Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Answering emails...

One of the favorite  parts of my job is answering questions from kids.   Over the weekend I got this email from a student here in Mt. Pleasant. 

Hi Mr. LeValley,

This is Hannah P., and I was wondering if I could ask you some questions. I am doing a project for my church youth group about someone I know and what their job is. I have chosen you because your job interests me a lot. If you could please answer the following questions for me, that would be great.

1.       What kind of responsibilities do you have?
2.       What training and/or education did you have to obtain?
3.       What contributions do you make to society in your work field?


Hannah P.

I know this young lady both from school programs and from several public programs that her family has attended.  Everyone in her family has a keen interest in science and nature and it has been a pleasure to talk with all of them at these public events.  If it is the path that she chooses to pursue, Hannah has a great future in the natural science.

Here is the reply that I sent:

Hi Hannah,
I am happy to answer your questions about my job.  The answers are a little long, but I wanted to be thorough.  If you have any other questions just let me know.

1.       What kind of responsibilities do you have?
My job consists of several areas of responsibility.  First, I am responsible for creating education programs and making sure that those programs meet State of Michigan education standards.  The state standards are undergoing a change right now so I have to make sure that my programs meet both the old and new standards.  Sometimes presentations don’t work out very well (too long, too hard to understand, too boring, etc.) and I have to find ways of changing them that will make them better.
Another aspect of my job is scheduling – I work with several dozen teachers at schools throughout the county and it takes some work to fit multiple programs into their schedules.  I have over 400 classroom programs scheduled for this school year.  Sometimes I am able to do the scheduling over the phone or through email, but it is often easier to meet face-to-face with teachers so we can look at my calendar and the school calendar simultaneously. 
I also have to be flexible with scheduling.  Schools often have last-minute events that make it necessary to reschedule.  Add in snow days (and the rare days that I take off due to illness) and my schedule can change quite a bit from what was originally set at the beginning of the school year.
Planning is another important aspect of my job.  Much of my summer is spent planning for the presentations that I will give during the school year.  This includes developing new materials and ordering supplies.  I also plan for our annual environmental education day.  Planning for this event takes several months.  I have to coordinate presenters; reserve the location; make arrangements for tents, tables, chairs, and other materials; order supplies; create a schedule; invite classrooms; and a make sure of a great number of other small details.
A fourth aspect of my job is the part that everyone sees – giving presentations.  Between school and public presentations, I will spend approximately 500 hours per year in front of people.  My goal is for everyone that sees me give a presentation to learn something new about nature or the environment. 
Because I give programs on a diverse variety of subjects, I need to have an almost encyclopedic knowledge.  I get asked questions all of the time by students and adults.  There are always questions that I don’t know the answer to so I am constantly doing research to increase my knowledge.  I do this both by reading lots of books and articles on the internet and by spending as much time in the field as possible to gain first-hand knowledge.  I also try to attend several professional conferences and workshops each year.  There is always something new to learn.
A final important responsibility that I have is securing funding for my program.  The environmental education program is 100% funded by grants.  Every year or two I have to write a proposal asking for more funding. 

2.       What training and/or education did you have to obtain?
A person looking for a job like mine typically needs a college degree in one of several fields: natural resources, education, environmental education, or outdoor recreation.  It normally requires course work in biology, ecology, and interpretation.  It is also helpful to have a background in earth science (geology, meteorology, astronomy) and even history.
Another possible path to a job like mine is through experience.  Many people gain experience and knowledge as an interpreter through either volunteering or internships.  A lot can be gained by studying and learning on your own.  It is also valuable to connect with other environmental education professionals at workshops and conferences.
Like many people in the environmental education field, I have a combination of formal and informal training.  I earned a teaching certificate through Central Michigan University.  I learned a lot about local plants and animals while working for the Mt. Pleasant Parks Department.  I also volunteered as a nature guide for several years at the Forest Hill Nature Area before being hired for my current job.

3.       What contributions do you make to society in your work field?
I hope that I am increasing both people’s knowledge of and their appreciation for nature.  It is hard to care about something if you know nothing about it.  By increasing knowledge, my goal is that students and adults will do something to help their local habitats (clean up litter, clear trails, donate money to conservation, plant native plants, etc.).  I hope that by increasing knowledge I am helping people make more informed decisions about how they treat the land and water, and the species that reside there. 
At the very least I want students (and adults) to come away from one of my presentations with a sense of wonder and excitement about science and nature.  Who knows, maybe this will start someone on a path towards a career in science or conservation!


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