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Celebrating 2023 EENC Award Winners

Pictured: Award winners (left to right) Becky Savage, Bruce Young, Dr. Ti'Era Worsley, Margot Lester, and Denise O'Gorman pose following the Award Ceremony.

EENC is proud to offer an annual awards program that recognizes our community members for their innovation, dedication, and excellence in environmental education. This year, EENC honored nine award winners during the Awards Ceremony held at our 2023 conference. We are honored to be celebrating 2023 EENC Award winners – congratulations to all of our winners!


Outstanding Newcomer Awardee: Nikki Jones

The Outstanding Newcomer award recognizes an EENC member of five years or less who has made significant contributions to EENC during their short time as a member.

Nikki Jones grew up in an outdoor science family in Western NC and, despite dabbling in other fields, consistently found her way back to science and nature education.  After working as a park ranger in South Carolina and a classroom educator at Evergreen Community Charter School in Asheville, NC, she united her passion for outdoor education with her love of travel and found herself working in ecotourism and place-based student travel in Colorado, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Latin America. Nikki inevitably reconnected with her NC roots, landing in Raleigh to lead programming at the city's Durant and Horseshoe Farm nature preserves, before making it home to the Appalachians at last.  Now based in Brevard, Nikki has been proud to lead the Western region of Muddy Sneakers through dynamic years of growth and impact. Her love of North Carolina and its ecosystems drives her to ensure others have opportunities to learn about their own backyards and build personal connections to place that develop new generations of conservationists and science innovators.


Outstanding Practitioner Awardee: Denise O'Gorman

The Outstanding Practitioner award recognizes a member who has made significant contributions to EENC through statewide participation, leadership in their region, and being an advocate for high-quality education through how they teach, live, and do.

Denise O'Gorman has been an educator for 25 years.  She has a B.S. in Biology from Manhattan College, a M.A. in Science Education from NYU, and a M.Ed. in School Counseling from NCSU. Denise has taught Honors and AP Earth & Environmental science for the past 14 years.  Denise has coordinated environmental experiences for students to engage them in learning and gain a deeper appreciation for our earth and environment. She regularly utilizes outstanding hands-on activities and projects that challenge, empower and excite the students about Environmental Science.  She hangs up student work to highlight important people or concepts in environmental science and models good practice by collecting used markers for recycling. She recently wrote and was awarded a $15,000 grant from NC Go Outside for an outdoor classroom. She has also collaborated with EENC’s Let’s Grow Together to raise $3,000 for equipment and materials. Many of her students have chosen an environmental science path in college and she has, without a doubt, made an impact on hundreds of students over the years.


Outstanding Partner Awardees: Alayna Schmidt, Margot Lester, Bruce Young, Dr. Ti’Era Worsley, and Dr. Tatiana Height

The Outstanding Partner award recognizes a business, non-profit, or governmental agency that has partnered with EENC to support our mission and growth. 

This year, a unique group of collaborators have been selected for this award for all of their contributions towards designing and writing the “eeGuidance for Equitable Pay and Hiring”. This document has been released by the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance and endorsed by 17 state and national networks. These writers contributed over 100 volunteer hours to share their knowledge and passion to develop a final product that far surpassed initial goals.

Alayna Schmidt is a Ph.D. student in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management at Clemson University, studying social justice youth development and environmental education for critical consciousness. Alayna was born and raised in North Carolina and has a deep love for our state's people and environment. They see EE and social justice as being deeply intertwined, and this is how they have approached their work as an environmental educator, equity consultant, and as a researcher and evaluator. Alayna formerly served on the Board of EENC and has continued collaborating with EENC to provide guidance on equitable EE in North Carolina.

Margot Lester divides her time between running the marketing agency she’s owned for 30 years, advocating for causes and candidates, and leading EE writing and exploration workshops. She grew up rambling around the meadows and woods of southwest Orange County and graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. Not surprisingly, early career assessments found her best suited to journalism or forest rangering. Margot acknowledges her position and privilege and uses them to promote equity, belonging and social justice. She’s passionate about helping people connect with the natural world, find their voices and capture the power of their ideas.

Bruce Young is the Affiliate Relations Specialist with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE). A native of Greensboro and NC Certified Environmental Educator, Bruce has long supported the work of EENC and was thrilled to serve on the writing team for eeGuidance for Equitable Pay and Hiring in EE. In their role at NAAEE Bruce supports the NAAEE Affiliate Network by facilitating communities of practice, capacity building, and tracking progress on the Affiliate Network Work Plan with specific focus on justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility. Bruce is a proud alum of ECU (BFA in Theatre Design) and Guilford College. Prior to joining the NAAEE team Bruce worked in both formal and non-formal education including Free Union Country School, Charlottesville City Schools, Rivanna Conservation Alliance and the Greensboro Science Center.

Dr. Ti’Era Worsley is a Postdoctoral Fellow at UNCG and started her Environmental Educator journey in 2014 and went on to serve as an Environmental Peace Corps Volunteer in Perú. While there she implemented a native tree nursery, increased environmental stewardship, and introduced solid waste management alternatives. Upon return, she completed her EE and National Geographic certification. Dr. Worsley’s passions lie in working with youth since, for many, she is usually one of the first persons of color to teach them about nature. By bringing her different perspective to EE it creates opportunities for other voices and experiences to be represented and valued.

Dr. Tatiana (Tots) Height received a doctorate in Agricultural and Extension Education from NC State University. Their dissertation research examined environmental educators’ use, understanding, and valuation of Multicultural Environmental Education.  Tots works full-time in environmental conservation in addition to teaching Sustainability and Coastal Resilience at Coastal Carolina University. Their passions are action research and community-based participatory research with a strong interdisciplinary focus.


Environmental Educator of the Year Awardees: Sara Davarbakhsh and Becky Savage

The Environmental Educator of the Year award recognizes an educator – or two! – who stand out as professionals who exemplify excellence in EE and lend credibility to the field.

Sara Davarbakhsh has been an Environmental Education Program Coordinator with Wake County’s Solid Waste Management Division for nine years. She is a post-graduate of the University of Surrey, in England. She holds a Master of Science degree in water and environmental engineering, and a Bachelor of Science degree in environmental protection. She has worked in waste management at the local government level for twelve years. Her favorite activity is taking people on tours of the local landfill. Each day she looks forward to making a positive difference in the community, raising awareness on environmental issues, and helping residents make more informed lifestyle choices to become better stewards of our planet.

Becky Savage received her B.S. in Ecology from the University of Georgia. She has officially been working in Environmental Education since 2009, but has always been passionate about wildlife and nature. She did sea turtle work for both GA DNR and USFWS. She also loved being a part of the wood stork nest monitoring program at Harris Neck NWR. She discovered her love for EE working at the Jekyll Island 4-H center and later as Program Manager for a non-profit in Savannah called Wilderness Southeast. She found her passion for birds working for Mississippi Audubon after the BP oil spill and came to work for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission in 2015. She delivers programs centered on wildlife, ecosystem relationships, backyard habitats, Project Wild, hunter safety and shooting sports. Becky thoroughly enjoys birding, kayaking, hiking, and anything out in nature. She is living her dream by sharing her grounding forces and joy with others that are curious and interested.


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