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DEQ secretary awards Environmental Education Certification at NC Arboretum

Monday, September 12, 2016 - 11:30am

DEQ Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart visited the North Carolina Arboretum recently to award Meghan Baker with a certificate for completing her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification.

Baker is an extension agent with Buncombe County Cooperative Extension Service and provides educational outreach to small farmers, youth, and community members in Buncombe County through field-based workshops during the growing season and trainings in the winter.

She is among several certified environmental educators who chose to partner with the North Carolina Arboretum to create ecoEXPLORE Hotspots at public libraries in Buncombe County. The development of the hotspots served as the required community partnership project for the program.  

The arboretum developed the ecoEXPLORE (Experiences Promoting Learning Outdoors for Research and Education) program that includes many county and state partners. EcoEXPLORE is an incentive-driven science enrichment program that engages third through eighth-grade students in both guided and self-directed citizen science activities. The arboretum partnered with the Buncombe County Public Library System to install an ecoExplore “Citizen Science HotSpot” at each of the 12 public libraries in the county. Baker served as the lead coordinator for the ecoExplore Hotspot at the West Asheville Library. 

She created a pollinator garden and developed educational materials to encourage library patrons, particularly youth, to observe and record the diversity of living organisms right outside the library doors. “This project not only connected me to my local library branch, but also connected me to the larger community through interactions with people as I was tending the garden,” said Baker. “It's amazing how interested people can be if you allow them the opportunity to ask questions!”

NCDEQ Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart presenting Meghan Baker with her Environmental Educator Certificate at the North Carolina Arboretum

The project also helps the arboretum expand its mission to cultivate connections between people and plants. Baker’s educational display at the library and plant list were tailored to library patrons who are interested in creating similar “hotspots” in their yards. She also worked with library staff to lead a summer youth program that educated participants about the topic of biodiversity.

When asked about her experience in the certification program, Baker said she enjoyed networking with environmental educators across the state. “We have so many talented and humble naturalists involved in this program and it’s a great way to widen the community of passionate educators. The exposure to resources, particularly curriculum guides, has helped me many times as I’ve created programming for varied audiences.”

Baker said that the program taught her many different methods for developing effective, hands-on and interactive lessons. “The program helped expand my creativity, exposing me to lesson plans, games, and artistic ways to convey environmental awareness and observations.”

Jonathan Marchal, youth education manager with the arboretum said, “Meghan is an example of the type of outstanding educator and community leader that we are fortunate to have found through our partnership with the DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs.”

Baker says the certification program has changed the way she looks at environmental issues. “I would say that this certification program helped me to present a more balanced view of environmental issues, providing me with tools that broadened my environmental ethic beyond a personal experience to a more holistic and approachable way of connecting to others.”

For more information about The North Carolina Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORE program, visit the website at For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit