Where do you work? What do you do? I hear that a lot because I've been educating people about conservation issues and practicing stewardship in a variety of roles for quite some time. It can be difficult to separate what I do for fun with what I do for work - not a bad problem!
It started when I was a teen in the late 70s with stints in the Youth Conservation Corps and Student Conservation Association. I worked in state parks in the former and in Arches National Park in the latter. Our high school crews did trail work and backcountry cleanup. It made me appreciate the hard work that is required to maintain natural areas and I learned to love the outdoors.
During the next few decades, I worked inside in private industry but continued to enjoy the outdoors through scout leadership, national park vacations and volunteer stewardship activities. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to work doing what I loved, so I went to college to earn my BS and MS degrees in Biology.
While I was studying biology, I participated in a lot of volunteer conservation education events, and I also took some science education courses as part of an Environmental Studies certificate program. Like so many in the conservation education field, I did a mix of conservation and education volunteer, intern, and seasonal positions as I transitioned back into the work force. I got a look into the world of formal education teaching biology at UA and KSU and substitute teaching in SE Ohio and locally. The mix of field work and education experience gives me a lot to draw from as I work with students and adults.
My current position at the Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District lets me use all that background to manage the district school program. I also manage a portion of the public involvement, public education program for community Ms4 (stormwater) permits with the Ohio EPA. The thing I love most about my job is the wide variety of my duties. There are large parts of the year where I'm stuck inside planning events, completing reports, and writing grant, course, and workshop proposals. As much as I dislike being inside, I enjoy the collaborations that go into those tasks. I work with communities, youth leaders, other government agencies, schools, universities, and other conservation groups. I've gotten to know so many wonderful people over the years.
Our community education programs focus on stormwater management, but you might be surprised at the topics I can cover when we teach people how to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of stormwater. In addition to teaching people about water, I also teach them how healthy soil and native plants can help us manage water. There are several standard programs that we conduct or support that help us educate adults and students.
Stream cleanups, storm drain stenciling, and native plantings are my favorite public involvement events for communities and schools. Our native planting options include installation or maintenance of trees and rain/pollinator/native gardens. Part of my grant writing duties focus on finding funds to help support these activities.
In the fall and spring, I often get to take students outside! Those are my favorite activities. I partner with watershed groups to have watershed or Envirothon field days. We introduce students to water quality monitoring and other aquatic field activities as well as conducting hands on field activities related to forestry, wildlife, and soils.
Speaking of Envirothon, this international natural resource/environmental science competition is one of several SWCD programs that I promote and support. A great deal of my time goes to recruiting and supporting student participation in Envirothon, Camp Canopy, the NACD poster contest and Project Plant It. I offer training kits and events and help connect teams with mentors for Envirothon. CSWCD sponsors students for Camp Canopy so they can deepen their knowledge of wildlife and forestry while enjoying a weeklong high school camp. I promote the sponsorship and review the applications. I oversee a competition for best conservation posters in Cuyahoga County each year. Winning students in five grade bands go on to the state competition. The poster theme changes each year, so I am available to do presentations on wildlife, habitat, soils, forestry, and aquatics.
Finally, I spend a large part of my summers conducting professional development (PD) for local teachers. I focus on PD that gets teachers outside and connects them to local resources and resource professionals. As an adjunct professor at Ashland University, I can offer graduate credits to participating teachers. Some of that grant writing pays off in summer in the form of incentives for the teachers who participate in our PD. Spending time with the teachers is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. The most rewarding part is spending time outdoors with the students that benefit from the things their teachers learned in the summer!
Blog author: Jacki Zevenbergen, Stormwater Education Program Manager