Erin Shultz

Roles at NAAEE:

30 Under 30

Conservation Education Manager
WAVE Foundation

Erin collaborates to make science accessible for students and schools to ignite curiosity and build the next generation of science-literate citizens.

How are you using education to build more sustainable and equitable communities?

My work with WAVE Foundation’s environmental education programs gives access to learning opportunities in marine science to students who might never see the ocean otherwise. By bringing strategically aligned programming into their classrooms, students get excited about learning. Our programs provide the opportunity for 3rd graders of Cincinnati Public Schools and greater Cincinnati to observe and touch a shark in their classroom. We then support students in facilitating their own investigation to learn more about that animal’s behavior and to experience the scientific process in an exciting and memorable way. Our program reconnects with these students for similar investigations in 4th and 5th grades and has shown to increase the students’ retention of and capacity for scientific inquiry across the three-year program. 

Tell us about your journey to where you are today. 

My love for nature began as a kid on the beaches of Southern Maine. The ocean caught my imagination in every way and I knew it would be part of my career. When my family moved inland, creativity was key to continuing this goal. In college in Michigan, a professor saw my focus on marine science but also my natural tendency towards community service and leadership and he asked, “How will you find a career in which you utilize both these passions?”

After this conversation, my mind spun but my skills still seemed at odds with one another, until after my junior year during an internship with the education department at WAVE Foundation at Newport Aquarium. This experience opened the door to informal environmental education, which instantly connected everything. Engaging with students and community members about science, aquatic animals, and conservation used every passion and skill I had. Throughout my career, from Maine to Kentucky, I began to realize that no matter how near or far water is from a community, these diverse ecosystems are still inaccessible to so many. Sharing access through environmental education opportunities has become one of my greatest motivators. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders? 

Trust your gut in finding your niche. The best way to find fulfillment in all you do is to find the intersection of your skills and passions. Your unique contributions are needed, so do not shy away from creating your own path. 

Who keeps you hopeful for the future? 

The students I engage within our work. These young people show such compassion, understanding, and empathy to their fellow students and our world. If we can nurture that empathy into their adulthood, I know we will continue down the pathways to a more equitable and sustainable world.  

What book, film, or art piece has had the greatest impact on you? 

The pandemic had me walking a lot and listening to podcasts, so at the moment, I have to say Ologies by Alie Ward. It reminds me to stay curious and that everyone has something to teach us if we are willing to give them our attention. It also shows me just how many other people have made their own paths by piecing together their skills and passions. 

See more of Erin’s work on WAVE Foundation’s YouTube channel.