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My Journey in EE, by Membership Chair Trent Stanforth

My name is Trent Stanforth and I am an environmental educator. I’ve been an advocate for the environment my whole life, but only decided to teach about it around a decade ago. My journey to EE started back in 2009-10, which is right after I graduated from NC State with a degree in Natural Resources and had no idea what career I wanted, just as long as it had something to do with the outdoors. This was also a tough time period for new graduates, as the economy was recovering from the recent housing market crash and jobs were incredibly limited. This, however, was an opportunity in disguise, and gave me the chance to reflect on what my passions were and how to utilize them in a career.

I mentally listed my passions, starting with my love of the outdoors. Looking back at my youth, my fondest memories were connected with being outside; whether it was visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall or climbing trees with my friends after school. I then progressed to more recent memories of pure joy; recalling recent college courses I took, particularly Dendrology and Forest Science. I’ve always enjoyed trees and knew of their importance, but after studying them in depth, I came through on the other side with a deeper sense of stewardship and appreciation. And then it hit me. That’s what I want to do; teach the importance of the environment and stir that sense of protection and stewardship within others. So I did some research.

A simple Google search brought me along something I had never heard of; the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification program. I was ecstatic to see that anyone can sign up, even someone that’s never taught anything to anyone in their life. I dove head-first into the program, signing up for the next available Methods of Teaching EE course, collecting workshop hours along the way, and at the same time searching for a way to truly get into the EE field with some hands-on work and teaching opportunities. Fortunately, a new City of Raleigh park opened recently and was looking for part-time staff members. I applied and found myself working at Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park; maintaining trails, participating in various citizen science projects, and eventually getting my first taste of teaching. My first ever program was a Tree Walk tailored toward family audiences. Only a father and daughter showed up, but we had a blast, walking along the trail and looking for oaks, pines, and tulip trees. Despite my nerves, I knew then that this was a thrill that will never go away, and I was hooked for life.

During my time at Wilkerson, I completed my certification, and also started volunteering at the Museum of Natural Sciences teaching to school groups through their Curiosity Classroom. However, my next goal was to do this full-time, which became quite a journey of itself. My first break was working at Imagination Station Science & History Museum as their Education Programmer. Working at a small non-profit museum, staff was limited, which led me to be exposed to teaching different subjects to different audiences in different settings, which in hindsight was exactly what I was looking for. That exposure sculpted my teaching methods and created confidence in my teaching ability. However, after 2 years there, I had limited opportunities to teach outdoor and environmental education, which led me searching for other job openings.

At this point in my journey, I relocated back to the Triangle and started working at the Museum of Life + Science. As a program facilitator, I taught school programs to school groups, with more chances to teach subjects I was passionate about. At the same time, I started working at Prairie Ridge Ecostation as one of their Natural Science Education Specialists, working weekends and developing and teaching my own environmental education programs. With a need of giving back to the EE field, I joined the EENC board in 2017 as Membership Chair, a volunteer position that started (and has continued) that need to this day. Even though both positions gave me ample experience and confidence, I still pursued that dream of full-time work. That opportunity came earlier this year, as I applied and was given the role of Environmental Education Manager at Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center. With this new position, I am able to pull together all of my previous experiences and skills and manage all facets of education within a true EE center.

It has been a long road to where I am today, but it is one I would not change for anything. I have created friendships and contacts along the way that I treasure dearly. To the readers that are new in this field, I will tell you this: don’t get discouraged. Being an environmental educator isn’t easy and the road to being one can be full of frustration and disappointment, but if this is where your passions lie, go after it no matter what. Keep this quote in mind by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I’ve found that through environmental education, and if you have too; welcome. You’re gonna like it here.


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