This month we are so pleased to feature a seasoned member and co-founder of KAEE, Terry Wilson. Terry is a dedicated supporter and advocate for environmental learning in the commonwealth and beyond. We were lucky to chat with him recently to learn a little more about his past and present involvement in the field of EE.
KAEE: What is your current and/or past role in the field of EE?
Terry: I was one of the co-founders of KAEE back in 1975, and I have been a member for 47 years. I have served on the board of directors and am a past president. Since my retirement I am now a professor emeritus in environmental education at Western Kentucky University. In the past several years I have been working with the KAEE Board on the creation and growth of the KAEE Legacy Fund.
I also have been a member of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) since 1975. I served two terms on NAAEE’s Board of Directors and was the NAAEE President in 2004. I was the 2006 recipient of NAAEE’s Walter Jeske Award, the highest honor given in the field of EE. My career as an active environmental educator began in 1970 and spanned 47 years. I retired from WKU in 2017 as Director and Professor in the Center for Environmental Education and Sustainability. I am still engaged in EE through consulting, writing, and providing training for a variety of organizations and agencies.
KAEE: What projects or programs are you working on that particularly inspire you?
Terry: The KAEE Legacy Fund initiative shows great progress in providing an outlet for extending KAEE’s vision into the future. To me, it's a way for people to give back to KAEE, by establishing mechanisms that can highlight the accomplishments of KAEE’s members, while aiding new and prospective members.
I also applaud the partnership between KAEE and the Kentucky Environmental Education Council (KEEC), which has resulted in numerous joint initiatives, such as the administration of the Professional Environmental Education Certification (PEEC) program.
KAEE: What goals do you have for your organization or programs within the EE field?
Terry: As a “long-timer” in the field of EE, I have seen our profession grow from focusing on nature study, to conservation education, outdoor education, and educating about environmental challenges.
We have grown into a wonderful process that emphasizes educating “in, about, and for the environment.” As the field continues to evolve, we must become more inclusive, embracing the involvement of more groups and individuals who may not felt included in our earlier efforts. We must continue to connect our work to the challenges of educating for a sustainable future. At the same time, we must not forget the need to help people feel more connected to the natural world around them and appreciate those inseparable interconnections.
KAEE: What is an area you feel you could use support in from this network of fellow educators?
Terry: As we grow as a field, we must remember to become increasingly inclusive. Everyone can benefit in understanding our environment, including both natural and cultural systems. We may not always agree on how to protect and manage those systems, so we must constantly reach out to build more bridges to include various perspectives on issues. At the same time, I would urge us to remember that our goals include increasing environmental awareness and appreciation, building a strong knowledge base, assessing and clarifying attitudes and values, developing problem solving and decision-making skills, and working for responsible action. In other words, build new bridges, while strengthening, but not burning, the old ones.
KAEE: What is something you feel could be beneficial to share with this network?
Terry: Remember that KAEE was the first state or provincial association to become an affiliate of NAAEE.
As a rural state with a small population, KAEE has continued to maintain many leadership roles in NAAEE and the field of EE, both nationally and internationally.
Let’s be proud of those accomplishments and continue to be one of the leading EE associations in North America.
KAEE: Share a fun fact or random tidbit about yourself with the group!
Terry: My first job in EE was to direct an outdoor education program for the school district in Ohio where I first taught. That job started on April 1, 1970, which was three weeks before the very first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Can you say, “older than dirt?”
Roberta Burnes, Environmental Education Specialist at the Kentucky Division for Air Quality and a longtime KAEE member, has recently been named a Green Community Leader and the first participant to complete KAEE’s Green Community Leader eeCredential.
Designed to equip participants with the skills needed to collaborate with their community and help address the environmental issues they face, the eeCredential explores an array of settings, partnerships, and opportunities that help participants shift their work more fully into communities. For Roberta, this topic was just what she was looking for; the community engagement area was the final subject in the NAAEE’s Guidelines for Excellence series she needed to complete. She was also inspired to participate because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with state government agencies, has been encouraging staff to do more community engagement work. “It was a really timely training,” she says, “and I believed it would help me be more useful in my role at the Division for Air Quality and at a departmental and cabinet level as well.”
A Deep Dive into Equity Work
The Green Community Leader eeCredential includes four eeCourses: Community Centered Environmental Education; Sound Environmental Education Principles; Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Environmental Education; and Capacity Building & Long Term Change. Of the four courses, Roberta found most impactful the course on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI). She says that even though the topic isn’t explicitly a topic included in the Guidelines for Community Engagement, “it’s interwoven throughout those Guidelines. Every aspect of them talks about the principles we covered in JEDI, and it's integral as much as environmental education is integral in any kind of education.”
A Marathon, not a Sprint
Early during the second course of the eeCredential, participants begin to brainstorm ideas for their final project, a Community Environmental Education Action Plan. The assignment is for students to develop an action plan that can be implemented in partnership with their community to support ecological integrity, shared prosperity, and social equity. “We were asked to identify communities we might work with and do a preliminary inventory of assets and needs for a chosen community,” Roberta says. “Then, throughout the remaining courses, we developed and refined our plans as we engaged with possible partners in that community.”
Roberta says she’s always been a “jump-to-the-finish-line type of person,” and that when she began brainstorming about possible plans and partners, she realized that developing the right project might take longer than she’d imagined. “The patience required to do community engagement was one of the biggest challenges for me,” she says. “Several times, I needed to completely pivot while designing my project. All the elements kept changing; it was sort of like a food web, with all these different parts constantly changing. I had to be super flexible.”
As the project development unfolded, Roberta says she clearly saw that it was “a perfect model for what the course was trying to teach me–which is that this work takes time.
This work takes investment. It takes commitment. It takes patience. And you're never going to get to a magical finish line because it's an iterative cycle that just keeps growing and blooming and growing.”
The eeCourses in this eeCredential required a different type of involvement than many others, Roberta says. “I feel like half of my time was spent thinking. Thinking and visioning and reworking my thoughts about community engagement."
She says that while, like environmental education, community engagement work involves systems thinking, “it's a different way of systems thinking. It's not just systems related to the environment. It’s human-ecology systems thinking. It's how humans impact the environment, but also how humans work to improve the environment. And who are those humans, and who of those humans do I need to find and connect with? For me, so much of the program was going through that thinking process.”
This process not only pushed Roberta out of her comfort zone but inspired her to get more directly involved in environmental issues in her own community.
“The program has given me confidence in some of the local neighborhood environmental projects that my neighbors are doing,” she says. “I revisited an annual cleanup that I helped get started 20 years ago. There's also an environmental issue in my neighborhood that I’ve started to help people be aware of. I’ve had to try to figure out the best way to educate folks about this issue–not as a professional person working for the state, but as a resident of my neighborhood. I’ve had to think about how best to give people tools to participate in the public comment process.”
She says the learning process has made her think deeply about partners, connections, community, and how important it is to stay engaged. “If there's an issue or a problem or a challenge in your community, keep that conversation going,” she says. “That's the only way we create change.”
Roberta says that after completing the eeCredential, she feels like a different person than she was before she began.
“I've planted a lot of seeds, but they're only just beginning to sprout after all that work. And that's cool. I realize now that that's the whole point of this program. You're not going pull off some fantastic event and be ‘one and done.’ It's a process of relationship building that will continue, hopefully, for as long as I’m doing environmental education.”
Learn More about the eeCredential Program
Our growing eeCredential program currently includes nine eeCourses and two eeCredentials. Learn more about the program here. Registration for the summer session is open now through May 13.
The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies proudly shares the news that Brittany Wray, Education Director for the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education, is recognized as this year’s Project WILD Outstanding Coordinator of the Year. Each year the Association honors one Project WILD coordinator with this award at the annual Project WILD Coordinators’ Conference.
“Brittany is widely respected in her field. She has a positive attitude, extensive knowledge about conservation, and passion to connect youth and adults with the outdoors,” stated Elena Takaki, Director of Professional Development and Conservation Education at the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Wray has been a Project WILD Coordinator for five years and has worked with the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education for six years. Her enthusiasm, creativity, and professionalism are an asset not only to educators in Kentucky, but across the country as she shares her ideas and demonstrates her leadership at the national level.
“I am honored and humbled by this award, and thankful for every opportunity I've had to be part of the Project WILD team,” stated Brittany Wray upon learning of her award. “My first real taste of environmental education was Project WILD over ten years ago! I participated in a workshop through my methods course when I was studying to become a middle grades science teacher. I remember that first game of Oh Deer! like it was yesterday.
Project WILD has been a part of my career since that moment - both in my science classroom and now as an integral part of my job as Education Director for KAEE. It is such a privilege to serve as the Kentucky Coordinator for Project WILD -- the program and the people are just phenomenal.”
Project WILD joined the Association in 2017. Project WILD is an interdisciplinary conservation and environmental education program that focuses on wildlife and habitat. The goal of Project WILD is to develop awareness, knowledge, skills, and commitment resulting in informed decisions, responsible behavior, and constructive actions concerning wildlife and the environment. To learn more about Project WILD, go to www.projectwild.org.
The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies represents North America’s fish and wildlife agencies to advance sound, science-based management and conservation of fish and wildlife and their habitats in the public interest. The Association represents its state agency members on Capitol Hill and before the Administration to advance favorable fish and wildlife conservation policy and funding and works to ensure that all entities work collaboratively on the most important issues. The Association also provides member agencies with coordination services on cross-cutting as well as species-based programs that range from birds, fish habitat and energy development to climate change, wildlife action plans, conservation education, leadership training and international relations. Working together, the Association’s member agencies are ensuring that North American fish and wildlife management has a clear and collective voice.
KAEE is one of the country’s oldest associations supporting environmental education. We are people from all walks of life, coming together to support EE.