eePROpel: A Young Professional's Path to an EE Career
As part of the fifth anniversary of the launch of eePRO, NAAEE is featuring environmental education professionals who have used the platform to connect, collaborate, and learn. Subscribe to eeNEWS to follow along.
Our next story features Zachary Ashbrook, AmeriCorps VISTA Stewardship Coordinator with the Western New York Land Conservancy, who used eePRO to engage with the environmental education community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Maxwell) To get started, can you share a little about yourself?
(Zachary) I grew up in the Adirondack Park in upstate New York. It was an amazing childhood that fostered a lifelong passion for nature. For as long as I can remember, I have felt drawn to the natural world -- plants, birds, insects, aquatic habitats, and more. It was during a course in environmental education during my bachelor’s degree at the State University of New York Cortland that I saw a way to share my love of nature with everyone. During my time at SUNY Cortland, I had an internship at Lime Hollow Nature Center, which allowed me to practice EE in a professional capacity. After I graduated from SUNY Cortland with a degree in Outdoor Recreation and a concentration in Environmental and Cultural Interpretation, I took on various seasonal positions in the EE field.
For the past 4 years, I stayed professionally engaged by taking professional trainings, reading more about the field, and remaining in touch with EE practitioners. I am currently a graduate student at the University at Buffalo's Sustainability Leadership program, and I recently started working as a Stewardship Coordinator with the Western New York Land Conservancy.
(Maxwell) How did you get your start in EE?
(Zachary) I want to give a shout out to my mother for encouraging my forays into nature. One of my earliest memories is her carrying me up one of the Adirondack mountains. The rest of my family fostered my interest in nature encouraging me to read and engage with the natural world as much as possible. My start in environmental education really took off with an internship at Lime Hollow Nature Center. My mentor at Lime Hollow, Peter Harrity, encouraged me to not just see nature as a collection of organisms with names but as a connected whole.
Following that internship, I worked briefly with Baltimore Woods Nature Center and their Save the Rain urban environmental education project. It was enlightening to see how students from an urban setting viewed nature. That experience led me to pursue a position at Beaver Lake Nature Center as a summer nature camp counselor. In that experience, I remember distinctly being humbled by an observation a camper made. He had found a feather and while holding it up to the sunlight was able to see a prism, I didn’t believe him at first until I got on his level and saw it myself. It was a valuable lesson in learning to observe and respect nature from different perspectives and to always stay open to learning.
After that, I worked at the Creatures in the Wild Forest Preschool. That experience was amazing! Encouraging children to explore nature with their natural curiosity and only offering explanation when asked for it taught me a valuable lesson in patience. I saw that the children were more than willing to let the natural world inform their path of discovery. I was merely there as a knowledgeable guide, ready to engage only when necessary.
"What genuinely inspires me about environmental education is the ability to encourage a deeper connection with the natural world"
Most recently, my last full time position in environmental education was at Buffalo Niagara YMCA Camp Eggert as a Wilderness Camp Specialist in Summer of 2019. That position reminded me of all of the things I loved about EE. The landscape of summer camp allowed many of the campers to explore nature at a leisurely pace. I encouraged free play and active use of imagination by the campers. The time spent in nature was great for encouraging mindfulness. What genuinely inspires me about environmental education is the ability to encourage a deeper connection with the natural world, something I believe a lot of people would benefit from greatly.
(Maxwell) What brought you to eePRO, and how have you used it during the pandemic?
(Zachary) I originally started using eePRO after taking an online nature education course with the Cornell Civic Ecology lab in April of 2019. Since then, I have attended several webinars hosted on eePRO. When the pandemic began, I attended even more to stay engaged during New York’s lockdown. I also did the professional development self-assessment for environmental educators which helped me track a path for ongoing professional development.
I'm glad NAAEE and eePRO were around the past year. It made me feel like environmental education could continue in spite of a global pandemic. The eePRO community and website helped me feel professionally engaged when all other opportunities to engage in-person had shut down. This reengagement with professional development and learning prompted me to apply to and ultimately get into graduate school.
(Maxwell) We’re glad the eePRO platform has helped you stay engaged with the community! What’s next?
(Zachary) I'm excited to engage in environmental education with all ages in my new position at the Western New York Land Conservancy. I’ll be sure to search eePRO for resources. I'm looking forward to the opportunity in the future to contribute original content.
I am also looking forward to when we can do more in-person programming as a profession. I will always look for ways to engage with the larger environmental education community throughout my career. I am delighted that eePRO has kept engagement accessible and inclusive and will continue to engage with the larger EE community throughout my career, including in the new eePRO Group for Young and Emerging Professionals.
We are looking for stories and successes in which eePRO played some part.
Did you find your current job through eePRO? Was there a webinar or an opportunity that slid you into the perfect place at the perfect time? Did you discover a resource that made a particular splash with your students? We would love to hear about it. Email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like the opportunity to be featured on eePRO, just like Zachary here.