Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, what did you study in undergrad, and how did you become interested in environmental education?
It’s been a little bit of a twisting path for me. I didn’t always know I wanted to go into this subject, but now that I’m here I feel so happy and lucky! I’m originally from an island right outside Seattle, Washington, but I’ve fallen in love with the Hudson Valley.
I came to Bard eight years ago for my undergraduate degree and haven’t left. Everything about Bard was a perfect fit for me: small classes and caring professors, long and beautiful trails to walk when I needed distraction, and classmates who loved to talk into the night about the things we were learning (this definitely hasn’t changed since I’ve started the masters program!). I majored in social psychology, and my thesis was about interpersonal and cultural mechanisms that widen the gender, race, and economic gaps in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. This opened my eyes (but also made me quite sad), so after graduating I wanted to do hands on work.
I was lucky enough to work at Bard for the next three years with the Center for Civic Engagement as the science outreach coordinator. I mentored Bard students as we facilitated science events with over 3,000 kids a year in local schools, libraries, and community centers. Every day was absolutely different than the day before. It was a great boot camp in lesson planning, teaching, working with kids, and especially going with the flow.
In our program, we started gravitating towards certain lesson plans. The most excited activities we did were about local bugs, animals, and plants, the Hudson River and even water testing. Through the past three years, it’s been clear that environmental education is fun to learn and especially fun to teach! Because we look at our local environment, the kids can connect to the material so much easier since they see these trees, animals, or creeks every day. And the kids, who’ve grown up here, have taught me, the newcomer, so much!
What drew you to Bard’s CEP program in Environmental Ed? What is your area of interest or focus in terms of research?
I started working with environmental education because it’s fun for the students and fun for me. But this doesn’t mean that as a field it’s perfect. I’m interested in how environmental education can transform a student’s ways of thinking about the world they live in and how they fit into their community. I love how it can empower, excite, and motivate. Especially in our current ecological and political climate, this transformation is especially important.
When I was looking for a graduate school program, Bard stood out. It’s clear that in this program we are not simply studying how environmental education is currently conducted. We are discussing, debating, and scheming how environmental education can look in the future!
What has been your favorite thing about your Bard experience so far?
My community has definitely kept me sane! It is such an amazing feeling to be studying alongside people who have the same niche interests as you. Not only do we get to nerd out about weird science topics, but also a strong passion for making meaningful change is at the heart of every conversation. The administration has done a caring job of creating the scaffolding to support us along the way. It’s clear that the size of the program has such an impact on our experience.
Tell me a little bit about the Bard approach to environmental education. How did you see your skills, knowledge, and experience growing as you study?
As someone who gets bored easily, I have never once looked at a clock during one of our classes. Not only do I love the subjects and of course our teachers, but also we are able to tackle the issues we are studying from a million angles.
We read, we watch videos, we discuss and sometimes debate, we teach each other, etc. In our Environmental Education class, we are able to do a small activity every class that exemplifies how you could bring ecoliteracy into a classroom. We’ve grown several rounds of micro-greens and started a composting bin in our communal class kitchen. I’ve been adding the sprouts to my ramen and putting my food scraps in the bin. We’ve started an aquaponics tank that we’ll eventually have fish living in, with the water fertilizing and being filtered as it’s pumped through a growing bed.
Our professors are clearly showing us to do as they do, not just as they say. This is exactly what I’ve loved the most about the program—often we are looking at similar issues in our different classes, and each angle helps to inform our synthesized understanding.
What’s it like to focus on place-based education and what does this look like in concrete terms? How much time to do you get to spend outside as part of your coursework?
I’ve joked with my friends outside of Bard that I’m majoring in fieldtrips. But, it’s kind of true! I am spending most of my time thinking and reading about how to transform nonformal (not in the school system) education spaces to increase ecological literacy and understanding, but we’re also often learning outside of the classroom ourselves. We started the school year with a full “workshop week”, where we visited local farms, science research centers, and even camped. Since then, we’ve gone to a dairy farm, and multiple education centers.
It’s been especially great to go to the education centers, such as Radix in Albany and Kite’s Nest in Hudson; we’ve all gone through the school system, but when you’re learning about programs outside of what you experienced as a kid, you really need the concrete experience of seeing what it actually looks like. It is so great to be grounded in the Hudson Valley, the heart of environmental research, education, and activism. It is a special feeling to read about these topics, and then talk to the people who spend their lives around these topics.
After you’ve listened to lectures, read multiple papers about the Catskill water supply to NYC and the collaborations of farms with the government for good management practices, and discussed the topic with the very people you’ve read about—it all clicks when you then get to even taste the milk produced by the Catskill cows!
Do you have any advice for prospective students about thriving in the program? Things you wish you’d known in advance?
This program has totally transformed how I look at the world, even in just a few months. I knew I was going to be doing a lot of reading and writing, but I wasn’t prepared for this level of mind-yoga! It’s a lot of work, but I’ve quickly learned I also need to set time aside to simply walk around my neighborhood and soak in all that we’ve been discussing. This program isn’t about just keeping up with your work; it’s about giving yourself enough time and energy to truly embody all that you’re learning.
Who are some of your professional or personal heroes?
I know this is cliché… One of my parents directs a before and after school program in my hometown. I always had more fun there, picking apart a log to look for bugs or doing a weird chemistry experiment she brought in, than I did in my actual classes. Of course, I’ve always loved her and my experience. Now, after reading educational theories and philosophies in our MAT class and our Environmental Education class, I have a newfound respect for my parent and this form of education.
I am learning more and more that nonformal spaces such as her program can have such a meaningful impact on a child’s understanding of the world around them. Learning for “fun” and even having free, unstructured play time in the woods like we had, is such a needed complement to the normal school day.
What project/experience/learning moment is most memorable from your time so far at Bard?
I knew I had chosen the program for me the first day of our Environmental Education class. We had just had an inspiring—but long—first discussion. Our professor, Scott, paused, looked up at us, and pulled out a mason jar full of something. They were luminescent mushrooms he had found in the woods the weekend before. So, we all scrambled into the bathroom (the darkest place in the classroom) to see them.
Something about a group of people being total nerds about a mushroom, not even caring that we were circling a toilet, made me feel totally at home.
What sustainability challenge gets you most fired up and inspired to work for change?
I’m in the Masters of Environmental Education for several reasons. Partially, I just love cute kids and talking about our local environment, but also I am so frustrated with opinions and actions fueled by uninformed or misguided understandings. I’m loving the program because I (hope) I’m gaining strategies for communicating and educating about environmental issues in ways that people will actually understand and care about.
What are your career plans and aspirations?
I know that I want to work with kids and the environment, but this program has shown me too many ideas to choose from! In our second year, we will be able to complete an internship while finishing up our capstone thesis. I’m really excited to dip my toes into the field, and to have the opportunity to test a position out before even graduating. I would love to work at a science museum or nature education center. My goal is to someday open my own center that connects kids and community members to their local environment in an accessible and meaningful way.