Outdoor Education Helps Minority Students Close Gap in Environmental Literacy

Environmental education programs that took middle school students outdoors to learn helped minority students close a gap in environmental literacy, according to research from North Carolina State University.

MIddle school students measure tree

Students at Centennial Middle School in Raleigh, NC learn about tree measurement

The study, published March 22 in PLOS ONE, showed that time outdoors seemed to impact African-American and Hispanic students more than Caucasian students, improving minority students’ ecological knowledge and cognitive skills, two measures of environmental literacy. The statewide study also measured environmental attitudes and pro-environmental behavior such as recycling and conserving water.  “We are interested in whether outdoor experiences can be part of a catch-up strategy that can help in narrowing the environmental literacy gap for minority students,”  said lead author Kathryn Stevenson, an NC State graduate student who  has taught outdoor education classes in California and high school biology and science in North Carolina.Researchers tested the environmental literacy of sixth- and eighth-grade students in 18 North Carolina schools in the fall and spring. Half of the schools studied had registered an environmental education program with the state.Using a published environmental curriculum, such as Project Learning Tree, Project WET or Project WILD, helped build students’ cognitive skills, researchers found. Learning in an outdoor environment improved students’ ecological knowledge, environmental attitudes and behavior.

“This is one of the first studies on a broad scale to focus on environmental literacy, which is more than mastering facts,” said co-author Nils Peterson, associate professor of fisheries and wildlife in NC State’s College of Natural Resources. “Being environmentally literate means that students learn cognitive skills so that they can analyze and solve problems, and it involves environmental attitudes and behaviors as well.”

Girls and boys appeared to have complementary strengths that contributed to environmental literacy. Boys scored highest on knowledge, while girls led in environmental attitudes and cognitive skills.

Sixth graders showed greater gains in environmental literacy than eighth graders, suggesting that early middle school is the best window for environmental literacy efforts, Stevenson said.

Teachers’ level of education played an important role in building environmental literacy. Those with a master’s degree had students with higher levels of overall environmental literacy.

Teachers who had spent three to five years in the classroom were more effective at building students’ cognitive skills than new teachers. Efforts are needed to engage veteran teachers in environmental education, Stevenson said.

In a follow-up to the study, Stevenson is studying coastal North Carolina students’ perceptions of climate change.

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Resources:  Environmental Literacy Fact Sheet

Note: An abstract of the paper follows.

“Environmental, Institutional, and Demographic Predictors of Environmental Literacy among Middle School Children”

Authors: Kathryn T. Stevenson, M. Nils Peterson, Howard D. Bondell, Angela G. Mertig and Susan E. Moore

Published: March 22, 2013, in PLOS ONE

Abstract: Building environmental literacy (EL) in children and adolescents is critical to meeting current and emerging environmental challenges worldwide. Although environmental education (EE) efforts have begun to address this need, empirical research holistically evaluating drivers of EL is critical. This study begins to fill this gap with an examination of school-wide EE programs among middle schools in North Carolina, including the use of published EE curricula and time outdoors while controlling for teacher education level and experience, student attributes (age, gender, and ethnicity), and school attributes (socio-economic status, student-teacher ratio, and locale). Our sample included an EE group selected from schools with registered school-wide EE programs, and a control group randomly selected from NC middle schools that were not registered as EE schools. Students were given an EL survey at the beginning and end of the spring 2012 semester. Use of published EE curricula, time outdoors, and having teachers with advanced degrees and mid-level teaching experience (between 3 and 5 years) were positively related with EL whereas minority status (Hispanic and black) was negatively related with EL. Results suggest that school-wide EE programs were not associated with improved EL, but the use of published EE curricula paired with time outdoors represents a strategy that may improve all key components of student EL. Further, investments in teacher development and efforts to maintain enthusiasm for EE among teachers with more than 5 years of experience may help to boost student EL levels. Middle school represents a pivotal time for influencing EL, as improvement was slower among older students. Differences in EL levels based on gender suggest boys and girls may possess complementary skills sets when approaching environmental issues. Our findings suggest ethnicity related disparities in EL levels may be mitigated by time spent in nature, especially among black and Hispanic students.

Media Coverage:
KPCC, Southern California Public Radio

CNR Honored for Outstanding Multicultural Freshman Success

Minority Success Outstanding College PlaqueThe College of Natural Resources(CNR) at NC State University was honored recently with the 2013 Outstanding College Performance Award. 

Presented at the 18th Annual Freshman Honors Convocation sponsored by NC State’s Multicultural Students Affairs Program, the award acknowledges that 51%  of our self-identified African American, Native American & Hispanic freshmen achieved a 3.0 or  greater  fall semester grade point average. This is the second year in a row CNR has won this award.

The proud students who were recognized for their academic achievements include:honored students with awards

Kiarra Hicks – Sports Management (far left)
Deanna Metivier – Natural Resources Ecosystem Assessment (2nd from left)
Shaefny Grays – Adviser (center)
Melissa Betancur – Parks Recreation and Tourism Management (2nd from right)
Yolanda Munoz – Sports Management (far right)
Not Shown
Morgan Cheek – Program Management
Taylor Hattori  – Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and Biology
Matthew Johnson – Sports Management

All seven of these freshmen were students in Dr. Thomas Easley’s USC 110 Freshman Advancement Seminar during the fall semester.

Dr. Mary Watzin Named Dean of NC State’s College of Natural Resources

Dr. Mary Watzin, incoming dean of the NC State College of Natural ResourcesDr. Mary Catherine Watzin, dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, has been named dean of the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University, effective Oct. 15. Provost Warwick Arden announced the appointment today.

“I’m very pleased that Dr. Watzin will be joining us to lead the College of Natural Resources,” Arden says. “She has demonstrated significant administrative leadership skills and experience, and brings a broad perspective on natural resources and the environment that will serve this highly regarded college extremely well moving forward.”

An expert in marine sciences, aquatic ecology and management, Watzin has served as dean of the Rubenstein School since 2009 and as professor since 2005. Before becoming dean, she founded and directed the University of Vermont’s lakefront ecosystem science laboratory, which also oversees the university’s research vessel and collaborates closely with an adjacent science center and aquarium.

“I am deeply honored by the opportunity to lead NC State’s nationally prominent College of Natural Resources,” she said. “The college and the university have a bold vision for the future and I am inspired by the transformational change that is under way across the campus. Solutions to the challenges of today’s world will come through new collaborations and the kinds of interdisciplinary teaching, research and global engagement that NC State is pursuing. I am very excited to join this effort.”
Watzin has received numerous awards for her work, including the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award, the Ibakari-Kasumigaura Prize from the International Lake Environment Committee in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Partner of the Year Award in 2006. 

Dr. Mary Watzin at workWatzin has collaborated with a wide range of partners to explore topics ranging from toxicology to aquatic food web dynamics, harmful algae blooms, hydrodyanamics and stream habitat conditions, nonpoint source pollution, and the effectiveness of environmental management approaches and policies.  She has won more than $8.7 million in grants to support her efforts.  She has also worked continuously to bring science into the policy arena, especially around water quality issues.

From 1992 to 2009, Watzin served as chair of the technical advisory committee to the Lake Champlain Steering Committee while also serving on the steering committee itself. She oversaw all technical aspects of the Lake Champlain Basin Program, a collaborative effort between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior along with the state of Vermont, state of New York and the province of Québec. About $70 million has been invested in the program.

A prolific scholar and noted speaker, Watzin has authored or co-authored more than 60 refereed journal articles and book chapters and more than 45 refereed technical reports and other publications. For the last decade she has presented local talks on research and environmental topics of interest to her community. 

She is a member of numerous scientific societies, including the Ecological Society of America, the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Watzin received her bachelor’s degree in marine science from the University of South Carolina in 1978 and her Ph.D. in marine sciences from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1984. After receiving her Ph.D., she worked as an ecologist for the National Wetlands Research Center, part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in Slidell, La.

– gardiner mccullough –

 Media Contact:  Tracey Peake, News Services, 919/515-6142 or tracey_peake@ncsu.edu

(Photos –  Rubenstein School of Environmental and Natural Resources, University of Vermont)        

College Welcomes Distinguished Visitors

The conferring of honorary doctorate degrees at NC State’s Winter Commencement brought the opportunity to welcome two distinguished visitors to the College of Natural Resources.

Dr Pachauri delivers the winter 2001 commencement address at NC State universityNobel Peace Prize winner and NC State alumnus Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, a worldwide leader in the study of climate change, was on campus to accept his honorary degree and to deliver the commencement address.  While campus he visited CNR to greet old friends and to learn more about the innovative work our scientists, policy experts and extension professionals are doing in the areas of forest biomass and renewable energy.


Robert G. Stanton received his honorary doctorate at NC State University on December 2011After accepting an honorary doctorate at  university commencement, Robert G. Stanton, joined CNR for the college diploma ceremony where he addressed our new graduates and their families.  Stanton is senior advisor to the secretary of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior and was both the first African-American director of the National Park Service and the first director to have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  Renowned for his dedication to parks, his advocacy of opportunities for youth and his efforts to increase diversity in our national parks – Stanton shared a bit of his own experiences and commended the graduates on their achievements. In his inspirational remarks, he stressed education and service as the crucial foundation upon which to build successful lives and careers.

Let’s Hear It For The Girls!

Two Young Women GolfersThe Women in PGA Golf Management at North Carolina State University will host women from all 17 PGA universities around the country for an exciting girls-only conference including educational sessions on the golf industry as well as touring the Peter Millar Golf Apparel Company in Cary, NC.   This unique event will conclude with the Women’s Carolinas Cup Golf Tournament at the Lonnie Poole Golf Course on the beautiful NC State campus.

To promote women in golf, the College of Natural Resources (CNR) and the CNR Community for Diversity will select 16 high school young women with a passion for golf to network with these amazing college women and learn about careers in golf management on Thursday, October 20th.

In addition to attending information sessions on college admission, the College of Natural Resources, and Professional Golf Management, attendees will have lunch and tour the Peter Millar Company with  outstanding women who are thriving in a male-dominated sport, all for FREE!

Thursday, October 20th
8:00 am – Registration/Breakfast
9:00-12:00 pm – Business Component of PGM & College Information Session
12:00-12:45 pm – Lunch
1:00-4:00 pm – Visit Peter Millar Apparel
4:15 pm – Return to CNR for student pick-up

For more information about the conference contact Shaefny Grays at sdgrays@ncsu.edu

More about PGA Golf Management at NC State
More about the CNR Community for Diversity