Donate to Hurricane Recovery

Secretary van der Vaart Awards DEQ Employee with N.C. Environmental Education Certification

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 11:00am

Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart presented Thomas Slusser with a certificate this week for completing the department’s North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program. This presentation was especially noteworthy, as Slusser is not an educator by profession but works in the DEQ Division of Waste Management's Pre-Regulatory Landfill Unit, which is a risk-based program that mitigates the health and environmental risks associated with old municipal landfills.

In his work with waste management, Slusser has the opportunity to get involved with local communities and often communicates with a broad range of people including landowners, environmental consultants, local government agencies and concerned citizens. Although Slusser’s primary job isn’t education, the certification program provides employees with skills to communicate with diverse audiences of all ages and can be beneficial for employees who work in regulatory agencies.  “The program helped me learn tools and techniques for communicating environmental awareness and issues. The teaching methods portion of the program was key, as well as my experiences participating in programs,” said Slusser.

Pictured above (from left to right) are Michael Scott, Division Director, Division of Waste Management, Thomas Slusser, Secretary van der Vaart, and James Bateson, Superfund Section Chief, Division of Waste Management.

When asked what experience in the program stood out for him, Slusser’s immediate answer was the  Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop. “I am quite comfortable with public speaking, but teaching is quite different for me because of the need to capture the attention of an audience, get them engaged, and redirect them when necessary. This was very helpful when doing my teaching hours, which I did with my son's kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade classes. I had to learn more and more each year and increase the quality of my content as well as providing stronger engagement with the kids. The teaching experience gives me a great appreciation for classroom teachers!”

The certification program also requires a community partnership project. For his project Slusser worked with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ Prairie Ridge Ecostation to develop a digital trail map for their Ethnobotany Tree Trail. “The trail map is based on Google Earth and Google Maps, which has icons for each tree featured on the trail. Tree icons act as virtual signs that can be clicked on to summon pictures, detailed descriptions, and an audio explanation,” said Slusser. Teachers and the public can use this digital trail map as an onsite guide, pre-trip planning, or as virtual experience if they can’t go to the site.

Throughout the program Slusser was a popular guest speaker at his son’s school. “I really enjoyed doing my teaching hours at my son's school. It was a great way to see him and the kids are really great, they were always excited to have a guest, and they made me feel like a star!”. When Slusser isn’t working, he enjoys exploring the outdoors with his wife and young children.

For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs’ website at