When someone mentions environmental
education/interpretation (EE/I) you may tune them out before they even get to
the end of saying their major.
It could bring to mind long nights of studying, science
courses, and so on. What might not come to mind though, is spending time on a
200- acre spread based on glacial Sunset Lake, surrounded by tall aspens, furs,
That is exactly what the EE/I major or minor requires:
spending time at the Central Wisconsin Environmental Station (CWES), a learning and teaching
facility used by students of all ages.
For students in the EE/I major, there is hands-on
experience to be gained at CWES, an experience like no classroom can offer. At
CWES, students take on the role of teacher and help educate elementary-aged
students on survival strategies, lumberjack and logging history, birds and
many other things that pertain to nature.
“I loved that I had the opportunity to teach out at
CWES,” said Andrea Szcepanski, a biology major and EE/I minor. “There aren’t a
lot of undergraduate programs that do teaching like this, and I believe it
helped me greatly. I feel much more prepared for the real world, in which I
hope to become a naturalist or educator at a nature center, state park or zoo.”
Students are required to put a fair amount of work into
their lessons, personalizing and planning before they teach them. Lessons are
an hour long, but one student, now teacher, might have to teach up to four
different groups in a day.
Not everything is straightforward learning though.
Sometimes, there are campfires, songs and skits. Yes, that’s right. Singing
just might be part earning an environmental degree.
“I liked having the chance to do a variety of lessons,”
Szcepanski said. “Sometimes, I would be talking about animals, which I am more
comfortable with, while other times I would be talking about lumberjacks or
general laws of nature, which I was not very familiar with. I also had the
chance to work with a range of students, from kindergarten to ninth grade.”
The Lumberjack Olympics is one of the creative ways
used to help young students understand of logging works. There are stations
set up where students can see if they have what it takes to be a lumberjack.
They even get the chance to try their hand at using a crosscut saw.
However, there are challenges involved. As a temporary
teacher, the instructor must make the young students listen and participate.
Slightly akin to student-teaching, there is no experience like taking charge of
a lesson and making sure that everyone gains from it.
“I also think that CWES benefits all the elementary
students we teach,” Szcepanski said. “Even if it is just for a day or a few
hours, I feel like the children learn a lot about a world they might not be
that familiar with. I am glad to be one of the people to help the youngsters
understand or at least be aware of how their actions can affect the environment
we live in. “
CWES offers more than just an outdoor classroom,
though. They also maintain Sunset Lake, one of the cleanest lakes in the area,
where people can go to swim, boat or fish. They have hiking trails, an archery
range and courses such as map and compass training or forestry education.