Erin Sliney is not an idler. At just 30, she is well on her way to becoming an environmental education (EE) champion, not only in her home state of Kentucky but beyond. And she’s forging a path that may well be the key to broadening the reach of environmental education in Kentucky (and beyond)—developing regional networks to bolster collective impact throughout the state.
As a member of the Kentucky Environmental Education Council (KEEC)’s Environmental Education Leadership Corps, Sliney has spent the past year at The Greater Clark Foundation, creating programs for Clark County’s Legacy Grove park. At the same time, she participated in KEEC’s Professional Environmental Educator Certification (PEEC) course—one of only three in the country that is nationally-accredited—and has become a certified environmental educator “enlightened to a world of dedicated environmental educators and EE organizations across the state,” she says.
Inspired to apply to the EELCorps after spending time as a backcountry chainsaw crew member in Utah; hiking guide in Guatemala and Alaska; and Lead Naturalist and Outdoor Specialist at California’s Whiskeytown Environmental School (told you she’s not an idler), Sliney says the EELCorps experience, which she wrapped up today, has been more valuable than she had ever imagined.
“My experience in EE at the Whiskeytown Environmental School was primarily teaching students about the plants and animals, but I now recognize that environmental education is a broad field that is integral to fostering resilient and sustainable communities,” she says. “The opportunity to share my passion and experience to help fulfill the significant need for EE in my beloved home state of Kentucky drew me to the EELCorps.”
The Legacy Grove position was particularly appealing to Sliney, she says, because “the opportunity to create an EE program from scratch would allow me to develop new skills, be creative, have significant local impact, and integrate lessons learned from my graduate studies in Resilient and Sustainable Communities. I also loved that community participatory processes informed the development of both the Park and the play area.”
Working at The Greater Clark Foundation office exposed Sliney to the world of high-functioning nonprofits, she says, and introduced her to key local partners, officials, community groups, and passionate residents. But she believes that perhaps the most valuable aspects of the program are the new connections she has made that led to the development of a network of environmental educators in Clark County.
This new EE network became one of Sliney’s key focuses in Clark County, where she spearheaded not only program development for Legacy Grove but also coalition building and group facilitation that will leave a lasting impact in the county. After months of thorough preparation, research, and report creation, she recently led the first two meetings designed to bring together EE enthusiasts and professionals in her region.
“As one EE network participant put it,” Sliney says of this kind of teamwork, “‘We are stronger together!’ We need combined and intentional efforts to provide residents with a comprehensive understanding of natural and human systems, giving them the tools and knowledge to address environmental problems, and fosters respect for the natural world.”
To do this, she says, “requires more than just litter programs. This takes the coordinated work of different agencies with various resources and areas of expertise. A county-wide network can allow environmental educators to share successes and failures, combine resources, respond to the unique needs and interests of the community, and ensure that all residents have opportunities to participate in EE programs.”
Having met twice as the new Clark County EE network, the group will hold several more meetings to articulate goals, action plans, group structure, and more. And they very well may serve as a prime example for other counties as they, too, bring together environmental educators—formal and nonformal, from all walks of life—to build that collective impact.
EELCorps is an AmeriCorps program run by the Kentucky Environmental Education Council that seeks to increase environmental literacy throughout the state. Learn more here!
By Leigh Cocanougher
KAEE is one of the country’s oldest associations supporting environmental education. We comprise people from all walks of life, coming together to support EE.