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.
Wild West Region
Youth Programs Manager
Community Nature Connection
Julio Soria is an avid lover of the outdoors and a trained naturalist. He has spent many years in the non-profit sector working in the fields of sustainability, conservation, and youth development. Julio is an adept interpreter and uses his skills in the classroom and on the trail to instill a sense of stewardship in the youth he works with. As Youth Programs Manager with Community Nature Connection, Julio has gone above and beyond as a leader of the Naturalist Explorers program. Naturalist Explorers are youth who participate in an innovative, experiential, multi-week program that builds personal, life, and job skills all while shaping young adults as committed community members and stewards of the outdoors. Julio serves as a mentor and leader and time and time again has facilitated breakthrough experiences for youth who are testing their boundaries experiencing growth in the outdoor setting. Julio has taken great strides in ensuring that Community Nature Connection’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the forefront of his efforts to build community partnerships and recruit program participants for Naturalist Explorers. He has built lasting community partnerships with Pacoima Beautiful and the Southeast Asian Community Alliance ensuring that CNC is serving a representative sector of youth in Los Angeles. Julio continues to expand community partnerships and build the Naturalist Explorer program.
Park Interpretive Specialist
Lake Perris State Recreation Area
Joseph officially joined the tribe of interpreters in 2017 when he became an interpretive Park Aide. He quickly showed his natural talent as an engaging presenter as he led hikes, Junior Ranger programs, museum tours, and campfire programs. Using his creativity, he created a new water safety program geared towards children visiting the lake. Joseph maintains an open spirit and welcomes feedback which has benefited his quick growth as a professional interpreter. He jumped on the opportunity to attend a local CIG course last summer and he’s been applying what he learned ever since.
In 2018, Joseph was promoted to a Park Interpretive Specialist position. In addition to providing stellar interpretive programs, he has taken on a leadership role in organizing school tours, special community presentations, and rallying volunteers to support park activities. He has taken on the responsibility of passing on the torch of interpretation to new and eager volunteer interpreters. To show appreciation for all the hours of work volunteers have dedicated this year, Joseph hosted a summer-time volunteer appreciation event.
It’s been an incredible joy to watch Joseph shine in his workplace in just a year and a half. He has a bright future ahead of him because of his dedication, passion, and teachable spirit.
Consultant & Volunteer
The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo
For Jeff Weinstein interpretation and the sharing of the outdoors is more than a profession. Jeff works and volunteers with many organizations, sometimes driving across three counties to lead a hike or volunteer. As a consultant to the Glendale Parks and Open Space Foundation he provides Trails and Open Space programs to the City of Glendale, California. He guides interpretive hikes, environmental education programs, and community campfires. Jeff also volunteers with The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo in Orange County, leading students on environmental education field trips and at the Ameal Moore Nature Center in the City of Riverside, California.
When Jeff is not leading interpretive programs, he is out working on trails and restoring habitat. Jeff has over 30 years of experience in getting Californians out on the trails. He worked for many years as a Trail Coordinator for counties and cities in southern California. He served for several years as the President of the California Trails and Greenways Foundation. Over the years, he has planned, built, restored and maintained hundreds of miles of trails and open space. Jeff leads monthly stewardship days for the City of Glendale.
Jeff is a Certified Interpretive Guide, as well as a Certified Interpretive Guide Trainer and Certified Interpretive Host Trainer. He is an active contributor to the Wild West Region, presenting and sharing his knowledge at regional workshops as well as serving on the region’s scholarship committee. He is well respected by colleagues and fellow volunteers. He is professional, enthusiastic, beyond hard-working, and always willing to share his knowledge. Jeff is also known to bring unsolicited and delicious snacks to all meetings and trainings he attends. Now that is Shining Star material!
Four Corners Region
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Education Specialist and Dark Skies Coordinator
Brian Head, Utah
Zach is an active member of NAI and has improved our parks, along with many others in the region, in community outreach and education concerning night skies. Members of the master astronomers program have already initiated conversations to write dark sky ordinances in their communities, and thousands of regular folks have been able to better learn how to love and care about our glittering night skies at star parties, with a borrowed telescope, or in the classroom .
Bird Conservancy of the Rockies
Fort Collins, Colorado
William has worked around the globe advancing principles of high-quality interpretation. He has a sharp eye for design, a deep knowledge of interpretation, and an attention to detail and work ethic that make him a true star in the field.
William has brought his insightful approach to NAI in many roles. He has served on the National Advisory Council and as director of what was then the Rocky Mountain Region. He is a regular attendee at NAI events, including regional workshops, as well as national and international conferences. He searches for unique solutions to problems, and always has a thoughtful, inclusive approach to the issues at hand.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Assistant Park Manager
Crystal doesn't recite facts, or merely tell you how important something is; she tells a story about the desert and the night sky, and in doing so, imparts a natural respect for the desert. More than any other interpreter I have ever met, she guides people along to a destination by metaphorically walking by their side and showing them a story, rather than simply telling interesting facts. Crystal has a natural style that makes people eager to learn more.
Crystal's interpretive style is unlike any that I have seen before. When I first listened to her speak about the desert, she spoke quietly and calmly and I felt myself wanting to "lean in" to learn more. One of the other participants said it best when she described Crystal as speaking with a "reverent" style. I grew up in Utah, but never spent time in or appreciated our deserts. During that one presentation, and in every interaction I have had with Crystal since that time, she changed my attitude completely. As she describes the adaptations of animals like kangaroo rats and plants like the salt bush, she imparts an innate respect for the desert that you feel, rather than merely hear. Her love for the dark sky programs has also directly impacted her park and the surrounding areas to become a dark sky park. Crystal has made a lasting impact on naturalist programs in Utah.
Sunny Southeast Region
Coordinator for Explore More Life and Collections
Discovery Place Science
Charlotte, North Carolina
Riana Clark, the Coordinator for Explore More Life and Collections at Discovery Place Science in Charlotte NC, is new to the field of interpretation. She recently went through CIG certification last year and since that time has really excelled in her programs and the contributions to the museum in general. She has added many new programs that defiantly provoke visitors into learning about challenging topics, including climate change and marine debris. Riana has also created a space to add more citizen science at the museum and really works hard to create new and innovative programming surrounding biodiversity and the natural world. She recently was able to go to Curacao to learn about coral conservation and research. After her return, she has created numerous programs to showcase the issues that corals are facing. One area she excels in is through our teen apprentice program. She guides our young volunteers and emulates what good interpretation looks like. We are very lucky to have Riana as a part of our region and a part of this organization.
Eliezer Nieves-Rodríguez, CIT, CIM, CIP
Universidad de Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Any NAI member who was fortunate enough to attend the 2015 Sunny Southeast Regional Workshop in Humacao, Puerto Rico, is familiar with the great energy and smiling face of its coordinator, Eliezer Nieves. His commitment to interpretation has been a vibrant resource on the island for many years, professionally beginning with his position as a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Puerto Rico sixteen years ago. In addition to teaching geography, he has introduced the CIG certification as an elective course and serves as a mentor to students interested in pursuing a career in environmental interpretation and education. He is also the Education Manager of the San Juan Bay Estuary Program where he coordinates environmental interpretation and education programs for schools, teacher workshops, scouting programs, bird education programs and supervises education staff, interns, and volunteers. And as a PLT (Project Learning Tree) coordinator for Puerto Rico, he has established alliances with several environmental groups of the Island and state and federal government agencies to educate about forests and their biodiversity.
An indefatigable force for the promotion of quality interpretation, he is largely responsible for NAI's widespread presence in Puerto Rico. Since becoming involved in the organization he has certified more than 150 CIGs in Puerto Rico. Additionally, in the past ten years, he has used the NAI curriculum to perform annual group training of professionals in the management of Protected Natural Areas of Latin America in the RESERVA training course in Yucatan, Mexico, coordinated by Ducks Ulimited de Mexico (DUMAC). Eliezer shows no signs of slowing down in his dedication to this important work and continues to collaborate with community-based groups on ecotourism issues to use interpretation as a tool to provide memorable and conservation-oriented experiences.
Interpretive Programs Manager
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
Wren Smith is an interpreter. She is also a seeker, a finder, a teacher, and a student. No matter where she is or who she is with, Wren is in a constant state of cultivating the magic that comes from living a life connected to nature.
One doesn’t receive the nickname “Mother Nature” by casually connecting to the natural world around them.
Wren’s official title is “Interpretive Programs Manager”, but her role goes far beyond that. She is a living field guide and a breathing book of folklore. Her desk is a curated museum of other people’s “What is it’s?”. Wren is an advocate for Interpretation in all aspects of life. She leads programs on awareness for yoga groups and tree identification for engineers. Fully engaging all the senses, the connections and familiarity that Wren shares with others create learning that lasts a lifetime.
Although Wren is a highly regarded (and award-winning) interpreter, she doesn’t keep her skills and knowledge to herself. Through an innovative and renowned Naturalist in Training program, Wren has cultivated a deep pool of well-informed and highly enthusiastic Naturalists that are integral to the success of Bernheim’s mission to “Connect People with Nature”
On top of the things she does locally through her work at Bernheim, Wren has also changed the lexicon of Interpretation through published articles and professional lectures as well as her myriad CIG trainings that educate and inspire current and future interpreters. Wren is truly a shining star whose light warms and informs and makes the world a better place.
South Central Region
Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center – Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Rebecca’s first got bit by the interpretation bug during her undergraduate at Kansas State University. Soon after, she earned her first CIG with Ted Cable and set out to explore the field. Her work has included outdoor schools in California, North Cascades National Park, and science and nature centers. She has created professional development opportunities for both co-workers and area teachers, and has recently completed the coursework for Train-the-Trainer.
Rebecca took on the role of Region VI Scholarship and Professional Development Chair two years ago, where she takes joy in helping students and members attend workshops and trainings. She developed new Professional Development scholarships to expand the opportunities including sending members to the National Conference. She has presented sessions at multiple Regional Workshops, and recently presented her first webinar through the national office.
Rebecca’s passion is to provide meaningful and enjoyable experiences with the natural world. She strives to do this through work by creating events and educational opportunities to bring families closer to nature.
Chief of Interpretation & Program Services
Arkansas State Parks
Little Rock, Arkansas
Kelly Farrell has worked for Arkansas State Parks since 1999, beginning her career as a s season interpreter at Lake Ouachita, followed by five years as a full-time interpreter at DeGray Lake Resort State Park. There, she coordinated park programming, organized special events, and created in-park and out-of-park programs for park visitors and the community.
Kelly then served eight years as statewide field interpreter. In this role, she traveled the state to offer advice, coaching, and mentoring to the 70 or so full-time and seasonal park interpreters across the state. Her work as field interpreter alongside Jay Miller (former Chief of Interpretation and Program Services for Arkansas State Parks) produced many innovations in the way this department trains its interpretive staff. She worked with Jay to bring NAI's Certified Interpretive Guide curriculum to every interpreter hired into our agency.
Kelly was promoted in 2013 to her current position of Chief of Interpretation and Program Services. This position pulls Kelly into the administrative world. The "non-personnel" interpretation that she provides includes supervising the internal exhibit shop. She plays a major role in working with exhibit design firms to plan visitor center exhibits. Kelly supervises a staff of artists (all of whom have gone through the CIG curriculum at her request) who produce brochures and flyers, wayside exhibit panels, and trailhead signs. She has developed a new system to streamline this process and make it more efficient for all involved.
As a manager of interpretation Kelly works every day to keep interpretation at the forefront of the minds of other section managers. She encourages them during meetings and to keep these in mind when making decisions concerning parks. She is a true champion for frontline interpreters across the state.
Kelly is an active member of NAI. She is past director of Region 6, and has served on the national board. She is a frequent contributor to NAI's Legacy magazine. She has presented at regional, national, and international conferences, and can be found almost any week of the year promoting NAI in some form or fashion. When unable to attend a conference, Kelly presses upper management to send as many representatives from Arkansas State Parks as she can.
Visitor Center Manager
Shepherd of the Hills Conservation Center
- Wrote the book “Show-Me Herps” for the MO Department of Conservation while still working a full 40-hour work week -7-days a week schedule in 2008. The book won a national 3rd place in the book division from the Association of Conservation Information in 2010.
- Is both a Manager and Front-line Interpreter; Shares weekend front desk duty with staff and volunteers; has worked 500 Saturdays and 500 Sundays over the last 19 years.
- Takes photos of all activities, concurrent sessions, and awards at the annual Region 6 Workshops; shares all photos with the workshop committee and hosts.
- After a being the NAI National Awards Chairman for 5 years (2006-2010), volunteered to step back into that position for 2 years while the new chairman served our country in the National Guard in the war in the Middle East (2013 & 2014).
- Proudly served on the NAI National Board of Directors for 6 years (2011 – 2016).
- Promotes anti-litter with a famous red-eared slider turtle named Peanut. The story of Peanut (found with a 6-pack ring around it’s deformed shell in St. Louis in 1993) has spread around the world. Efforts to promote this turtle and anti-litter have resulted in personal connections in The Netherlands, Singapore, and the island nation of Curacao.
- Personally welcomes visitors to his facility at the front desk; has personally welcomed the 6 millionth, 7, millionth, and 8* millionth visitor to the facility. *Took place on July 19, 2018.
- Became a trainer for the Certified Interpretive Guide in 2006. Helped the MO Department of Natural Resources to adopt the CIG format for annual seasonal training; 10-15 students become CIG each year.
- Coordinated Branson’s first Blue Star Memorial which honors ALL VETERANS. The focus of the memorial highlights native plants and landscaping techniques.
- Has been a mentor for 10 summer interns in the past 15 years. 7 of the 10 interns have gone on to full-time employment and 4 of them in the interpretive field.
- Volunteers at National and Region 6 Workshops to be the scholarship auction volunteer.
Great Lakes Region
Public Programs Manager
Cincinnati Nature Center
Jason recently held a Couple’s Maple Date Night at the Nature Center that was more than successful; every step involved careful planning, feedback, research, and execution that would have been overwhelming to many, but not Jason. He did the planning (months in advance), forming interpretive discussions, finding volunteers, staff members, a catering service, and securing a location to hold the event. He got the feedback, asking around and collecting opinions from coworkers helping him on the project. He did the research, looking at what food and drink went well with maple syrup as well as with each other, ending with 5 or 6 impressive pairings that made the night a great success. And he successfully produced an evening that received only wonderful reviews, sparking the planning of another Date Night near summertime. Jason puts an impressive and skilled amount of time into every program he delivers, and this one was no exception.
Jason is the type of naturalist where simply succeeding at delivering a program isn't sufficient; a program that not only supplies interpretive information about the natural world but also touches people in every way possible to care for it (and beyond) is always one of Jason's goals. He goes the extra mile to not only obtain and use but also preserve authentic natural history artifacts for use by all in interpretive programs. He cultivates a community of pure inclusivity for all within and outside of the work place that has been unmatched in my previous experiences. As a mentor, Jason can make any opportunity into a chance to learn interpretively, no matter how goofy or serious the situation may be. All of these traits and many more make Jason one of the best interpretive guides I have ever encountered; appreciation for natural history, visitors and respecters of nature, and passion for environmental interpretation are what I believe comprises a Shining Star Award winner, and Jason is the best person to fill and exceed those requirements.
Murphys Point Provincial Park
Tobi is considered a provincial leader in the world of interpretation. He is a Certified Interpretive Planner (CIP), Certified Interpretive Trainer (CIT) & Certified Guide (CIG) through NAI. Although he has a full-time job coordinating the interpretative program at his own park, he has consistently demonstrated that is willing to lead our organization. He has had a significant role on the organizing committee to bring the first ever Region 4 Regional Interpreters’ Workshop (RIW) to Ontario, was the Chair of the 2013 Region 4 RIW and was on the organizing Committee for the 2017 RIW. He was a member of the provincial Ontario Parks Natural Heritage Education Review Committee (2013-16), reviewing and re-organizing the provincial interpretive program, and identifying & implementing new strategies and direction, to improve the quality and expand the reach of the interpretive experiences offered by Ontario Parks. He coordinated a pilot project for Ontario Parks in 2015 to initiate the Discovery Program, a brand new program at parks which previously offered little or no interpretation to visitors. He is currently leading interpretive planning for our organization, by volunteering to be the first park to develop a park interpretive strategy, now used as a template for the interpretive strategies at 23 other parks. He has developed an “Interpretive Planning Resource Binder” for Ontario Parks and an agency-specific interpretive planning training session. And finally, he is a key trainer at Ontario Parks’ annual province-wide training conference, leading various interpretive training sessions, especially for new staff.
Tobi has work tirelessly in interpretation for 21 years for his park, NAI, and the Ontario Parks organization. Tobi coordinates and oversees the interpretive program at Murphys Point Provincial Park including the supervision of interpretive staff. He helped develop and coordinate the “Archaeo Apprentice” program for local Grade 5 school groups in 2004, a successful program which ran for several years, bringing students to work alongside professional archaeologists doing hands-on archaeological digs. He was instrumental in the development and implementation of “Heritage Mica Days” events & festival (2012-2014) ranked by Festivals & Events Ontario as a ‘Top 100 Festival and Event” (2013 & 2014). He started the “Super Kids in Parks” (SKIP) program in 2010 to help kids aged 7 to 10 participate in the outdoors and do outdoor recreation skills. He organized a multi-year road mortality study at the park to determine what impacts the widening and resurfacing of the county road (which bisects the park) will have on the park’s frog/snake/turtle populations. He initiated and coordinated the Gray Ratsnake Research & Telemetry Project which identified numerous overwintering hibernacula sites. He also coordinates invasive plant removal in his park. On top of everything he does, he still has time to do radio station interviews in the winter months featuring “The Creature of the Week” in the nearby town of Perth, ON. Tobi developed the Interpretive Strategy (2016) for Murphys Point Provincial Park and has developed much of the current self-use interpretation for the park’s renowned Silver Queen Mine Trail (panels, life-size replica horses and ore wagon, trail guide booklet), the only Ontario provincial park that offers tours to an old, historic (1903-1920) mine. He has developed trailhead signs for the park and coordinated the development of interpretive trail brochures for 2 nearby ‘sister’ provincial parks Tobi has a passion for interpretation. His love for nature and the history of Murphys Point Provincial Park has been shared with countless visitors. His enthusiasm is infectious. He’s a leader and trail blazer for interpretation within our Ontario Parks organization, a hard-working and creative innovator. His many and varied contributions range from at the park level, the regional level, up to the province-wide level. His interpretation vision, and his dedication to see that vision come to completion, are both admirable and inspiring.
Nature Day Camp Director & Lead Educator
Chippewa Nature Center
For the past 9 years Steve excelled in his previous role as Assistant Camp Director as well as Nature Preschool Teacher dedicating fifty hours each week to both causes; causes he truly, whole-heartedly believes touches the lives of all the children that are a part of each program. In his new position of Nature Day Camp Director he experienced an underlying challenge of hiring a brand new staff of 27 people. He exceeded expectations for his first year providing much support for staff, parents, campers and teen volunteers. Steve was the first person in the building and the last person to leave, often coming in on the weekends to ensure every detail was covered. He also coached a set of staff members called the Leadership Team which were all new to their own positions including the new Assistant Camp Director and three Program Coordinators. Through a fantastic interviewing process, Steve built himself a crew of leaders that not only helped the counselors and junior counselors through this challenging summer (described below) but supported them to thrive and provide some of the best programming that Nature Day Camp has seen.
Steve’s first summer as Nature Day Camp Director was filled with curve balls and challenges, those of which he met head-on with a smile. Midland, Michigan experienced its second largest flood in recorded history leaving Nature Day Camp without its usual building during the very first week of camp. Steve kept his staff motivated and feeling supported as they transitioned from their typical building to our Visitor Center on a Friday morning while campers arrived. Parents expressed their gratitude for the seamless transition as well as the staff’s eagerness to have a successful day of camp rather than cancelling. Despite these challenges, camp was at 96.6% capacity with 1,111 spots full of our 1,150 available. There were 195 children on wait lists for programs of all ages including preschool camps and adventure trips due to demand but lack of available spots. We also had overwhelming support from our 84 teen volunteers clocking 5,806 hours of service.
Sierra Pacific Region
Big Break Visitor Center at the Delta
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.
Humboldt State University
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.
State Park Interpreter III
California State Parks
California State Parks uses the acronym RAPPORT to review interpretive programs. Lisa Bradford used it to review Pat!
espectful – of others’ point of view. Pat’s communication style includes a great ability to “respect” and “connect” with others.
pproachable – always there to listen and ask questions before suggesting solutions– from program-related issues to personnel problems.
ersonable – A lot of fun, which is why everyone wants her to assist with activities and celebrations in Monterey District and beyond.
romoter 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!
rganized – 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!
esponsive – 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.
horough – When working on interpretive projects. No stone is left unturned. Her projects help visitors understand, appreciate, and connect to our natural or cultural resources.
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.
Tillamook Forest Center
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.
Chief Park Ranger
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
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.”
First State Heritage Park
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.
Long Branch Nature Center
Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation
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.
Visitor Services Manager
Hidden Oaks Nature Center
Fairfax County Park Authority
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.
Manager of Instruction & Interpretation
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 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.
Conservation Education Coordinator
Vermont State Parks
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.
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.”
Naturalist, Polk County Conservation
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.”