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Public Service Research Program

Applying Community Development Practices to Conservation Education through Professional Development


Presentation for NAAEE 40th Conference Oct 2011

Emily Evans, Education; Joyce Gutstein, JMIE, & Kandace Knudson, JMIE

Using a community-based project on urban run-off and watershed health, we describe an innovative approach to graduate student professional development transferable to environmental educators. Instruction in community development practices complements and facilitates traditional interpretive and environmental education practices and outreach.

At our university, the Environmental Leaders Program provides professional skills training to graduate students collaborating with communities to solve environmental problems. Through weekly seminars, peer collaboration, and mentoring and by borrowing from the field of community development, students receive instruction in a rich array of practices. These practices are designed to complement and facilitate traditional interpretive and environmental education practices and outreach. Although taking longer, results suggest the approach increases success with partner organizations and outreach recipients, promoting environmental learning, action, and continuity. To illustrate impacts on students and communities, we present one students’ work. In a community-based project on urban runoff and watershed health, the graduate student spent the first ten weeks learning about the community in a period of immersion that served as the foundation for collaboration, community engagement, and conservation education. As the project progressed, she focused on youth participation and community partnerships, aiming to infuse the issue of urban runoff into learning and service activities. Through a variety of networking events she was able to establish core partnerships and leverage resources towards a common goal of education for improved watershed health. Outcomes included creek-based education, interpretive walks, elementary and after school visits, family events, creek clean-ups, service projects, and high school water quality monitoring. Successes and challenges will be discussed as will application of this approach to community engagement, conservation education, and environmental educator training in and beyond academia.