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Educator Spotlight: Christine Brown


Christine Brown is an environmental educator for Asheville GreenWorks where she focuses on urban forestry, water quality, pollinators and waste reduction through recycling and composting. GreenWorks’ clean and green programs add service learning opportunities for students with tree and pollinator garden plantings and river/roadside cleanups. Through a partnership with Land of Sky Regional Council, Brown coordinates the Recycling Education Vehicle that promotes waste reduction education in four counties including Madison, Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania County.

Brown recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certificate, which she feels helped her become a better educator by introducing her to different curricula and adding “more tools to her belt” for working with children at GreenWorks. Before completing the program, she had a science background but was not fully confident in her teaching abilities. Environmental education certification gave her the knowledge and skills to design a lesson plan and teach children of all ages.

Brown’s favorite part of the program were the outdoor experiences at local state parks and educational state forests. “I would not have been aware of some state parks if it was not for the certification, including ones in my area. I especially enjoyed the tree and wildflower identification hikes at Holmes Educational State Forest,” said Brown. Another favorite feature of the program was meeting other educators from across the state, which was a great networking opportunity and a way to foster new partnerships and collaborations.

For her community partnership project, Brown partnered with the N.C. Arboretum to install one of their ecoExplore HotSpots at the North Asheville Library. She designed and planted a pollinator garden as well as installed a bird feeder and bird bath. The HotSpot will provide a space for children to explore and take pictures of nature for the citizen-science program, iNaturalist. It also beautifies an urban area while providing habitat for native pollinators.

Reflecting on her time completing the program, the experience that stands out most to Brown was a field trip to Mt. Mitchell and the guided hike with Dr. Daniels from Montreat College. “He did a teaching exercise called ‘Rotation Station’ that I will never forget and will use for the rest of my teaching career,” said Brown. “He started the field trip by teaching a group of people in the front facts about a plant, rock or something interesting he saw. That group became a ‘station’ and had to stay behind and teach the others in the hike. Dr. Daniels would continue to assign ‘stations’ to the next people in front until the entire group was constantly rotating between stations. I enjoyed this exercise because the back of the line soon became the front and I will always remember my station because I taught it to others.”

To learn more about Asheville Greenworks, visit For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit
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Environmental Educator Spotlight: Deanna Alfaro


Deanna Alfaro recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Deanna currently teaches nature programs at White Deer Nature Center in Garner and at the Clayton Community Center, and credits the program with expanding her knowledge base and increasing her available library of environmental education resources. "It has given me many more resources to tap into for future programs." She also enjoyed the trainings, notably the "Investigating Your Environment' workshop provided by the North Carolina Forest Service.

For her community partnership project, Deanna partnered with the Town of Garner Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, coordinating volunteers to turn several large sewer main access portals in White Deer Park into very attractive public works of art that educate visitors about native animal tracks. You can see Deanna's work along the South Garner Greenway/White Deer Loop trail on the west side of the park. As you can see below, it made quite a difference!


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Summer Lunchtime Speaker Series Kicks Off June 7


What do bees, bears, crime and chocolate have in common? They are all part of the environmental education summer lunchtime speaker series which kicks off on June 7! Come prepared to explore one of North Carolina’s unique ecosystems as Larry Earley, photographer and author of Looking for Longleaf, speaks on the “Saga of the Longleaf Pine.”

The upcoming series will include a variety of interesting presentations, including Dr. Walt Wolfram from N.C. State University discussing how dialects define us as North Carolinians; Justin Maness from Bee Downtown on the honey bee decline and rise of urban beekeeping; Bill Lea, nature photographer and bear advocate who has been photographing black bears in the wild for two decades and Hallot Parson, co-owner of Escazu Artisan Chocolates on getting the cacao bean from the farm to his Raleigh chocolate shop.

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Department of Environmental Quality and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds representing local and state agencies, college and universities, and other organizations throughout the state. The series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to give attendees the opportunity to interact directly with experts in their respective fields.

The lectures are held from noon until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center.

These are just a handful of the many experts the Office of Environmental Education is excited to welcome throughout the summer. Click here for the full Lunchtime Discovery lineup. We look forward to seeing you there!

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Educator Spotlight: Julia Soto


As a nonformal educator, Julia Soto uses her spare time to educate her community about the environment around them. Soto is a volunteer/docent with the Central Carolinas Master Naturalist Program who recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certificate. As her day job, she is a childcare subsidy caseworker.

Soto’s favorite part of the program was that it allowed her to travel. “I loved traveling to all of the beautiful places around the state where the workshops were held and the sheer joy of discovery as I moved through the program,” said Soto. “It brought back all the excitement I used to experience when I was a child playing in the woods.”

For her community partnership project, Soto helped her daughter’s Girl Scout troop plan an Earth Day Celebration at a local park as part of their Bronze Award Project. In celebration of Girl Scouts’ 100thAnniversary, girls from all over the county came together to plant 100 pine trees at the park. Soto found it very rewarding to see how excited the girls were about the tree planting.

Looking back at the program, the moment that stands out to Soto was an event she may never have experienced otherwise. “I attended the sea turtle workshop on the coast,” reflected Soto. “The park ranger was checking one of the nests and found a hatchling straggling behind. The experience of watching that lone little hatchling make its way to the sea was something I’ll always remember.”
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Educator Spotlight: Tori Carle


Tori Carle poses with "plarn" hair.

A recycling education specialist with the City of Greensboro’s Field Operations, Tori Carle is positive that obtaining her N.C. Environmental Education Certification has helped her career advancement. Not only did it help her find a job, but it also has improved her confidence in planning and executing programs at that job, where she works with schools, businesses and residents to increase recycling participation and decrease contamination.

Carle’s favorite part of the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program was the opportunity it provided to network with other environmental educators at the various workshops. “I’m also a super nerd, so I love learning and teaching new things that I have learned to others is always fun,” added Carle.

For her community partnership project, Carle created Operation Bed Roll, a program that has helped spread the word about the non-recyclability of plastic film in residential recycling containers. Operation Bed Roll is a collaboration between Greensboro’s Field Operations and Police departments to keep non-recyclable materials out of our landfills – and help some of our neediest residents have a safe place to sleep. Operation Bed Roll aims to transform thousands of plastic grocery bags into “plarn,” or plastic bag yarn used to create crocheted sleeping mats that provide an insulated barrier for those who sleep on the ground. Carle trains residents how to make the plarn and Greensboro police officers will distribute the mats to the homeless throughout the winter. The Interactive Resource Center, a non-profit that helps people experiencing homelessness, helped us set a goal of 200 bed rolls per winter.

“Greensboro residents have shown up to share love with our neediest residents by crafting plastic bag yarn into more than 243 bed rolls and counting,” said Carle. “That’s about 170,100 plastic bags kept out of city streets, landfills and recycling! Residents have also learned where to properly recycle plastic bags – at retail store collection bins. The plan fever has spread so much that other communities have started their own Operation Bed Roll.”

What stands out most to Carle from completing the program is how helpful it is for anyone working in an environmental education position. “Getting educators free resources for our programs has been a huge help in every environmental education job I’ve had,” Carle reflected.

For more information about Operation Bed Roll, click here:
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Educator Spotlight: Jessica Metz-Bugg


Jessica Metz-Bugg is a fourth-generation teacher with a specific interest in multicultural education who recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Metz-Bugg started her teaching career in the Cherokee Central School System, where most students are members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She initially taught fourth and fifth grade, then added to her certification and started teaching sixth grade science.

Metz-Bugg already has great experience with environmental education. In 2013, she started an after-school garden club for sixth and seventh grade students, which partners with community organizations and tribal members to create traditional food and pollinator gardens. In 2014, she became the Education Project Coordinator for Seeking Paths in Nature, an educational partnership between Great Smoky Mountains National park and Cherokee Middle School. In this role, she created a middle school curriculum which integrated Cherokee culture and National Park resources. She planned and led field trips to multiple National Park service sites across the Southeast, presented in-class and in-park programs for K-12 students, provided professional development for park rangers and educators, and presented information about the project at conferences across the country to help build interest and sustainability for the program. She has since switched back to a formal educator role and is teaching 4-6 grade science and math at New Kituwah Academy, a Cherokee language immersion school, where she enjoys learning about and integrating Native American culture into her lessons to empower her students as she helps them to explore, understand and connect to the world around them.

Metz-Bugg says her favorite part of earning her certification was the networking and brainstorming opportunities that arose from the program. “I have met and developed close working relationships with some truly amazing people in the field of environmental education,” said Metz-Bugg. “The ideas and collaborations that have come from meeting people during this process have been invaluable and will continue to influence me personally and professionally for years to come. There have been so many favorite parts, but truly the people are what have made the greatest and most lasting impact.”

For her community partnership project, Metz-Bugg created educational garden space on the campus of Cherokee Central Schools. Starting with just two beds, a few kids and a handful of donated seeds the project has grown to twenty-two beds managed by school staff, students, and community volunteers. The space includes a pollinator garden and traditional Cherokee plants for various uses and vegetables. This garden is unique in that it focuses on plants related to Cherokee culture. Through the garden, students of Cherokee Central Schools learn cultural information about foods, traditions, folklore, and crafts related to plants. However, she is also integrating that traditional knowledge with modern information on plant science, non-native foods and nutrition. Part of being an educator for Native American students in the 21st century is teaching the traditional knowledge, but also teaching the science that supports it and help students connect in ways that fit into the student’s life and identity. This garden is always working on helping students understand this larger idea.

Reflecting on the program, the experience that stands out most for Metz-Bugg is her trip with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences to the Land of the Long Leaf Pine. “Experiencing an ecosystem so drastically different from anything I knew and learning both the history and science side-by-side made the information so meaningful and engaging,” she said. “Seeing carnivorous plants in the wild for the first time was one of the coolest things ever! I had also never been to the ocean in the winter and it was a deeply calming and restorative experience. This trip really had it all.”

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Educator Spotlight: Wendy Green Foley


Wendy Green Foley, the Zoo Snooze coordinator and community education specialist at the North Carolina Zoo, has completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program and is eager to put her new knowledge to use. By completing this certification, Foley says she has built a knowledge base for future careers.

As a zookeeper for 15 years, Foley has had many experiences that led to her wanting to share her passion with others as an educator. “I have worked with everything from invertebrates to reptiles to vampire bats to owls to ocelots to polar bears to beluga whales and even a 3,000-pound walrus named E.T.,” said Foley. “I have walked 300-pound big cats on a leash, trained a camel for a movie, and helped hand raise a baby siamang. The list goes on and on. I want to show others how incredible our natural world is. So, my zookeeper talks to the public got longer and longer...and that is when I realized that I should consider the education field. I have been an educator at the zoo for almost three years and I LOVE it!”

Foley says one of her favorite part of earning her certification was learning about topics outside of her animal world. “I loved traveling across the state visiting other facilities and was in awe of the parks, reserves, museums and nature areas we have access to. But, my favorite thing was meeting all the different people who wanted to teach their passions to others. Incredible people doing incredible things!” said Foley.

For her community partnership project, Foley worked with the Asheboro YMCA Community Garden. The garden produces about 400 pounds of food each year to help the local community, but was having issues with insects and pests eating the plants. With help from kids in the after-school program, the North Carolina Zoo and YMCA staff, Foley built and installed multiple bird and bat boxes in the area around the garden. She also facilitated a program about animals we can find in our own backyards that can help our gardens grow, where she discussed snakes, owls, bees, birds and bats. After the kids helped install the boxes, they were rewarded with a fresh-from-the-ground carrot for all their hard work.

After working at a zoo for so long, Foley now feels equipped to do many other jobs, including working as an environmental educator at a nature center, city park or other similar sites. Earning her certification helped Foley expand her focus beyond just animals. “I now look to the bigger picture first. How that bigger picture trickles down and effects the other parts of this big moving entity.”
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DEQ to launch new high school curriculum focused on air quality


By Lexi Rudolph

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality is launching a new high school curriculum focused on air quality in North Carolina.

The It’s Our Air! program will officially launch April 26 in a ceremony at the Nature Research Center in downtown Raleigh.

It’s Our Air! is a free curriculum that includes a series of engaging activities and videos focused on air quality for the state’s high school-level earth and environmental science teachers. The program is designed to help students develop a better understanding of the science and technology that helps us explain, monitor, predict and protect air quality.

It’s Our Air!supports the state’s Environmental Literacy Plan for K-12 schools. The plan’s goal is to ensure North Carolina high school graduates can make informed decisions about issues that affect our natural resources. It’s Our Air! supports this goal by providing high school students with real world, hands-on environmental science activities aligned with the State Essential Standards for Science. The Office of Environmental Education will also incorporate the program into the state environmental education certification. As an instructional environmental education certification workshop, It’s Our Air! training will provide new content for teachers and non-formal educators, in addition to credit hours toward environmental education certification completion.

The It’s Our Air!launch and awards ceremony will be from 9-11 a.m. April 26 in the William G. Ross Jr. Environmental Conference Center, 121 West Jones St., Raleigh. People who participate will hear from a host of dignitaries, including DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and DAQ Director Michael Abraczinskas. The event will be used to recognize educators and team members who developed It’s Our Air! as well as meteorologists who share the air quality forecasts with North Carolinians.

To learn more about the curriculum, visit or contact or 919-707-8400 with questions.

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The Hunt for the Great White Shark


 By Dee Lupton
Deputy Director, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries

Great White Shark - these three words spark fear and excitement whether you are a beachgoer, fishermen, marine biologist, or someone who follows Global Shark Tracker to see where white sharks tagged by OCEARCH are located – the most famous being Mary Lee.

Recently, I got to go out on an OCEARCH expedition to see how great white shark tracking is done.

OCEARCH is a non-profit group that generates scientific data through tracking (telemetry) and biological studies of keystone marine species, such as great white and tiger sharks. When Chris Fischer, OCEARCH founding chairman and expedition leader spoke at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in January, he contacted the Division of Marine Fisheries to discuss possible locations for a base of operations in North Carolina and the types of permits that would be needed. Kathy Rawls, the division’s Fisheries Management Section chief, and I jumped at an invitation to join OCEARCH’s Lowcountry Expedition based out of Hilton Head, S.C.

The excitement and anticipation leading up to the trip is difficult to describe. The phrase that kept going through my mind is, ‘This is Cool’. Anyone my age who grew up watching ‘The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau’, can quote every line in the movie ‘Jaws’, and pursued a career in marine biology, understands the feeling. 

The trip began with transit, via Zodiac, from shore to the OCEARCH vessel, anchored in Port Royal Sound. It was exhilarating and reminiscent of TV nature documentaries showing scientists bobbing up and down on the sea as they go to their area to study. Once on the vessel, we were greeted by OCEARCH staff, given a safety briefing, and toured the vessel. 

The OCEARCH team explained their techniques used to catch a white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). The overall health of the shark is paramount. They use veteran OCEARCH fishermen to catch the sharks with chumming, handlines and circle hooks. When a shark is caught, the OCEARCH vessel lowers a hydraulically operated platform into the water. Sharks are carefully moved to the platform and then a saltwater hose is placed in the shark’s mouth to continuously pump saltwater through the shark’s gills so it can breathe. The platform allows scientists to measure, identify the sex, tag (acoustic and satellite), and take blood and fin clip samples while the shark remains on the platform. Total time the shark is out of water on the platform is 15 minutes.

The goal of OCEARCH is to provide a venue for a team of collaborating scientists to tag mature white sharks and gather data on the ecology, physiology, and behavior of white sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. White sharks are the ocean’s apex predator. They help keep the ocean in balance and play a significant role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Policy managers use the scientific information gained through research to help manage and conserve these fish.

The most inspiring part of the day was to see young undergraduate and graduate students participating in these research projects. Their enthusiasm was rejuvenating. It reminded me why I entered the field of marine biology in the first place.

By the end of the expedition on March 15, the Lowcountry Expedition had tagged two white sharks (Hilton, a mature male; and Savannah, an immature female) and two tiger sharks (Weimar, a mature male; and Beaufort, an immature male). Hilton and Weimar were tagged on the same day.

“It’s very unusual for us to see tiger sharks and white sharks at the same place,” Fischer said. “We’re probably in an area here where two worlds are colliding. Tiger sharks like warmer temperatures and white sharks like cooler temperatures.”

Although OCEARCH did not catch and tag a shark on the day we joined the Lowcountry Expedition, the experience is one that will never be forgotten. Not many people will ever be able to say that they once participated in an organized white shark tagging research project. I hope that one day OCEARCH will consider an Expedition off North Carolina.

I think “Graveyard of the Atlantic Expedition” has a nice ring to it.

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The Department of Environmental Quality Encourages You to Celebrate Earth Day throughout the month of April!



Earth Day is Saturday, April 22, but you can celebrate all month long at many of the environmental education events in North Carolina. Lots of fun, family-oriented activities are planned that incorporate music, games and outdoor recreation. These opportunities are a great way to enjoy the outdoors and discover more about your local environment. To help you find events in your area on Earth Day and through April, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs compiles an online calendar on their website, Events can also be searched by city and zip code. 

Nature hikes, birding, stream clean-ups, festivals and more await those who want to explore and learn about North Carolina’s unique environment. The public can also follow and share events, environmental education news and interesting nature stories on Twitter and Facebook by following and using the hashtag #NCEarthDay. Many of these Earth Day events are also part of the N.C. Science Festival, which runs from April 7 until April 23. For more information about N.C. Science Festival events near you, see

Department of Environmental Quality employees will be volunteering their time on Earth Day as well. The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is coordinating an Earth Day volunteer event on Friday, April 21. Raleigh area employees will be working in the morning with ecology and botany students at Fred J. Carnage GT/Magnet School to spruce up the school grounds and removing invasive plant species in the afternoon at Walnut Creek Wetland Center. 

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Educator Spotlight: Rhonda Sturgill


Sturgill puts out a residual fire on the base of a 
longleaf pine tree with sandy soil after a control burn.
Rhonda Sturgill, a conservation planner for The Nature Conservancy, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. As a conservation planner, Sturgill is focused on purchasing conservation easements and ecological significant tracts for The Nature Conservancy. She also helps implement prescribed burns on her organization’s lands.  

Sturgill says her favorite part of earning her certificate was meeting people and learning about their experiences in the environmental field. “I now have a greater appreciation for the challenges everyone faces in their work with the public, natural resources, and environmental education,” said Sturgill.

“I enjoyed attending workshops but my favorite part of the program was visiting different sites across North Carolina,” continued Sturgill. “It gave me a greater appreciation for our state’s natural diversity.”

For her community partnership project, Sturgill taught a group of Alternative Spring Break college students from Michigan about the fire-adapted longleaf pine ecosystem. The students, who were mostly non-environmental majors, participated in several hands-on activities and Sturgill led them in planting 14,000 longleaf pine seedlings. Sturgill said the most rewarding part of this project was hearing some of the students later say that connecting with nature was a life-changing experience for them.

Since starting the process to earn her environmental education program certificate, Sturgill has also completed her Masters in Environmental Management. Rhonda reflected on her experience in the certification program, “The environmental field is extremely broad, but by working together we can achieve a greater outreach effort and accomplish more.”
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DEQ Partners with NCSU to Offer Environmental Education Credits


The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is working with N.C. State University to prepare a new generation of environmental educators.

Beginning this 2017-2018 academic year, the N.C. State College of Natural Resources will partner with the N.C. State College of Education to offer two courses in environmental education--Environmental Education Teaching Methods and Environmental Education in Practice.

Taught by Kathryn Stevenson, assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, and Gail Jones, professor of science education in the College of Education, the courses will boost students’ knowledge of natural science concepts and enhance communication and outreach skills.  As part a partnership with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, students will also earn hours toward their North Carolina environmental education certification in addition to the course credit hours.

A core team at NCSU had been working on the idea of an environmental education curriculum for a few years, including Gail Jones and Sarah Carrier from the College of Education and Kathryn Stevenson and Renee Strnad from College of Natural Resources. Now their work is paying off.

Stevenson says environmental education is an important topic for students at the College of Natural Resources and College of Education to study.

“Many students majoring in natural sciences see the need for communication and education, but have a hard time finding that training within the university. Additionally, many jobs in conservation, parks and recreation require an environmental education certification, and we saw this as an opportunity to offer courses that would let students work toward this certification. Likewise, environmental education and science education are a great fit, but there haven’t historically been many opportunities for pre-service teachers to get training in things like taking students outside while they’re enrolled here. This program offers wonderful professional development opportunities for teachers,” said Stevenson.

Gail Jones, alumni distinguished professor of Science Education, noted the benefits of the course for teachers.

“This new course offers a unique opportunity for students in the sciences to develop teaching skills that will pay off in their future careers,” Jones said.

Lisa Tolley, program manager for the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, has seen the benefits of incorporating environmental education in teacher preparation programs.

“UNCG’s School of Education provides credits for environmental education certification as part of their coursework,” Tolley said. “Those teachers come out the program with resources and training that allows them to teach science outdoors and to connect students to real-world opportunities in STEM.” 

Tolley says by offering environmental education courses, NCSU will prepare their educators to provide hands-on experiential science, something that has been shown to increase student academic achievement and engagement with science concepts and careers.  

She agrees with Stevenson that these courses will provide CNR students with curriculum resources and communication tools that will be helpful for furthering their careers.

“We look forward to working with NCSU students and to providing opportunity for professional growth,” Tolley said.

For more information about the new courses and to view the full interview with Dr. Stevenson, visit the N.C. State Colleges of Natural Resources News at:

To learn more about North Carolina’s Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the N.C.  Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs at:

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CTNC AmeriCorps Member Completes NC Environmental Education Certification


Nina Quaratella, a Conservation Trust for North Carolina AmeriCorps member serving with the N.C. Coastal Federation recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program.

As the coastal community engagement specialist for N.C. Coastal Federation, Quaratella plans and conducts education programs with a focus on underserved communities. Her programs are focused on coastal topics such as oysters, salt marshes and stormwater runoff and Quaratella enjoys working at the coast. “I am very grateful that I am able to teach students about the coast since the coast as always been a huge part of my life.”

Quaratella says her favorite part of earning her certification was the instructional workshops. “I really enjoyed learning about different topics from agriculture to wetlands to forestry. The activities that I was taught were very adaptable to different topics and age ranges and I have translated some activities to the federation’s education materials. I also like playing outside like a kid!”

For the community partnership project required for certification, Quaratella worked on a project that coincided with her AmeriCorps term. She and several other members of her AmeriCorps cohort designed a trail building and environmental education event at Tar River Land Conservancy near Durham. “The volunteer day was a great turn-out we had our fellow CTNC AmeriCorps members and a Girl Scout Troop working on building a trail to help the conservancy open a new conservation area for public use.” Girl Scouts were taught about Leave No Trace principles that Quaratella hopes they will carry with them as they continue learning more about environmental leadership and becoming environmental stewards.

Quaratella says the program changed the way she approached teaching. “The EE Certification program has definitely improved my teaching abilities. I have learned how to better engage a diverse range of audiences.” She also found a new appreciation for the agricultural field and how it is connected to environmental conditions. “I have never really had any exposure to agriculture and food production in school or in my current or previous work experiences. The Food, Land and People Workshop helped me to understand that food production is completely dependent on the balance of the environment. It also helped me to understand that coastal work which I am most involved with has an indirect impact on agriculture.”

In addition to her work with education and outreach Quaratella also assists with the Coastal Federation’s restoration efforts. When she isn’t at work, Quaratella enjoys going to the beach, hiking, traveling, reading and cooking.

For more information about the Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s AmeriCorps program in environmental education and outreach, visit their website at For more information about the NC Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs’ website at

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Environmental Educator - What Does That Mean?


This is a guest post by Lindsey Bijas. Lindsey is a CTNC (Conservation Trust for North Carolina) AmeriCorps member serving at the Piedmont Triad Regional Council as an environmental educator and outreach coordinator. Lindsey's post was originally featured in the Stormwater SMART  blog.

"Environmental education is, at its heart, an integrative undertaking. Instructors teach across disciplines, linking the methods and content of natural and social sciences, arts, mathematics, and humanities to help learners fully understand and address complex environmental issues." (Source: North American Association for Environmental Education's Guidelines for the Preparation and Professional Development of Environmental Educators) 

When someone asks me what I do, I have to choose my words carefully. How can I explain what I do within 2 minutes or less without losing their attention and completely confusing them? My usual response is, "I'm an AmeriCorps member serving at the Piedmont Triad Regional Council as an environmental educator and outreach coordinator for their Stormwater SMART program *and cue deep breath* which is made possible through a partnership by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina and the NC Commission on Volunteerism." After I've just spewed out everything I could think to best explain my position, I usually look at their face and see an expression of "I have no idea what you just said, but I'm going to smile and nod anyway!" You know what? That's fine, because environmental education is truly a complex subject to try to explain, especially since it can be interpreted differently from one person to the next. So, I'm going to try to explain to you what being an environmental educator means to me.

That's me a year ago holding a leucistic red-talked hawk
Usually, someone has a pivotal moment in their life when they realize "this is it, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life." I can honestly tell you that didn't happen for me until about my second year of attending community college, but I've been obsessed with and immersing myself in nature for as long as I can remember. Whether it was seeing how high I could climb the large evergreen tree in my front yard, or bringing injured box turtles into my house; I loved everything there was to love about nature and have carried that passion with me throughout my life.  So, how did I get exposed to environmental education specifically? I'm glad you asked! 

Over 2 years ago, I packed up my bags and traveled over 900 miles away from my home in New Jersey to a college town in the mountains of North Carolina. It was here that I had finally found my niche. For the next two years, I majored in wildlife biology with a concentration in wildlife rehabilitation and got plenty of exposure to environmental educational programs. I provided programs mostly focusing on wildlife, conservation, and human impact on the wildlife found in North Carolina. Now, how did I go from talking about animals to stormwater and pollution? Very easily! You see, once you have an understanding that everything in the environment is connected (i.e. wildlife, humans, natural resources), you want others to be able to make that connection as well. Although my initial passion was with wildlife, I soon realized that educating people about the environment as a whole (especially water quality) was the bigger picture at hand.

That's me now educating boy scouts about pollution and runoff 
Even when providing programs on different topics, I still see the same results in my audiences. That little "a-ha" moment, or someone coming up to you and saying, "That was so interesting!" or even better, "You've inspired me to make a change, how can I help?" My absolute favorite reaction from an audience member, typically students, is when they come up to me and ask, "How did you get to where you are today?" Those right there, are just a few of the reasons why I'm passionate about environmental education. Education is one of the most powerful tools we have, but often times it's overlooked and taken for granted. Those small moments could some day lead to the differences we're looking to be made in our environment. To me, environmental education is being able to reach out to at least one person and make them realize that they can make a difference. Then, inspiring them to go out and be the change. Currently, I'm working towards my environmental education in North Carolina so that I can continue to do what I love, and do my part in impacting our environment.

Click here to learn more about environmental education in North Carolina!

Lindsey Bijas
AmeriCorps Member, Environmental Educator Stormwater SMART Outreach Coordinator
PTRC Regional Planning Department

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AmeriCorps Member Expands Service With EE Certification


Barbara Goldentyer recently completed a 10-month service term with the Triangle Land Conservancy. Barbara also completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification during that time. As part of her service, Barbara taught classes for local partners, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, the East Durham Children's Initiative and the Salvation Army.

Barbara credits the EE Certification workshops and classes with giving her a variety of fun activity ideas strategies for using outdoor and nature play with children, as well as giving her a lot of nature and environment content knowledge.
Barbara recalls one memorable moment at the East Durham Children's Initiative: "I brought a corn snake to a program with the East Durham Children's Initiative. We talked about reptiles, what makes an animal a reptile, what adaptation reptiles have, and why snakes are important and beneficial to our ecosystem and then the kids got to touch the snake. After the program, I was packing everything up, several of the kids who'd been scared of the snake wanted to see it again. One little boy just sat there very gently petting the snake with one finger for several minutes. Seeing that change in how he related to the animal in just one class really stands out to me."

For her project, she developed and facilitated a series of programs with the East Durham Children's Initiative STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) summer program that consisted of eight programs for their middle and elementary school students with hands-on activities including meeting a corn snake, making reptiles out of model magic, and learning to use binoculars. The last week Goldentyer took the children out to Horton Grove Nature Preserve for a field exploration. "The East Durham Children's Initiative operates in a low income part of East Durham and many of kids had never been to a nature preserve before, so I think that experience alone, made a huge difference."

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Wildlife Educator Completes Her Environmental Education Certification


Kristin Frew, a wildlife education specialist for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification this month. In her role with the commission, Frew teaches environmental programs to a wide variety of audiences and assist with staff training. In addition, she volunteers with the Piedmont Wildlife Center on their Raptor Team and serves as membership chair for Environmental Educators of North Carolina.

Frew says her favorite part of the certification program was participating in the instructional workshops. “I enjoyed traveling across the state meeting other educators and learning innovative ways to engage audiences.” She says the experience in the program that stands out the most for her was participating in the Sea Turtle Exploration Workshop at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. “It was my first time going to the aquarium and we got to watch the staff feed the animals at the top of one of the tanks. If it wasn’t for the certification program, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”

For her community partnership project, Frew developed a curriculum guide for the Piedmont Wildlife Center that addresses wildlife conservation and highlights impacts on wildlife and things people of all ages can do to benefit wildlife such as recycling, building nest boxes or creating backyard habitats. Educators at Piedmont Wildlife Center were trained to use the material in their education programs.

Frew says the certification program broadened her knowledge of effective ways to teach environmental education and skills for developing and implementing programs for a wide variety of audiences. “I feel more confident in my ability to engage audiences and the resources I received from workshops are invaluable.”

Although Frew, who has a background in wildlife, had an understanding of most environmental issues coming into the certification, she says the program helped her build on that knowledge and learn more about how to present those issues to audiences in an effective way. “I feel that I am more prepared to teach others about environmental issues and the ways in which people can help prevent or solve those issues,” says Frew. 

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Educator Spotlight: Sara English


Sara English recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program and credits the program with helping her move her education career in a new direction. 

When English began the program, she was working as a high school biology teacher. She now works in nonformal education as a program specialist at the Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia and as an adjunct biology teacher at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. “I started as the environmental educator at the Schiele, but have recently moved into aboriginal cultures specialist position focusing on Native Americans, specifically here in the Southeastern United States. It has been great to combine my new position with what I have learned as an environmental educator because the two topics are so interconnected.”

English says one of her favorite parts of the program was getting to travel to new parks and environmental education centers in North Carolina. She also enjoyed the workshops and getting to meet so many interesting people.

When asked about an experience that stands out for her, she is quick to say there are so many good experiences but recalled one workshop in particular. “Probably the best experience was the Project WILD workshop I took with Tanya Poole as one of my first workshops ever. It was then I realized that I really could have a career doing the things I loved like being outside, hiking and enjoying wildlife and not only that, but I could share it with others! It really opened by eyes to a new way of thinking and a new life for myself.”

English feels that the program influenced her approach to teaching. “It is the hands-on experiences that have really stuck with me. Getting up, going outside, doing things is so much more meaningful than sitting in a classroom and listening. They both have their perks but the hands-on experiences provide mental stimulation and it also provides you with a personal connection and stronger memory of the topic. I try to incorporate hands-on experiences with every program or workshop that I facilitate.”

When she isn’t working, English enjoys being outside anywhere with her dog and significant other. She loves science of all kinds, plays drums in a silly garage rock band called Solar Cat, and loves to read books, both fiction and nonfiction. 

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Educator Spotlight: Aaron Sebens


Aaron Sebens, a teacher at Central Park School for Children in Durham just completed his N.C. Environmental Education Certification.

Sebens is a librarian and project specialist and also helps teacher begin environmental education projects.  His favorite part about the program was learning outside and about so many topics from landfills to raptors, watersheds to solar power.

For his community partnership project, Aaron’s fourth grade class launched a crowd-funding campaign to add solar electricity to their classroom. “It went viral and we ended up raising enough money to take our classroom completely off the grid. The U.S. Department of Energy made a video about the project President Obama tweeted about it,” said Sebens.

Fourth-grade teacher Aaron Sebens and some of his students - (from left) Ella Brown, Peter Mullen, Natalie Russell, Cassie Wells, and Ellen Broghausen, pose with the class' solar panels on the roof of the building at Central Park School. The class raised money and did the construction to convert their classroom to solar energy as a school project.
Sebens said that the project awareness and skills that citizens will need to solve the problems our society will face. “We are, for the most part, ignorant consumers of electricity. Students monitored the electricity we used in the classroom, at their house, and found out they can make do with a lot less. They learned the skills of organizing resources and developing a plan to make a big idea into a reality. This project is ongoing and last year we added a wind turbine to provide more and a different source of clean energy.

Sebens immersed his students in the process of planning the system, raising the funds, and working with community partners to make the project work. “Students need to become active participants in their understanding and consumption of electricity if we are going to have the innovators we will need to solve the problems that will arise in the next century.”

When asked if the certification program changed his approach to teaching Sebens said that he thinks about formal and informal educational experiences in different ways and considers ways to remove obstacles to environmental education not just for students but for teachers as well. 

The N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program is offered by the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. To learn more about the program, visit the office's website at 
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Educator Spotlight: Erin Harrison


Erin Harrison, a former AmeriCorps member currently working as a Water Conservation and Efficiency Analyst for the City of Durham, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification.

In addition to providing water use assessment for residents and maintaining the water supply status, Harrison educates school groups and other organizations about water conservation and water and wastewater treatment processes.

When asked about the certification experience, Harrison said she is a big fan of the wildlife-specific experiences and programming. “I learned about owls, spiders, beetles, reptiles, black bears and many more. It is always super interesting and I can really see the passion educators have for sharing their knowledge of something they really love.”

For her community partnership project Harrison planned and installed a Kids in Parks TRACK Trail at Eno River State Park. The .5-mile loop trail is a part of the network of family-friendly outdoor TRACK Trail adventures provided by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. The Eno trail includes four self-guided brochures including Animal Athletes, Nature's Hide and Seek, Need for Trees and Birds of the Piedmont. These brochures were carefully curated to fit Eno River State Park and its specific flora and fauna and visitor demographics. The brochures are placed at the trail head along with interpretive signage. Harrison says the Track Trail gave the community a new, interactive way to experience and enjoy their park and it gave park rangers a way to provide an educational experience for larger groups.

Harrison says participating in the program changed her approach to teaching others. “My approach now involves ways to ensure that participants feel invested and have ownership of their resources. I also realize that teaching others actually means that you have to let them teach themselves. Ideas that come from your participants will actually stick. I have to remember to let them be a part of the inquiry because I can learn just as much from them as they learn from me.”

Harrison says she now has an understanding about the wide array of perspectives that exist when it comes to environmental issues. “It’s important to be aware that not everyone is coming from the same place, background or knowledge-base as you when they think about the environment. Being able to respect those differences is crucial to wider support of environmental causes."

Learn more about Eno River State Park on their website at

Information about the Conservation Trust for North Carolina's AmeriCorps Program, visit their site at

The N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program is offered by the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. To learn more about the program, visit the office's website at 

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Teens & 20s Writer Plans to Earn Her N.C. Environmental Education Certification During Gap Year


Chandler Holland in the Discovery Room at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
Photograph by Michael Holland

Chandler Holland, a Teens & 20s writer for the Burlington Times-News is in her senior year of homeschooling and plans to complete the N.C. Environmental Education Certification during her gap year before attending Warren Wilson College with a merit-based scholarship.

"The fact that I will spend my “Gap Year” working toward obtaining my EE certification no doubt played a significant role in my acceptance at the school of my choice in their early decision process, as well as being awarded a merit scholarship.  Warren Wilson College has a strong program that will give me the real-world skills to begin a successful career committed to environmental education," Holland said.

In addition to writing a monthly article for the Teens & 20s column on a variety of topics including sustainability and the environment, Holland is a docent in the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ Discovery Room. She plans to officially enroll in the program later this month when she turns 18 and will count her hours volunteering as a docent towards her certification.

Holland recently highlighted the certification program in her December 19 column, Environmental education: Certification program isn’t just for classroom teachers.To read Holland’s story on program go to

The N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program is offered by the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. To learn more about the program, visit the office’s website at

Source for article:

December 19, pg. A10
Environmental education: Certification program isn’t just for classroom teachers

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Collaboration Between Departments Attracts Record Number to 6th Annual Nonformal Educators Meeting


Educators from all regions of North Carolina gathered at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center last week for the 6thannual meeting for nonformal educators. The meeting reached its highest attendance to date with more than 90 nonformal educators representing a wide variety of nonprofit and city, county, state and federal agencies and facilities, including nature centers, science museums, gardens, arboretums, aquariums, state parks, the N.C. Forest Service, the Wildlife Resources Commission, 4-H, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and others.

The meeting is a collaboration between the Science Section of the Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) and the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs to support nonformal educators who provide environmental science to school-age children. This unique partnership encourages collaboration between schools, school districts, NCDPI and the nonformal education community to support science learning and environmental literacy.

The meeting provides an opportunity for educators to get updates on curriculum standards from NCDPI and resources to help align their educational programs and field trips with the state’s essential standards for science. Participants shared school program and teacher professional development success stories.

The highlight of this year’s meeting was a panel of classroom teachers that included Kerry Piper, an earth/environmental science teacher at Apex High School, Alexandra Shadroui, a middle school science teacher at Salisbury Academy, Terry Denny, a music teacher at Lacy Elementary School in Raleigh and Jennifer Fine, elementary science senior administrator with Wake County Public School System. Panel members addressed a variety of questions including how nonformal educators and can connect with teachers, what resources teachers need from nonformal educators, i.e., field trips, lesson plans, etc. and what professional development programs or opportunities teachers find most helpful.  

Lisa Tolley, program manager with the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs wasn’t surprised by the high numbers of attendees. “North Carolina has one of the strongest nonformal science communities in the country and these educators and facilities provide a wealth of programming to students and profession development to teachers across the state. These partnerships as a way to ensure students are exposed to hands-on, field-based learning that enhance student’s understanding of STEM subjects and meet environmental literacy goals, which are specifically noted in the new Every Student Succeeds Act.” 

The two departments plan to continue to build on this partnership and look forward to future collaborations. 

Check out the storify of the meeting. 

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Winter Lunchtime Speaker Series Kicks Off Next Week


The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs kicks off its lunchtime speaker series next week with John Gerwin, research curator in ornithology with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences with a presentation on attracting and caring for backyard birds, December 7 at noon. 

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds representing local and state agencies, colleges and universities and other organizations throughout the state.

John Gerwin, NC Museum of Natural Sciences
The lecture series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to gives attendees the opportunity interact directly with some of the best experts in their respective fields. Some sessions even head outdoors to explore urban nature, local architecture and green rooftops!

Lectures are usually held on Wednesdays in the office’s Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center from noon until 1:00 p.m. The upcoming series includes several interesting presentations, including Amy Comer with the Division of Marine Fisheries on artificial reefs in North Carolina, Dan Gottlieb and Rachel Woods with the NC Museum of Art on the NCMA Park’s new landscape and sustainability features and Alexandra Mash with NCSU talking about the Candid Critter citizen science program and its statewide camera trap survey.

On January 26 there will be two special presentations. DEQ has partnered with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and the NC Aquariums to bring Chris Fischer, the Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader for OCEARCH to the Daily Planet Theatre to talk about his organization’s research and their work tracking sharks off the North Carolina coast and around the world. Fischer will also be speaking at a Science Café that evening in Daily Planet Restaurant in addition to the lunchtime lecture. 

Go herefor the full Lunchtime Discovery line up. 

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Educator Spotlight: Lindsey Purvis


Lindsey Purvis recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Purvis works with N.C. State Parks, formerly at Weymouth Woods-Sandhills Nature Preserve and currently at William B. Umstead State Park.  Purvis has maintenance duties including trail upkeep and special projects. She staffs the visitor's center, teaches environmental programs and leads educational hikes for the public.

Purvis said that attending workshops and getting valuable resources to take back to the park, such as program ideas, lesson plans and increased knowledge of citizen science projects was her favorite part of the certification.

When asked about an experience that stands out for her, Purvis mentions a workshop at Raven Rock State Park. “The herpetology workshops were my favorite. I had one day for herps at Raven Rock State Park where we learned about the various snakes, lizards, turtles and frogs in North Carolina. The educators had 21 more different herp species that we then had to identify through our notes and ID books. It was awesome and very hands-on! They really went the extra mile and you could tell they all loved their jobs.”

For her community partnership project, Purvis built a wildlife garden at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve which is in her hometown of Southern Pines. The garden includes bird feeders for hummingbirds and year-round, migrating species and a variety of native plants to provide habitat and nectar for pollinators. “It brought together the community by way of the various volunteers and donations received towards completing the project from individuals and businesses. The garden will continue to grow outside of the Weymouth Woods museum which is being renovated and will give park visitors a close-up view of the native wildlife of the Sandhills to foster a more intimate experience with nature.”

When asked how participating in the certification program changed her approach to teaching, Purvis said that it influenced her teaching techniques and approach. “I learned a lot about teaching techniques in terms of little things I didn’t think about before which can be as simple as not wearing sunglasses during outdoor presentations because eye contact is important. And how the teachable moment is better than a strict schedule for hiking. It was also useful to be reminded you should “dip-stick” with your group to know what they are learning and whether you should adjust your approach to keeping them engaged. I learned that there are citizen science projects and way to get involved in any natural history subject you could want to teach! The EE resources out there are boundless and I’m thrilled that the certification program exposed me to so many of them by offering diverse workshops in locations all across the state.”

Purvis feels that education is a much more valuable tool for helping to address environmental issues than people realize. “Even when you’re not outright changing a person’s behavior by telling them about the effects of X and Y on the environment, you’re changing their attitude towards nature by giving them a positive educational experience. What feels like a simple lesson to you might inspire a child to pursue a career in the natural sciences – you never know if that future environmental scientist, ecologist or engineer may go on to do great things for the world. Those special moments in teaching matter. Going the extra mile as an educator to excite your audience matters.”

For more information about Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, visit their website . To learn more about William B. Umstead State Park, visit their website. To find out more about the NC Environmental Education Certification Program visit the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs website.
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Educator Spotlight: Erica Connery


Erica Connery recently earned her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Connery is a Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) AmeriCorps member at the N.C. Coastal Federation’s Northeast office in Wanchese.

As an CTNC AmeriCorps member serving with N.C. Coastal Federation, Connery does education and outreach visiting local schools and presenting coastal science programs to groups of all ages. She also helps with the federation’s restoration projects. “I love living at the beach and exploring North Carolina’s coastal environments and being able to teach others about the coast.”

Connery says that the instructional workshops were her favorite part of the certification program. “They were a fun way to learn new teaching methods and get lots of program ideas, and I also got to meet a great network of fellow environmental educators in Eastern North Carolina. I was able to travel to several different environmental centers and sites for the workshops and it was interesting to learn from a variety of instructors.”

Connery’s community partnership project involved organizing field experiences at Jockey’s Ridge State Park for children in the Mano al Hermano family literacy program. Connery notes that not all of the children in the program get to the beach or sound during the summer. “By providing transportation for the field trip, the children had an opportunity to interact with other kids during a fun day outside their homes and it allowed them to explore the environments that they learned about in the books they read this summer.”

Connery liked that the certification program requires you to visit sites outside your own region. “I think it is important to see different parts of the state and learn how different environmental subjects are taught. Even though my focus is on coastal environmental education, I learned from all my workshop experiences by observing different teaching styles and the ways that people connect to the environment no matter where they live.”

Connery said that participating in the certification taught her to be more thoughtful about what she wanted people to get from her program.  “This program introduced me to more teaching techniques and methods to reach a broader audience. The workshops make you think about different learning styles and the different backgrounds that people may bring to your program and how to connect with them.”

For more information about CTNC AmeriCorps program, visit To learn more about the NC Coastal Federation, visit For more information on the Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs website at 
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Educator Spotlight: Lindsey Baker


Lindsey Baker recently completed the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program. Baker works with K-12 STEM teachers at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (CESTEM). Baker coordinates professional development workshops and runs a technology library with equipment that is available to regional teachers for free.

Baker developed the N.C. State Park Photo Scavenger Hunt Challenge for her community partnership project, a requirement for environmental education certification. Baker started the program hoping it would be a way to use technology to help get her peers outdoors and into state parks. What began as a small grant and project in 2013 grew into a statewide initiative with the help of Friends of State Parks. The program has been implemented in every state park and recreation area in North Carolina. Baker says the challenge was designed to be a zero-impact, self-guided activity that encourages park visitors of all ages and backgrounds to get outside and engage with nature. “This is a project that utilizes the spirit of competition with a sense of adventure. Anyone can use any kind of camera and in any one park, you must take photos of 12 out of 15 categories which include flora, fauna, a selfie with a Ranger, and a beautiful overlook, etc.”

Baker says that the certification program changed her approach to teaching. “Being able to participate and observe the environmental education workshop instructors was very valuable to me. I learn from others and by watching others. Seeing all of the different instructors and how they taught a variety of subjects was very interesting to me. This has helped show me better ways to teach and things to avoid when teaching.”

In addition to the workshops being one of her favorite things about the program, Baker enjoyed being able to visit new parks and other environmental education centers. She says earning her certification changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “I think there are many sides to each environmental issue and going through this certification process helps you to be able to understand the science content behind the issue and then gives you the people-skills to be able to talk about the varying viewpoints. If we are going to help solve the environmental issues we face, then as educators, we better have a strong sense and skill of environmental communication.”

For more information about CESTEM, visit their website at For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs site at
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