Dr. Melinda Wilder has been recognized by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) as the 2019 Higher Education Educator of the Year for her lifelong service to the field.
In 1983, Wilder began her career as a middle school mathematics and science teacher. In that role, she developed her school’s outdoor classroom to teach a variety of subjects in natural settings. That experience and her passion for teaching about the environment led her to obtain a Ph.D. in science education. Wilder began teaching in the College of Education at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) in 1994 and became the Director of the Division of Natural Areas at EKU in 2005. The following year, she led the development of an environmental education endorsement program at EKU that was accredited by NAAEE and later by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.
Over the last decade, Wilder has sat on the board of the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education, partnered with Ecology Project International and improved Yellowstone National Park’s teacher fellowship program. “By working with preservice and inservice teachers through undergraduate and graduate classes at the University, I hopefully initiated a ripple effect—wherein they too help their students connect with the natural world,” said Wilder.
The Higher Education Educator of the Year award honors individuals for their efforts in promoting environmental education and using the environment as a context for learning in their teaching. “Dr. Wilder has been a superstar in environmental education, always looking for ways to integrate environmental education into her teaching and helping students gain the knowledge, skills and know-how to be a positive force for sustainability in their communities,” said Judy Braus, Executive Director of NAAEE. “Her career exemplifies leadership, volunteer spirit and innovation and we are thrilled to recognize her outstanding accomplishments in the field.”
One of the longest-standing members of the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education, Melinda continues to work tirelessly with KAEE to ensure its continued success and growth. She served on the Board of Directors from 2006-2010 and the governance committee from 2015-2019. She has been an instructor in the Professional Environmental Educator Certification Course, an NAAEE accredited program, for 13 years. In 2015, Dr. Melinda Wilder was awarded the KAEE Lifetime Achievement Award for her outstanding commitment and service to EE.
By Colby Parkinson, NAAEE
In today’s climate—social, political, and literal—our young people’s ability to spend meaningful time outdoors each day has never been more important. We know that our children will be tasked with solving the planet’s increasing environmental problems, and it is our duty as today’s adults to give them first the opportunity to love their natural surroundings: to watch the squirrels in their backyards, recognize the call of the cardinals in their trees, study the bees and butterflies in their gardens. The greatest gift we can give to our children is a love for the outdoors, and the greatest gift we can give to the outdoors is a generation of children who love it.
At KAEE, this duty is forever in our minds. To see through our vision of a sustainable world where environmental and social responsibility drive individual and institutional choices, we strive each day to ensure Kentucky’s children have daily opportunities to know and love their natural world—to engage in education in the environment, about the environment, for the environment. To do so, we rely on the gifts and donations from people who support environmental education and the work we are doing in the field. Donations to KAEE allow us to train educators, bolster community engagement, build collective impact, and continue our efforts in ensuring that environmental education is incorporated into all of Kentucky's classrooms.
Join us today in seeing our vision through, and help us make a true impact in our state, region, country, and world. Help us ensure that our youngest generations have the chance to explore, hike, swim, climb, paddle, camp, bike outdoors. Help us help them love the outdoors. Help us help them protect it.
By Leigh Cocanougher
Held at Lexington’s McConnell Springs Park, KAEE’s 2019 Excellence in EE Awards Ceremony and Annual Member Meeting took place on Tuesday, October 29, and welcomed more than 40 KAEE members and friends with the opportunity to network, hear KAEE updates, vote on current association matters, and recognize KAEE’s award winners, the Kentucky Environmental Education Council’s Master Educators, and the retiring and new KAEE board members.
During the event, KAEE Executive Director Ashley Hoffman thanked the 2018-2019 Board of Directors and offered additional words of gratitude to those board members who have now completed their service—Mark Young, Trevor Claiborn, Jennifer Meunier, Carmen Agouridis, and Henrietta Sheffel. Henrietta, who has just completed seven consecutive years on the KAEE board, has served as treasurer since 2012, and her remarkable dedication to the organization was highlighted during the meeting.
Hoffman also provided her annual Executive Director update, sharing the ways KAEE is working to advance environmental literacy around the state and beyond through educator and facilitator workshops, soon-to-be-released online EEcredits program, working groups who are connecting EE activities with education areas beyond science, and by serving as a pilot state for the North American Association for Environmental Education’s “Adopt the Guidelines” of Excellence trainings. She also highlighted KAEE’s ongoing and important work with the Southeastern Environmental Education Association and the NAAEE, as well as sharing highlights from the recent NAAEE Annual Conference, which KAEE co-hosted.
Members who were in attendance then approved the 2019 board slate, which included returning board members Jennifer Beach, Vivian Bowles, and Tonya Swan and new board members Jackie Gallimore and Jason Nally. Remaining on the board for the 2019-2020 year are past chair Billie Hardin, chair Jennifer Hubbard-Sánchez, vice chair Blair Hecker, secretary Whitney Wurzel, and members Arnetta McClary and Rae McEntyre.
Members in attendance also approved changes to the KAEE Constitution, which include the addition of new term limits and specify that no board member can serve for more than seven consecutive years.
KEEC’s Executive Director Billy Bennett and Administrative Specialist Wesley Bullock then recognized the 2018 and 2019 Master Educators, who have completed the state’s Professional Environmental Educator Certification course and, afterward, completed six consecutive years of continuing education requirements in the field. The list includes Joe Baust, Vivian Bowles, Ashley Hoffman, Kathleen Johnson, Ginny Lewis, Tresine Logsdon, Diane Moon, Karen Pratt, Michelle Shane, Henrietta Sheffel, Andy Sigmon, Christa Weidner, Terry Wilson, and Maria Zoretic-Goodwin.
The KAEE 2019 Excellence in EE Awards recognize Lee Newbury (Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Environmental Education), Carmen Agouridis (M.K. Dickerson Award for Excellence in Environmental Education), Ashley Mike (Rising Star Award for Excellence in Environmental Education), Highlands High School (Outstanding PreK-12 School for Excellence in Environmental Education), Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy (Outstanding Community Partner for Excellence in Environmental Education), and Maker’s Mark Distillery (Outstanding Business for Excellence in Environmental Education).
To conclude the event, Dr. Terry Wilson, a founding member of KAEE and beloved EE champion in Kentucky and way beyond, introduced KAEE's new Legacy Fund. Wilson spoke of his background in EE, his dedication to its mission, and how he is helping jumpstart the Legacy Fund with a $5,000 gift not to be used to support the great work already being done by KAEE but to “do magic,” he said, “beyond what KAEE has been able to do thus far.”
By Leigh Cocanougher
Lee Newbury, former middle-school science and math teacher at Model Laboratory School, has been a strong advocate of— and practitioner of—environmentalism and environmental education for more than four decades.
Early in her career, Ms. Newbury taught in Florida, and she emphasized the role of the ocean in the local environment and as part of the global environment. She worked with students in a summer program that allowed them to focus on environmental issues, and she brought the concept of the program with her to Kentucky, adapting it to the local environment and its particular issues.
When she began her tenure at Model, she embraced the outdoor classroom, an area of the school campus dedicated to local flora and fauna. She, along with other science colleagues and some elementary teachers, focused on maintaining this area to allow students to have hands-on lessons with living specimens and to study the interaction of elements within an environment. In addition, Ms. Newbury created Wildside, an interactive unit for her middle-school students that asked each student to choose an animal to research and then present their information to their peers and to elementary students; the students would create costumes and dress as their chosen animals for the presentations, and they would present the information and answer questions. The project was very popular and helped students better understand their world.
Throughout her career as an educator, Ms. Newbury practiced what she preached. Not only did she teach about environmentalism, but she practiced it within her classroom as well, creating meta-lessons that reinforced her ideas. Lee Newbury has dedicated her life to educating kids about their world and their place in that world. She has constantly and consistently challenged her students to explore the world and to strive to make it a better place by preserving it.
“Besides my teaching and advocating for environmental issues,” she says, “it has been important to me to share my knowledge and leadership abilities in the area of environmental literacy.” She has done so in countless ways, including serving multiple terms on both the KAEE and Kentucky Science Teachers Association (KSTA) Boards; by facilitating workshops for pre-service teachers, non-formal and formal educators, and other citizen groups using a number of environmental curricula (Project Wild, Project WET, and more); creating and facilitating summer Envirowatch camps through EKU's Community Education Programs; and presenting on a variety of science related topics at the annual conferences of KAEE and KSTA.
Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy Named Outstanding Community Partner for Excellence in Environmental Education
Over the course of many years, the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy has educated thousands of adults and children through well organized and informative volunteer events aimed at restoring native forests and riparian areas in Louisville’s urban parks. In addition, college students have the opportunity to participate in the Conservancy’s internship programs, receiving academic credit and professional experience in environmental studies prior to graduation.
In the past year, the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy has taken steps to expand environmental education programming through the implementation of a new strategic plan. As part of this plan, the conservancy established a new, full-time staff position dedicated to coordinating and managing education programming. Among the new programs added in the last year are free, guided walking tours of various Olmsted Parks, seasonal festivals that invite visitors to explore the parks in a new way, and nature-play events for children. The Conservancy’s partnership with Bellarmine University in particular has grown through collaborative development of experiential environmental education projects that have been implemented as part of course curricula.
In her short tenure as the Program Director of the Environmental Education Leadership Corps, Ashley Mike has proven her dedication to the environmental education field by developing and improving the EELCorps program. She has established and improved policies and procedures that meet or exceed the federal and state guidelines for AmeriCorps programs while consistently providing the members of the EELCorps with professional, emotional, and practical support to ensure their success and enhance their ability to increase the capacity of the service sites to improve the environmental literacy of the citizens of all ages through quality EE programming.
Ashley is fully committed to ensuring that the members of the EELCorps have training and support beyond their national service as AmeriCorps members and strives to equip them with tools and skills that will serve them beyond their EELCorps obligations so that they feel empowered and confident to seek full-time employment as professional environmental educators if they so desire. She has provided trainings and materials to help the members in areas like resume writing and interviewing skills.
Beyond supporting the members themselves, Ashley has proven to be an invaluable resource for the environmental education service providers who serve as service sites by providing resources and advice about best practices and practical ways to utilize the members to help with the sites’ missions. She has developed excellent systems, provided high quality training in support of members and sites, and has set a standard of excellence her members and sites can aspire to. She also shows an excellent attention to detail and great passion for the work.
(Ashley herself got her start in EE as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Berea's Forestry Outreach Center!)
Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, has earned a reputation as an institution that provides opportunities for students to learn about the environment across disciplines as well as participate in extracurricular opportunities. The school offers AP Environmental Science to all students, participates in the International Envirothon Competition, and has an active Green Club.
AP Environmental Science has been offered at Highlands for the past ten years; students are tested on the College Boards AP curriculum in May and have maintained more than a 60 percent pass rate. Students in APES are also given the opportunity to do fieldwork, such as visiting a local creek and doing an extensive watershed study or analyzing energy use at home or a local business. Students have visited wastewater treatment plants, nature preserves, mitigation sites, power plants, recycling plants, and other facilities to learn firsthand the processes and problems that are connected to the environment.
Students are also involved in service-learning, including planting a pollinator garden at the Harlan Hubbard Studio and designing low-impact strategies on the high school campus and building rain gardens to collect runoff. In addition, students have completed passion projects—from learning to make plastic yarn out of plastic grocery store bags and weaving those into mats to growing milkweed and handing out information and plants about the Monarch Butterfly.
Every year, Highlands High students participate in the Jim Claypool writing contest with the Campbell County Conservation district; each year for the past several years, numerous regional and at least one state winner have been from Highlands High.
Highlands also has two extracurricular opportunities that relate to environmental education. The school’s Green Club focuses on sustainability and other issues the group selects from year to year. They have been actively running the school’s recycling program, which first involved acquiring the bins from the waste management company and now centers on distributing and collecting the items every week. Students have also been involved with the Earth Day Celebration at Tower Park, leading nature walks and tree identification games. Finally, the school’s Envirothon Team was established in 2010 and has grown to have two teams compete each year.
Anyone who has seen the pollinator gardens dotting the University of Kentucky's campus, noticed the outdoor classroom at Cassidy Elementary, or enjoyed the restoration of Vaughn's Branch Creek along Lexington’s Alumni Drive has seen some of Dr. Carmen Agouridis' projects. What may not be as visible to the public, however, is the extensive work she does both at the University of Kentucky and across the state to bring environmental education to life. A PhD and Professional Engineer, Dr. Agouridis has a remarkable gift for making even the most nuanced ecological concepts accessible to her audience.
In 2018, Dr. Agouridis organized a Master Naturalist program for Kentucky, the first in the state. Though still in its infancy, this program, with its focus on training environmental stewards who will in turn become valuable assets to Kentucky's natural areas, has the potential to generate new resources and opportunities for environmental education for years to come. And although the program is indeed a powerful collaboration between educators from a variety of environmentally-related fields, Dr. Agouridis is deserving of a special commendation for the work she has done to make this possible.
See the full list of 2019 winners here.
Maker's Mark Distillery Named KAEE's 2019 Outstanding Business for Excellence in Environmental Education
At Maker’s Mark, the team utilizes their property in a unique way to spread the word on environmental sustainability.
Jason Nally, Star Hill Farm Environmental Champion at Maker’s Mark, says the “most impactful educational experiences we have been working on this year are our outreach opportunities for our employees, consumers, and customers. During most weeks, I lead groups to our lakes and through the forest discussing water quality, watershed management, native plants, importance of pollinators, forest management strategies, invasive species, and wildlife conservation.”
These groups typically include Maker’s Mark brand ambassadors, members of the media, bartenders, store owners, sales reps, and distributors. “By highlighting the work we are doing,” Nally says, “these folks can utilize the narrative as tools to help promote bourbon, thereby engaging in a conversation about the natural resources necessary for the creating our product.”
In his role, Nally also leads staff trainings at “some of the best cocktail bars in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago, he says. “These bartenders and distributors can now not only discuss the rich history and heritage of bourbon but also the resource sustainability measures so necessary to ensure the maintained growth of bourbon.”
During the distillery’s employee “Town Halls,” employees are also taught about sustainable forestry, benefits of recycling, and negatives of single use plastics; the goal of these sessions is an increased culture of sustainability not only at work but in employees’ homes as well.
And this fall, Maker’s Mark will welcome all of the teachers from Marion County High School for an in-service day, where they will complete a Project Leopold workshop. “We hope to make this an annual event that will reach all of the local and regional schools and provide them with age appropriate EE curriculum to take back to their schools,” Nally says. “I think it would be pretty awesome if every kid who graduates from Marion County High School has read The Sand County Almanac!”
See the complete list of 2019 KAEE Excellence in EE Award Winners here.
The Kentucky Association for Environmental Education Excellence Awards recognize the outstanding achievements of individuals, organizations, agencies, community efforts, schools, and businesses in the field of EE. We are thrilled to announce the 2019 Excellence in EE Award Winners, who will be recognized at our October 29 awards ceremony and annual meeting. Check back here between now and the ceremony for stories about each winner!
Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
M.K. Dickerson Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Rising Star Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Highlands High School
Outstanding PreK-12 School for Excellence in Environmental Education
Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy
Outstanding Community Partner for Excellence in Environmental Education
Maker’s Mark Distillery
Outstanding Business for Excellence in Environmental Education