Published on 01/31/17

UGA works to help educators connect students with the natural world through new environmental education certificate

By Merritt Melancon

From teaching neighborhood children about wildlife at local parks to helping campers identify tracks at a mountainside summer camp, more and more of today’s educators are using the natural world to inspire their students.

To prepare future educators for the growing field of environmental education, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources are launching an environmental education certificate program this fall.

The deadline for applications for the fall 2017 certificate program is March 1.

The certificate, which can be added to any UGA degree, will require a total of 18 credits. Students enrolled in the certificate program will gain new environmental and life sciences content knowledge, develop communication skills, engage in innovative evaluation strategies and practice teaching in the community.

CAES Associate Professor Nick Fuhrman and Warnell Senior Public Service Associate Kris Irwin developed the interdisciplinary certificate’s plan of study with the help of students in Irwin’s “Foundations of Environmental Education” service-learning class.

Irwin’s students surveyed the UGA student body to determine the level of support for the new certificate program and what the program needs to include to be successful. They found that 90 percent of the UGA students surveyed campuswide supported the new certificate program.

The UGA University Council approved the interdisciplinary undergraduate Certificate in Environmental Education on Sept. 21, 2016.

As classroom teachers include more outdoor lessons and as students and parents search for new educational experiences to enhance what their students are learning in school, the demand for environmental education certification has been growing at UGA, Irwin said.

“This certificate is going to give them (students) additional tools and the confidence they need to start their careers,” Irwin said. “They know they’ll have a lot to learn still, but they will have a solid foundation.”

Through the new environmental education certificate, students will be prepared to pursue jobs at summer camps, 4-H centers, nature centers, museums, science centers, aquariums, zoos, state and federal natural resource agencies, and municipal and county parks and recreation departments.

The certificate program will help students develop science and communication skills that will enhance their teaching abilities and their ability to communicate about the natural world.

“This certificate is also going to boost the skills of students not necessarily pursuing a career in a zoo or aquarium, but those who are interested in classroom teaching as an agricultural education or environmental science teacher,” Fuhrman said. “When I think of a classroom teacher who has the science content knowledge and the teaching skills to engage students in place-based, outdoor educational experiences like those in school gardens, for example, I envision a superstar educator.”

The requirements for the program are aligned with the professional development standards established by the North American Association for Environmental Education and the Advanced Training for Environmental Education in Georgia certification.

Students must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5 or greater to apply. The deadline for applications for the fall 2017 cohort is March 1. Those with questions should visit or contact Irwin at or Fuhrman at

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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