looking to add new strategies to help us reach these goals. If you have suggestions or any additional questions, please let us know!
Did you know the Every Student Succeeds Act specifically calls out environmental education as an eligible activity for federal education dollars? In partnership with the Office of Environmental Education, EENC co-authored a document intended for school administrators and leaders explaining this link. It was posted earlier this spring by the NC Department of Public Instruction on their website here.
We know many local organizations, centers, and agencies support this document. We want to recognize you. If you have questions about this or if your workplace would like to be added to EENC's list of supporters, please email Lauren Pyle.
We had such a great time at the Schiele Museum for EENC's 2019 Annual Conference. Thank you to our fabulous presenters and speakers who shared their knowledge and experience. Thank you to all the attendees, who asked inspiring questions and brought so much passion.
By the numbers:
We know many people's favorite part of the conference is getting to connect and talk with other educators. Want to keep the conversation flowing until the next event? Join EENC's Facebook group to ask questions, bounce ideas around, and participate in our monthly digital round-tables.
Save the date for next year's major events:
Growing up I always knew I wanted to “save the planet.” Not that I knew exactly how to do that. As I started college I decided one avenue was to work for the government- those who make the rules and laws that protect the environment, particularly at the national or international level.
So, I ended up pursuing an Environmental Studies degree at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Not a science degree, but a bachelor of arts. I took classes like Natural Resource Management and History & Philosophy of Natural Resources. After graduating, I began working for the county government doing environmental management at the county landfill and was involved in the local Keep America Beautiful affiliate. I also helped to organize an annual Earth Day festival which brought together over 100 exhibitors working to protect the environment and the general public eager to learn what they are doing and how they could get involved.
After a couple of years I decided to go back to school for a master of public administration at UNCW. I reconnected with a previous professor who told me all about how the Environmental Studies program had grown since I had graduated. This persuaded me to simultaneously get an environmental studies graduate certificate. I thought the combination of public administration and environmental studies would better prepare me to work get the job I wanted- working for the government creating rules and laws to protect the environment.
During my time in graduate school, however, I learned about the field of environmental education. Turns out I had been doing some of it myself through tours of the landfill, giving presentations to the public, and the annual Earth Day festival. I just didn’t realize it could be a career! So, this realization started me on another path.
Post graduation, I worked as an AmeriCorps member for the N.C. Division of Air Quality, where I developed an outreach campaign for older adults. I also started working on my EE certification and taking lots of workshops, classes, etc. This work, and the campaign were incredibly rewarding, a wonderful learning experience, and solidified my passion for environmental education.
I currently work for Chatham County Solid Waste & Recycling as the Waste Reduction Coordinator. I manage our recycling and special disposal programs and provide education and outreach to the community. I provide presentations to classrooms and community groups of all ages, table at events to answer the public’s questions, and create our signage and educational materials. Helping residents of Chatham County understand how to properly dispose and recycle right is my way of trying to “save the planet.”
I'll never forget my first glimpse into what my new position at Chimney Rock Park would include. At this time in 2005, it was still a privately-owned entity and I was visiting to shadow the Spring Girl Scout Day. I would be returning in the summer to begin my new job and be part of these programs, which was both exciting and a little overwhelming.
Watching the event I was stoked to see Girl Scouts from a variety of areas, learning new things together and engaging with nature in such an inspiring setting. Although at that time it was fairly small, maybe 50 folks, they were all given the opportunity to participate in a variety activities throughout the morning and then enjoy the park on their own after lunch. As a former Girl Scout myself could appreciate what the staff, leaders and girls were experiencing.
Fast forwarding 14 years our scout days are still one on my favorite activities throughout the year. They've grown in attendance to hundreds of participants including scouts, parents and siblings The last couple of years they have become so popular they now require a waiting list. We spend the morning in hands-on programs pertaining to topics such as outdoor cooking, tree identification and appreciation of native snakes. After lunch our 32-foot climbing tower opens for the scouts and many of them head out with their troops to do a couple miles of hiking or searching for the best view. As the park closes to regular visitors we set-up camp for the night. Fire rings are lit, dinner is cooked and girls from around the southeast make new friends. As the evening draws to a close there's nothing like falling asleep under the stars and, of course, sharing that experience with my daughters and now, too! From my first Girl Scout day to the most recent earlier this summer, I am grateful to be a part of such a wonderful event.
My name is Elissa, and I am the Eastern Section Chair. As a child, I spent countless hours outdoors. I was born and raised in rural Georgia, and the outside world was my playground. Climbing trees, catching frogs and salamanders in creeks, hiking, hunting, fishing, swimming in ponds, helping my parents in the garden, and so many other activities. These early adventures helped shape me into an adult who has a passion for environmental stewardship and a desire to share that passion with others.
I strongly believe in connecting children to nature at a young age by providing them meaningful outdoor experiences. Today’s children spend too much time indoors and on devices, and we’re at risk of the next generation losing the respect and connection to Mother Earth that is so important for her survival. People who are not taught to love the Earth do not nurture, provide, and take care of her. It seems that almost every day we see something on the news about climate change, animals perishing from consuming discarded plastic, and extreme weather. The environmental problems we are facing as a society are numerous, and it’s up to us and the ones who follow to change the path we have been on of not having a loving, respectful, and caring connection to our planet. I strongly feel that if we do not change our actions and work to ensure others change theirs, we will be the cause of our own extinction. This is why environmental education for all is so important.
With children, instilling a love and respect for our environment in children at a young age helps them grow and develop into responsible adults who feel a personal sense of stewardship to help protect our environment now and in the future. Many educators focus on children, but adults are need of education as well. We all, as humans, have the capacity for change. I’ve found that with many adults and caring for our environment; it’s not that they don’t care, they simply don’t know. Take cigarette butts for example. Many people believe that cigarette butts are made of paper that will biodegrade if thrown on the ground. While this may be true of hand-rolled cigarettes, the reality is that commercially produced cigarette butts are made of a type of plastic called cellulose acetate. This plastic takes 125-150 years to break down, and it leaks toxic chemicals into the environment during this time. I’ve found that simply educating adults on this one major environmental issue causes many of them to change their actions regarding throwing their cigarette butts on the ground. Taking the time to have a simple conversation often results in positive change if we’re willing to take that educational leap.
One of my favorite ways to get children outside is a simple one: Go outside with them! Most adults don’t spend as much time in nature as they should (since nature is proven to be therapeutic on so many levels), and taking a kid outdoors is beneficial to you both. It’s amazing the things that can be found and explored together. Take for example this past Memorial Day weekend. We recently got married, and my husband and I went to Georgia over the weekend for a party with friends and family back home. We set the party up outside at the campsite. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it was muggy. Summer came early in Georgia this year. But, we did it. We set up tents for shade, had plenty of food and refreshments, and encouraged people to dress for the weather. During the party, I taught several children how to fish. While fishing, one little girl found a snake. As soon as she hollered my name, I came running over. It was an Eastern kingsnake, and I quickly grabbed it for an environmental education lesson. After a quick talk, we released the snake where we found it, and it went about its day as did I.
The universe presented me with an opportunity to enhance young (and old!) minds, and I took it. As an environmental educator, I jump on these opportunities when they are granted. We all have a responsibility to our planet, self, and each other to be environmental stewards and to nurture a world where humans have a mutually symbiotic relationship with nature. We are the warriors in this silent battle for saving the planet, and we must commit to the charge. As the saying goes, “We cannot force someone to hear a message they are not ready to receive, but we must never underestimate the power of planting a seed.”
Are you interested in making #EEforAll? Do you want to provide more equitable and inclusive spaces for your students and your co-workers? Do you need additional support to help make the case for diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace? Are you looking for partners in this work?
EENC is thrilled to announce our new "Equity and Inclusion in Environmental Education" online database. We have organized articles, research, videos, podcasts, books, people, and organizations from across the internet into five categories:
Our goal was to help bring together resources so you can spend your time learning, rather than searching. This collection is open and accessible for anyone to use - so please free to share these links widely!
If you have additional resources to share or if you have feedback to help improve the collection, please contact our executive director.
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