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On the Ins and Outs of Outdoor Education

On Monday, April 1st no prank could prevent the return of beloved Juniata alum Zachary Adams. The 2017 graduate returned to campus to talk to students about his recent experiences working in the field of environmental education. I was very excited for the opportunity to speak to Zach because I also want to pursue environmental education as a bird guide. Before the talk, some of the upperclassmen from the wildlife society hosted Zach for a meet and greet at their house, just off-campus. I was eager to attend! I got to spend the better part of an hour talking to Zach about his time as a student, his career, and his life while also socializing with my fellow wildlifers. To top it all off, we ate pizza from Domino’s!

I learned that Zach currently works for Mass Audubon, which was a great talking point since I live in western Massachusetts and my mother used to work for the Audubon sanctuary at Drumlin Farm in eastern Mass. It was really cool to see a Pennsylvania native just out of college moving to my home state to work! More specifically, Zach works at the Pleasant Valley Audubon Sanctuary in Berkshire County, about an hour west of me. His duties include teaching in classrooms, leading nature walks for children and their families, and leading summer camps. We also bonded over our mutual love of birds and birding. We shared sightings and stories, and my fellow wildlifers only half joked that I was trying to break all of his records for Pennsylvania on eBird.

After many laughs and stories, we made our way over to Brumbaugh Academic Center for the Zach’s talk. I was surprised by the turnout. Many students who had not come to the meet and greet showed up for the talk. It was very encouraging to see so many students interested enough in environmental education to come out on a Monday night! The title of Zach’s talk, “Telling Stories: The Ins and Outs of Environmental Education,” was perfect. He explained that environmental education is built on stories. Whether they are personal anecdotes about wildlife experiences, the natural history of an area or a specific species, or simply a way for your campers to decompress and settle down after a long day in the field, Zach spends a vast majority of his work hours telling stories.

When Zach finished the talk, I thanked him for his time and got his contact information in case I ever wanted to reach out to him with questions or work for Mass Audubon. Juniata has given me yet another resource for my professional future. But this talk gave me so much more than that. The way he broke down environmental education into that simple summary was a revelation for me in the way I thought about the job. It further emphasized the idea that good people skills and the ability to articulate information clearly are essential for the field, but it also reminded me of the importance of storytelling. Sometimes I feel like I spend too much time telling stories to my friends and family, but now I recognize that engaging people with stories is the most important we can do to inspire a new generation of environmental leaders. I finally believe that all my rambling has a purpose, and I shouldn’t discount its value!

Aidan Griffiths ’22, Wildlife Conservation POE, avid birder and naturalist