While TLC has many nature education programs for children, Diquan Edmonds, the Education and Outreach Manager, saw a need nature education focused on teens. He envisioned a fellowship program that not only would encourage an interest in the environment, but also give them mentorship and a hands on opportunity to explore the career opportunities in conservation. Along with Kayla Ebert, the Education, and Outreach Associate, Diquan designed Pathways Into Natural Environments and Science, the acronym of which spells out a diverse and beloved family of trees found in North Carolina, PINES.
The five Knightdale High School students–Quinten, Zoe, Daniel, Hanna, and Rafael–l enrolled in the PINES program for different reasons. Some of them were interested in environmental science as a potential field of study, some just liked being outside, and one didn’t consider himself an “outdoorsy person” at all but wanted to give it a try.
The group met every Wednesday after school at Williamson Preserve where they explored a different environmental topic each time. The fellows where led by a new environmental professional and they had the opportunity to enjoy experiental activites many people don’t get the chance to experience until college. They sampled soils, tested compaction in Williamson’s agricultural fields, removed invasive species, and assisted with TLC’s Star Party and Get Wild! educational events. They also learned to make fires with Ali Williams of Wayfinder Outdoors and went birding with Bo Howes, TLC’s Director of Land Protection and Stewardship West and avid birder.
The semester concluded with a dinner where the fellows presented their environmental mentors’ career paths and how the PINES program affected their own future plans. It was bittersweet saying goodbye to our two seniors, Zoe and Daniel, but we are looking forward to having Hanna, Rafael, and Quinten join us again in the fall as PINES mentors. We are excited to see Zoe’s path as she studies marine biology at Jacksonville University, and we are grateful Daniel has decided to join us as an intern for the summer before he heads to training for the National Guard!
Connecting people with nature is one of the four public benefits of land conservation and a tenet of TLC’s mission. Having a connection to nature is essential for our mental health and for understanding the many ways we are connected with our environments. In an ever-changing world, it is important that younger generations have access to nature in order to develop a sense of place outdoors and feel compelled to protect it.