30 for 30: NAI Shining Star Award

NAI is recognizing 30 shining stars of interpretation over the course of 2018, our 30th anniversary. Each of NAI's 10 geographical regions is determining three shining stars—a new interpreter, an established career interpreter, and an esteemed veteran.

Sierra Pacific Region

Shining Stars
Sierra Pacific Region

Nichole Gange 

Big Break Visitor Center at the Delta 
Oakley, California

Nichole Gange has been a dedicated interpreter and passionate advocate of NAI Region 9, starting with the NAI student chapter and continuing as professional interpreter.  She has been key to making the yearly regional workshop a success for the last several years. She has served on the Workshop Committee for many years, serving the last two as Workshop Co-Chair and brought enthusiasm, reliability, creativity and dedication to the task.  She does everything from delivering a polished presentation at both National Conferences and Regional Workshops to all of those mundane behind the scenes tasks that must be done.

Nichole is a highly regarded naturalist at East Bay Regional Park District where she is an integral part of the interpretive team, providing inclusive programs for thousands of youth and other members of the public each year at Big Break Visitor Center at the Delta, including helping to organize an “All Abilities Day” at the park. She previously worked at Yosemite National Park, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and California State Parks. She is particularly talented at reaching our youngest visitors. Nichole has done so much for the interpretive profession and has been a tireless advocate on behalf of NAI to her colleagues.

Brighton Hayashida

Humboldt State University
Arcata, California

Brighton Hayashida is truly an emerging shining star in the field of interpretation. As an environmental education and interpretation student at Humboldt State University, Brighton takes advantage of every possible opportunity to grow his interpretive skills. He became a certified Talk about Trees educator and now does sustainable forestry programs for school children. He consistently volunteers with the Redwood Chapter of Environmental Educators and Interpreters Club at education and fundraising events. He is has even been elected to be on the club leadership team for next year. This Spring he attended his first region 9 NAI Workshop which he says was a transformative professional growth experience. 

Brighton is currently spending the summer working as an interpretive ranger intern in beautiful Stanislaus National Forest. He is also involved with Global Student Embassy whose mission is “developing community leaders through action oriented environmental education.” Just this past Spring, Brighton was a trip leader for a service trip to Nicaragua where the group did sustainable agriculture work with rural communities.  With his passion for interpretation, service, and promoting sustainable stewardship behaviors, Brighton has tremendous potential to make his mark in the field of interpretation. 

Pat Clark-Gray

State Park Interpreter III
California State Parks
Monterey, California 

California State Parks uses the acronym RAPPORT to review interpretive programs.  Lisa Bradford used it to review Pat!

Respectful – of others’ point of view. Pat’s communication style includes a great ability to “respect” and “connect” with others.

Approachable – always there to listen and ask questions before suggesting solutions– from program-related issues to personnel problems.

Personable – A lot of fun, which is why everyone wants her to assist with activities and celebrations in Monterey District and beyond.

Promoter of CA State Parks and NAI – a parks lover through and through! Her outlook, demeanor, wisdom, and knowledge make her the perfect CA State Park and NAI cheerleader - Go, Pat!

Organized – Pat is one of the most organized people I have worked with. Her binder system is legendary! Pat will keep you in line and on schedule, and she is NOT afraid of tackling necessary paperwork!

Responsive – Pat will always return your emails and phone calls. Her commitment to “getting back to you” means that you will get an answer and not be left hanging, which keeps projects moving FORWARD. This skill goes hand in hand with the previous “R” – Respect.

Thorough – When working on interpretive projects. No stone is left unturned. Her projects help visitors understand, appreciate, and connect to our natural or cultural resources.

Northwest Region

Beatrice Li

Vancouver Aquarium
Vancouver, British Columbia

Beatrice Li has been an Interpreter at the Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise initiative, for only a few years but has jumped into just about every initiative with gusto. Beatrice started as a generalist responsible for delivering programs throughout the organization (including small scale programs for five children and large scale marine mammal sessions for hundreds of visitors of all ages). She quickly took on additional responsibilities, including creating both general and holiday-specific puppet shows, formal on-microphone talks about local species, and informal interpretive opportunities for volunteers. She is constantly pushing her own boundaries and growing as an interpreter and inspiring her colleagues to think outside the box, whether it’s creating an interactive game to follow plastic pollution around the oceans or including a wire dolphin model covered in ‘ghost gear’ fishing nets in a volunteer display, she is pushing us all to be better interpreters.

Denise Berkshire

Interpretation/Education Coordinator
Tillamook Forest Center 
Tillamook, Oregon

Denise Berkshire always strives to set her team up for success. She has been integral in the development of the education and interpretation program at our 12-year-old center from its very beginning. She has written countless programs, protocols, and standards documents, and has created a solid foundation for other interpreters to build off of. Denise excels as a leader in interpretation, encouraging her team to embody interpretive values to provide the best visitor experience, and in order to inspire she leads by impeccable example. She inspires through her innovative training, and modeling of effective theme-based interpretive programs that are highly interactive and fun. 
Her enthusiasm and dedication to the interpretive profession energizes audiences and fellow interpreters. Denise constantly tackles difficulties and challenges where others might shy away. A true Wonder Woman, she’s undertaken interpretive signage and graphic design projects, volunteer coordination, marketing and social media, and leading an interpretive team--all alongside her exceptionally busy job of organizing and coordinating the 5,000+ school children her site hosts each year. Denise lives the philosophy that learning and self-improvement are constant endeavors and the products of her career in interpretation are shining examples of this.

Jay Moeller

Chief Park Ranger
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area 
Newport, Oregon

Jay Moeller transforms good facilities and staff into a great facilities and staff. As the Chief Park Ranger at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon, Jay improved exhibits and programming despite challenging budgets. As the field of interpretation has evolved, Jay ensured that ranger programs and non-personal services kept up with the twenty-first century. While with the Army Corps, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management, Jay brought together community partners and agency staff to launch new and creative programs spanning the spectrum from living history to residential outdoor science school. Jay is respected as a manager, but more importantly, as a leader.
Jay’s staff say, “Jay is one of the most patient and supportive supervisors you could have. His office door is literally and figuratively always open and all the staff knows they can talk to him about anything at any time. I have never seen him show any sort of impatience with another staff member. He is just very genuine and truly wants the best for his team. He never has an ‘I'm above or too busy for this’ type of attitude, always willing to jump in the front line when we need him.”

Chesapeake Region

Teresa Pierce

Historical Interpreter
First State Heritage Park
Dover, Delaware

Teresa Pierce has been a Historical Interpreter at First State Heritage Park since 2015. Teresa is one of the best interpreters at the park.  Her passion is clear to any visitor that comes in contact with her.  Often, visitors will write personal thank-you letters to the park after receiving a tour or program from Teresa.  

Teresa has also taken the lead in developing her own programs.  While program development is not officially part of her job duties, she has thrown herself into this work, creating well-researched and highly creative programs.  In February 2018, she developed a historical program exploring the experience of African-Americans during WWI.  She was challenged with creating a program for an often underutilized site and in a space that was not immediately connected to African-Americans or World War I.  Her dynamic use of space led to a well-received and fascinating program, where visitors could literally “follow in the footsteps” of African-American people during this time, choosing different paths to discover what these choices meant for the people living at that time.  This program was an inspiration to her colleagues.  Through her ingenuity, she transformed a twentieth-century courtroom into a place that provoked both thought and action.

Teresa is a NAI Certified Interpretive Guide. As she moves forward in her career, Teresa Pierce is constantly increasing her level of involvement both with State Parks and other organizations.

Rachael Tolman

Park Naturalist
Long Branch Nature Center
Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation
Arlington, Virginia 

Rachael Tolman has been a park naturalist with Arlington County for twelve years. In that time, she has taken on many duties including providing top notch, innovative programming, being the lead on Long Branch’s reptile rehabilitation program, and organizing two native plant sales each year. Perhaps her best program has been the annual Firefly Festival. First presented in 2008, Rachael conceived the idea and planned, promoted, and manages this extremely popular and fun evening out for families. She plays a leading role for the Arlington naturalist staff in developing new opportunities for publicity and partnerships with schools and other organizations. Rachael’s free native milkweed seed program gives park visitors a monarch butterfly stewardship opportunity.

Rachael is active with NAI, having conducted sessions on mushrooms and on ferns at regional and national workshops. She regularly attends both regional and national workshops. A “Fabulous Fungi” program that she and Jennifer Soles presented at the 2015 National Workshop was recognized by NAI as a “Best of Virginia Beach” and was developed into a webinar opportunity for NAI.  

Suzanne Holland

Visitor Services Manager
Hidden Oaks Nature Center
Fairfax County Park Authority
Annandale, Virginia 

Suzanne is Naturalist II/Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center (HONC). She supervises the site’s interpretative services, paid and volunteer staff, manages the park’s nature center, and leads interpretative programs. Since 2006, Suzanne has greatly increased the number of programs and visitation has increased 64% per year.

Sparked by a lecture by Richard Louv, Suzanne created Nature Playce at HONC where parents feel safe bringing their children to connect with the natural world. After conducting research, Suzanne, with the help of her manager, applied for grants and donations for the project. In Nature Place children freely explore the area making deeper connections with nature. Suzanne maintains and improves Nature Playce through grants and donations.

Suzanne played a significant role in securing over $200,000 in grants so HONC could provide free programs for more than 4,000 people each year, most targeting underserved communities. Staff held programs at many locations besides the park, with many programs conducted in English and Spanish.

Suzanne has taught 100 individuals through the NAI CIG courses. She spearheaded “Interpreters Quarterly”, a free continuing education program offered to Park Authority staff. Suzanne contributed to the region’s newsletter, presented at a Region 2 Conference and led local NAI trainings. With the impact of her 30+ career as an interpreter, Suzanne Holland demonstrates the “heartfelt conviction that we can make change for the better.”*

*Beck, L. & Cable, T., 2011, The Gifts of Interpretation, p. 168.

Northeast Region

Ann-Marie Lisi 

Manager of Instruction & Interpretation
Maritime Aquarium 
Norwalk, Connecticut 

Ann-Marie Lisi is the Manager of Instruction & Interpretation at The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT. She began her interpretive career in 2015 when she participating in a Certified Interpretive Trainer course with NAI. She is the only NAI interpretive guide trainer in the state of Connecticut and leads an annual CIG training courses each fall. She has used her interpretive skills to develop mission-celebration events for her organization for Long Island Sound Day, Endangered Species Day, World Oceans Day, Earth Day, and International Coastal Clean-up Day. Her next ambitious task is to develop a model for on-going training and support for her organization's 300 active gallery ambassadors (volunteers) with the goal of enhancing their interpretive skills to create meaningful interactions with guests. Ann-Marie was recently elected the Director of NAI's Region 1 area and is actively working on strengthening communications, resources, and networking between the region's NAI members.

Jessica Woodend 

Science Educator 
Wiscasset, Maine 

Jessica has spent the last 10 years involved in interpretation. She has used her interpretive skills to update and increase the impact of some of Chewonki's traveling natural history programs. Not only does she strive for best impact for her programs at work, but she is also a volunteer with 2 other non-profits helping to bolster their education and outreach. This past year she has been lending her interpretive eye and creating/facilitating programs for ocean (and shark) conservation organizations in order to help highlight the work that they do, and reached over 700 people in her first 3 months. Jessica has also coordinated the start of an outreach program for a marine mammal rescue organization. She has developed and facilitated an interpretive program that teaches the public about the impacts humans have on these animals and what they can do to help in a positive way. Her passion for creating connections to animals and the environment is clear in all of the time she dedicates among those organizations. Jessica is the new Maine Representative for NAI, and is hitting the ground running. She is presenting on behalf of NAI at the Maine Environmental Education Association's annual conference. Her goal is to get more people in the state involved, and increase membership throughout the state.

Rebecca Roy 

Conservation Education Coordinator
Vermont State Parks 
Montpelier, Vermont 

Rebecca is the Conservation Education Coordinator for Vermont State Parks. Annually she provides CIG training to our state park interpreters, and facilitates mid-season trainings. Under her leadership, our interpretive programs over the past eleven years have increased dramatically in quality and participation with the implementation of the CIG program. We now log nearly 30,000 visitors that attend programs; this represents a tripling of attendance over that time. Some of our best and most passionate visitor feedback comes from park visitors that have attended interpretive programs. Rebecca travels the state every summer to meet with the 13 park interpreters spread out over our park system. She sought out grant funding through the U.S. Forest Service that enabled us to hire a Park Interpreter at Quechee State Park. This position allowed us to make contact with over 20,000 additional visitors at Quechee Gorge alone, and allowed the regional management team to successfully convert the grant-funded position to a permanent, seasonal position. She is always a positive, friendly and welcoming face that helps interpreters keep programs fresh and inviting. Her training efforts have helped launch the careers of many interpreters new to the field, and have helped us with retention of our season.

Heartland Region

Kelli Johnson

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Student
College of Natural Resources; EE/Interpretation Major; Sociology Minor

Kelli is a junior majoring in environmental education and interpretation at the UW-Stevens Point. She has already achieved a significant amount of experience related to the field of interpretation. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kelli jumped right into leadership roles at the university. As a sophomore, she served as President of the Environmental Educators and Naturalists Association (EENA) student organization, a student chapter of NAI. She continues an active role in other leadership positions with the organization. In addition, she is currently one of two student representatives serving on the Wisconsin Association of Environmental Education board. 

Kelli has been proactive about gaining valued professional development while attending school. In 2017 she attended the Heartland Region workshop in South Dakota and the NAI National Conference in Spokane. She received a scholarship to attend the NAAEE conference as well. Ms. Johnson has worked as an intern for the US-Forest Service, Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful, and Community Groundworks as a Garden Educator. In her “free time”, Kelli plays a mean ukulele and enjoys sharing music with others.

One of Kelli’s professors said the following: “I’ve worked with Kelly in a number of settings—as her academic advisor, advisor to a student organization she is active in, course instructor, and I even hired her to watch my kids! Kelly is optimistic, contributing thoughtfully in class. She seems to seek adventure, looking to tackle new projects and stepping out of her comfort zone.”

Lewis Major

Naturalist, Polk County Conservation
Granger, Iowa

Lewis has been a naturalist for Polk County for over 20 years.  During that time, he has mastered the art of interpretation; teaching a large range of audiences on an equally large range of subject matters. He designed and facilitated the creation of one of the first Nature Playscapes in the state, starting a trend across Iowa that is still being followed today.  His out-of-state kayak trips have been inspirational to other counties to provide high adventure experiences to adults. He is an artistic and innovative educator who is constantly seeking to break the mold when it comes to environmental education.  

Lewis has made more than one positive impact on NAI.  He has presented at numerous NAI workshops.  He was the region’s fundraising chair for 10 years raising uncountable amounts of money for our region and providing a fun and enjoyable atmosphere during our workshops.  He co-chaired the 2015 regional workshop and was the off-site chair for the 2006 regional workshop.    

Lewis Major is a Heartland Region Shining Star!

Chris McCart, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Outdoor Education
Black Hills State University 

Dr. Christine McCart has been a Shining Star for the Heartland Region for as long as she has been at Black Hills State University and an NAI member. Throughout her time at BHSU she has not only been a major influence on the lives of her students, but a leader in the educational community in South Dakota and beyond. Her impact on NAI has been constant with her support and encouragement of BHSU students to attend NAI workshops. But her reach and impact go far beyond that as colleagues and students can readily attest to:

“South Dakota Project Learning Tree holds many events throughout the year . . . Without Chris’s dedication and her OE students these events would not be possible.”

“Chris has been an amazing professor and adviser. I know that I can go to her and she will show me all of my opportunities and support me where I need it. She continuously opens our eyes to new opportunities and experiences.”

”I haven’t ever had a teacher like Chris. She sees the passion and potential students have in the field of outdoor education and pushes us to grow and develop skills so that we can be successful in our future careers.”