Building a Better Future, One CREA Alum at a Time

This article was originally published in CREA’s Spring 2020 Newsletter.

During this unusual time, we are reminded of nature’s power to soothe and sustain us with her peaceful presence, seasonal rhythms, and everyday wonders. Nature’s ability to comfort us is just one of her superpowers; she is also an incredible teacher and the original inspiration for CREA’s formation.

For 20 years, CREA has been inspiring children, students, and adults to connect with the natural world and grow as learners and environmental stewards. In this moment of reflection, it’s so important to recognize the positive impact that you, as a CREA supporter, have had on so many people over the years. You have given the gift of the natural world and all her attendant benefits to so many who have been touched by our educators, camp staff, and volunteer teachers.

Here are just a few of the thousands of young people whose lives were touched by their CREA experience.

Mel Christensen Fletcher has deep roots in CREA. She also participated in the EYL program, did field work and research at the Preserve, and was a CREA camp counselor. When she returned from college, she joined the CREA Board and chaired the Program Committee. Today, she teaches locally at the Coastal Academy where she uses her “role as a teacher and [former]CREA board member to connect more young people in our community to nature and leadership opportunities.” Mel, who regularly brings her students to the Preserve for projects and research, hopes to “see even more young adults develop into scientists, educators, and leaders as a result of their CREA experiences.”

Natasha Wagner Bruce participated in the EYL program and Glenn Evans’ honors biology class at Mt. Ararat, which conducts field research at the Preserve every fall with CREA’s support. She reports, “The lessons I learned about sustainability have stayed with me to this day as I explore alternatives for heating and powering my home.”

Natasha adds, “My time at CREA also exposed me to the world of education, and was a critical factor in my decision to pursue an Education degree. Working with different age groups and seeing the excitement of campers at CREA demonstrated the power of education and the potential for instilling ideas and connections to nature at a young age.”

CREA Alum Kristina Johnson

Kristina Johnson also did research at the Preserve as part of Glenn Evans’ honors biology class and was a counselor at CREA’s February vacation camp. Kristina vividly recalls trekking through the snow to start the pellet stove and making sure the solar system was in working order before the campers arrived. “It was my first experience with a building that was more or less off grid, with the stove and solar panels being our primary sources of energy.”

Kristina now has an engineering degree from Cornell, has worked as an energy engineer, and is pursuing a Professional Masters in Architectural Engineering. Looking back, she realizes “CREA had a surprising impact on her career trajectory.”  She plans to use her degrees “to make the built environment more sustainable and better designed for the future.”

Many CREA alums don’t go into science or education, but CREA leaves its mark in other ways. More than one alumni have commented that CREA nurtured their sense of curiosity and independence.

Morgan Kinney, who took Mr. Evans’ research class, says “what stuck with me the most was the process, and how much more engaging it was to have class in the woods than in the science department at school.”

Morgan adds, “That sense of independence and focus on experiential learning is what I have brought forward from CREA to my current role as an educator. I run experiential learning programs for undergraduate students at Rice University in Houston, TX… Though my programs are focused on social justice and I didn’t go into a natural science field, I can trace my approach to integrating classroom and experiential learning back to my first experiences with that model at CREA.”

As we reflect on our first 20 years, it’s heartening to hear the above stories and know there are many more not yet told. We will continue to inspire excitement about nature and environmental science – excitement that will spawn effective future leaders in sustainable energy and land use, conservation, climate policy, and many other disciplines.

Despite the challenges of the present moment, we are excited about the next twenty years and introducing the next generation to the wonders of frogs, salamanders, rocks, sustainable energy, and all that nature has to offer those who take the time to look – and learn.