Promoting Professional Development and Best Practice in EE
Roles at NAAEE:30 Under 30
Education Director / Environmental Education Instructor
Prescott Community Nature Center / Prescott College
Ellen is an environmental educator and community organizer collaborating with a wide range of institutions to increase equitable access to environmental education, outdoor opportunities, and a healthy environment.
How are you using education to build more sustainable and equitable communities?
In my current work, I am the Education Director and Park Ranger at the City of Prescott’s Community Nature Center. Through an intergovernmental agreement that I revived between our local public school district and Recreation Services Department, and through hours of fundraising, planning, outdoor classroom and trail building, curriculum writing, and more, we are now providing free outdoor and environmental education to thousands of public school students. Through our department’s collaborations with our Health Department, Cooperative Extension, and other non-profits, we have identified families’ barriers to accessing green space and have launched an initiative to provide education and targeted support to help families with young children more equitably access the outdoors. I also work through my board member roles in several non-profits to deliver funding, learning opportunities, and experiences to my community that are rooted in environmental sustainability and increasing inclusive and equitable opportunities to access nature.
Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
My path might be like canoeing in the Boundary Waters. Some swampy portages, sunrise paddling lake to lake, endless mosquitos, and moments along the way that are more than worth it. If you had asked me at any point in my life if I had guessed that I would end up where I am, I would have always been wrong. Change seems both purposeful and surprising. From childhood babysitting, to camp facilitation, to school teaching, to professional development, to higher education, to volunteering, to community organizing, to building places, to a nature center Education Director—it’s wild to reflect back on this journey. With honest excitement and comfortable uncertainty, here I am. I am humbled to be collaborating with the young folks, elders, and community leaders who I work with every day and honored to be able to help increase access to the benefits of the outdoors and the healthy environments everyone deserves.
Who keeps you hopeful for the future?
Young folks, elders, colleagues, my best friend, my family; the foundation of hope is all around us. When I look around and see and hear how hard we are all working to make our communities safer, healthier, and more equitable places to live and thrive, I have so much hope. Together we can accomplish anything (and I don’t mean that in a cheesy way! I really believe that!).
Who do you look up to as inspiration?
My teachers. So many of them! In and out of classrooms, human and non-human, I see so many people and places continuing to learn and grow and change despite immeasurable setbacks. There is so much bravery and wisdom in the small, the stories, the teachers who came before me. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to continue this inspiring work to reconcile and restore.
Describe your work in a haiku.
Someone’s first towhee
What is learning without love
This place is for all