OLYMPIA – Thurston County Public Works educator, Colleen Uuereb, has received the Outstanding Nonformal Environmental Educator Award for 2009 from the Environmental Education Association of Washington (EEAW). Uuereb was recognized for providing outstanding environmental education in schools and throughout the community, and for her extensive volunteer and research activities.
"Colleen exemplifies the kind of educator who excels in reaching people of all ages in our communities and helps them to understand their relationship to the environment and the environment's role to a healthy economy,” said Steve Robinson, president-elect of EEAW.
Abby Ruskey, EEAW executive director, added, “She also goes beyond the educator role and supports the profession with her volunteer activity and research. We are honored to recognize Colleen this year."
Uuereb has been a nonformal environmental educator within the Puget Sound region for almost eight years and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science and Geography, as well as a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. She started working for Thurston County as an environmental education and outreach specialist within the Solid Waste program in 2007. After a year in the position, she increased the number of classroom presentations per year from 32 to 110, a 244 percent increase. During the 2008-2009 school year, she reached almost 3,000 students through her solid waste-related presentations.
“Frequently the teacher has called for one type of lesson (such as recycling), but then realized I also offer presentations on worms and worm bins, household hazardous waste, litter, and a lesson where students debate the pros and cons of banning plastic bags from their town,” Uuereb said. “Often, I visit the same teachers throughout the school year for severalpresentations and get referred to other teachers within the same school.”
Uuereb explained one of the reasons for her success: “I believe the key is to have buy-in from the organization to allocate time and money toward environmental education in schools, as well as creating a marketing strategy to advertise the presentations. Schools often do not know what free resources are available to them, and it is up to the agencies to promote themselves.”
She further clarified why nonformal educators are important within Thurston County: “Issues revolving around solid waste are not necessarily focused on getting children and adults outside, but instead involve their everyday life choices. Solid waste decisions (recycling, buying less, reusing, composting, environmentally-preferred purchasing, voluntary simplicity, etc.) occur all the time in the day-to-day living of citizens, and it’s up to educators to provide necessary information so that children and adults can make as informed a decision as possible.”
In addition to giving classroom presentations, Uuereb also coordinates the Master Recycler program made up of trained volunteers eager to spread their recycling knowledge. She also serves as a steering team member on the statewide web-based Washington Green Schools program.
A list of free environmental education programs offered by Thurston County Solid Waste is available through www.ThurstonSolidWaste.org