2016 Becker Award Winners

Is environmental education for the birds? Ask this year’s Becker Award honorees and you’ll hear a confident yes! It’s for the birds and the water, soil, forests, people…

The Dr. Richard W. Becker Award honors outstanding educators in New Mexico who are influencing students through environmental education and service learning. Our 2016 honorees are Steve Glass, CNM biology instructor and retired public works program manager, and Siobhan Niklasson, Education Programs Director at Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC).

Steve Glass

Of Steve Glass, Zoe Economou, says: “His exuberance is infectious. He has that rare ability to make everyone he meets join him in seeing the importance of the ecosystem in our everyday lives and how and why we can all join him in learning as much as we can about it…I’m truly amazed at the vast numbers of people he has touched and inspired in the short time I have known him.”

Zoe knows Steve from their work together on the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District. She was one of many who supported his nomination by Jennifer Moss, Ciudad’s District Coordinator.

Steve joined the Ciudad SWCD Board of Supervisors in January 2003. He holds an MS in Environmental Science from NMSU, and has worked with the District in the past on projects like backyard composting workshops and revegetation of a State Highway Department off-ramp at Juan Tabo and I-40.

As a retired municipal wastewater biosolids composting and stormwater management programs manager and the former local government representative on the NM Water Quality Control Commission (2003-2013), he is familiar with a wide range of natural resource and conservation issues. He is currently directly involved in the development and implementation of the Rio Grande-Albuquerque Watershed Restoration Action Strategy (WRAS) and represents Bernalillo County on the Water Protection Advisory Board.  Steve also represents Ciudad SWCD on the Mid Region Council of Governments Water Resources Board, as well as serving as District 1 Commissioner for the SWCC. Steve also teaches at Central New Mexico Community College in the areas of Microbiology and Environmental Sciences.

Even with all of those commitments, Steve finds the time to work with Talking Talons Youth Conservation Crews, Rocky Mountain Youth Crews, and to act as the Ciudad SWCD District Board liaison for the RiverXchange and Arroyo Classroom projects.

Steve also takes our Rolling River, “Watershed on Wheels” educational model, out annually to the Rio Rancho Children’s Water Festival, Freedom Fourth, Valle de Oro celebrations and local environmental fairs to reach children and adults alike. Steve is currently spearheading collaboration between the RiverXchange programs and BEMP to expand our educational impact from third grade all the way to high school and college.

Steve has also been instrumental in utilizing Master Naturalist volunteers to create a watershed education curriculum surrounding the Tijeras Creek Remediation Project with the goal of creating an outdoor classroom environment with activities and lesson plans geared towards fifth grade classes.

Steve is always the first to step up for any type of outreach or educational event or activity. His drive to get others involved and spread the word about watershed health and protection is inspiring. In every local environmental board, assembly or group, Steve Glass is known not only by name but by his reputation. He is a true advocate for environmental education.

Siobhan Niklasson

First grade teacher Sheri Davis described how Siobhan’s “activities have proved to be so worthwhile for my students. Taking children out into the forest really stirs their curiosity and the concepts seem so simple but the hands-on approach makes all the difference in how children internalize concepts. It is difficult as a teacher to have enough time to come up with hands-on experiences to address concepts. And in the primary [grades] science tends to be overlooked…Thank you so much for these lessons. I would love more. They are better than the science curriculum we have now by far.”

Katherine Watson, Executive Director of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center, included feedback from many teachers and students in her nomination of Siobhan.

“Her open-ended projects allowed for great creativity and ‘what-if’ questions, e.g., building the solar houses and playing with the solar cars.”

This is what teachers say about Siobhan Niklasson’s lessons for school kids—they love her ability to engage them in imaginative thinking about serious environmental issues. The students of Northern New Mexico are lucky to have Siobhan sharing her passion for the natural world.

She advances environmental literacy, excites her students about stewardship and protection of nature, and collaborates with other organizations in our area to bring environmental education to as many people as possible. Siobhan advances environmental literacy by developing and teaching classes for children from toddlers to high schoolers.

Her topics range from migratory birds and insects, to rocks and stars, as well as water and energy conservation. Her lessons are hands-on and engaging, involving students in the practice of science in the field.

Her youngest students collect and categorize critters in schoolyard pitfall traps, determining which are insects and which are not. Her AP Environmental Science students assess the water quality in the Valles Caldera by finding and identifying macro invertebrates and comparing the variety and number with those of a healthy waterway.

Teacher comments appreciating students’ increased environmental literacy include:

  • This program is fantastic in adding to our use of data collection, graphing, and connections to real life science. The material, the presenter, and the results are above and beyond expectations!
  • The kids were very enthusiastic and excited. By end of the lesson they were using the vocabulary needed to discuss not an insect vs. insects.
  • My 5th graders were using vocabulary in the conversations like “migrate,” “habitat,” “survive” and “shelter.”
  • I was impressed that they knew the difference between types of birds and could describe the different feathers.

Siobhan’s work cultivating stewardship is also exemplary. She has mentored environmental clubs at the elementary, middle, and high-school level, engaging students with age-appropriate stewardship knowledge. She is the lead educator for the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities energy and water conservation outreach. Siobhan has worked hard to make these conservation lessons inspiring instead of alarming, helping students to know that their actions really can make a difference. Furthermore, she knows the importance of repeated experiences to connect students with nature.

Teacher comments on these lessons include:

  • I heard conversations among the kids about things necessary to keep heat in the solar house, drawing on experiences with solar car kits in the past and using what they already know. Kids were talking about solar storage necessary for real solar cars.
  • I heard students saying they love this activity and they want to be a “bird bander.”

In addition, we all know that children need to love nature to grow into adults who want to protect it. In every field trip held at the nature center, Siobhan builds in time for unstructured nature play in our fort building/nature play area. Teachers and students often tell us that this is a highlight of the visit, with adults commenting on the teamwork, leadership, and cooperation they see their students display in the nature play area—while students just rave about how much fun it is to play with sticks!

Finally, Siobhan has created and strengthened numerous environmental education partnerships in Northern New Mexico. She partners with Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos History Museum, New Mexico Wildlife Center, Los Alamos Family YMCA, Valles Caldera National Preserve and Bandelier National Monument, as well as with Fenton Lake State Park and the Los Alamos Public Schools.

Her partnership with Bandelier is especially strong, with the Park Flight program as a focal point. Through this program students get to meet and work with ornithologists doing banding and data collection on migratory birds in the field. They get to hold and release wild birds—a high point of many students’ entire elementary school career. Siobhan has recently expanded this partnership, taking students on all-day field science trips to Bandelier.

Siobhan’s lessons have extensive reach in our community: she served 6,021 students in the 2015-16 school year and 81 out of 92 elementary classrooms. Lessons like Siobhan’s will stay with her students into adulthood; her passion will become their passion for saving the environment.

Why is Environmental Education Necessary?

On Friday, November 11, 2016 during the Environmental Literacy Summit, over 50 participants from around the Land of Enchantment answered the question “Why is environmental education necessary?” Here are their responses:


To help our population embrace our relationship to our biotic community.

We won’t protect what we don’t know about.

To save the planet and all its Earthlings.

You can’t appreciate what you don’t understand, knowledge inspires change.

EE helps grow a generation of people who are informed and can advocate for the environment. It keeps environmental issues all in hostile environments. Continue Reading →

EE Certification Candidates and Advisors Answer FAQs

ee-cert-qa-graphicEEANM hosted a live Q&A on Facebook October 17-21. Our advisors, candidates, and newly certified educators shared their thoughts about EE Certification. We’ve pulled the questions and their answers together in this blog post. If you’re considering an application or just want to learn more, we invite you to read their discussion. Continue Reading →

Kathryn Venzor Awarded for Outstanding Service to EE

Kathryn VenzorEEANM is very pleased to announce that Kathryn Venzor, Education Curator at the Albuquerque BioPark, is the winner of the 2016 Outstanding Service to EE!

Kathryn has served on EEANM’s Board of Directors since 2013 and stepped into the role of Board President in 2014. She has contributed a great deal to EE in New Mexico and there is no one more deserving of this honor. Continue Reading →

2016 Environmental Literacy Summit – 11/11/16

Making Environmental Education Relevant and Necessary in Today’s Education

Taking a look back over the history of Environmental Education (EE), join us on
Friday, November 11, 2016 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
for the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico’s annual meeting along with an opportunity to explore the following:

– Status of the Environmental Literacy Plan
– Environmental Education Certification
– Cultivating Diversity within Our Community
– Opportunities for Collaboration and Collective Impact
– How do we measure our impact?

Whether you are a classroom teacher, non-formal educator, or a community member interested in environmental education, please share your voice as we explore ways for the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico to better support you and our EE community!

When: Friday, November 11, 2016 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: Rio Grande Nature Center State Park Education Building (please don’t forget $3 for parking)
Who: Classroom teachers, non-formal educators, interested community members
Why: Because our voice is stronger and more powerful if we work together!

Call for Nominations for the Dr. Richard W. Becker Award for Excellence in EE

Award Overview and Criteria:

This award will recognize and honor annually an outstanding individual that has influenced students through the field of environmental education or service learning in New Mexico. The individual selected as the recipient of this award will have excelled in one or more of the following goals:

Advanced environmental literacy.
Advanced or engaged an audience in environmental stewardship, including service learning.
Engaged an audience through connections to the natural world leading to action in conservation or environmental stewardship.
Advanced environmental education or a program through collaboration.
Nominations are due October 31, 2016. The winner will be announced at our annual meeting during the Environmental Literacy Summit on November 11, 2016 at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park (http://eeanm.org/2016-environmental-literacy-summit-111116/).



Member Feature: Joe Garcia

Joe Garcia sees connections everywhere. Constantly observing nature and learning from even the youngest teachers, he is a font of wisdom in and out of the garden.

This month, our featured members are also the pilot candidates in our EE Certification Program. Applications are now open for our 2016-17 class of certified environmental educators. Read more and apply here.
Joe Garcia

Joe with the turkey call he received when he won the 2015 Becker Award.

Joe is all about the big picture. Since he began his teaching career in the 1990’s, he has been striving to teach his students about the holistic relationships between the Earth and all its inhabitants.

Joe came to the La Plazita Institute as student volunteer, and has been on the staff for 11 years. He works with students in “all different situations across the spectrum of learning,” from preschool to adults.

He is the Farm Education Director and oversees a cherished program called Garden Wisdom. He encourages his students to examine ancestral wisdom from all cultures in order to learn from the Earth and apply it to their lives. Continue Reading →

Member Feature: Tammy Maitland

For Tammy Maitland, classroom teaching didn’t quite fit. Something was missing. Her move into environmental education combined her passions in a satisfying career shift.

This month, our featured members are also the pilot candidates in our EE Certification Program. Applications are now open for our 2016-17 class of certified environmental educators. Read more and apply here.

Tammy-MaitlandTammy grew up playing near the ocean and in the woods of Massachusetts. A self-described “mountain person,” she was drawn to the allure of a teacher intern program in Santa Fe. When her career as a 4th grade classroom teacher left her wanting more, she decided to combine her interest in social causes, love of the outdoors, and teaching skills for a new pursuit in environmental education.

Tammy is passionate about getting students outdoors for first-hand experience. “This is the best way to appreciate the environment and to care for it,” she says. As a child, her family instilled those values in her. She is motivated to create those same outdoor opportunities for her audiences, knowing that not every child would get them otherwise. Continue Reading →

Member Feature: Rink Somerday

Rink fell in love with the outdoors as a child in Girl Scouts. As an adult, her work connects thousands of children to nature every year.

This month, our featured members are also the pilot candidates in our EE Certification Program. Applications are now open for our 2016-17 class of certified environmental educators. Read more and apply here.

Rink-SomerdayRink first discovered EE 20 years ago when her boss at the Colorado Division of Wildlife involved her with Project Wild.

She quickly found herself immersed in the field, working with Project Wet, Project Learning Tree, serving on the board for Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education and much more. Now, she works as the Program Coordinator for the Asombro Institute for Science Education, where she has been for 13 years.

In her current role, Rink has taught over 10,000 3rd graders in the Experience Science program. With that many participants, it’s hard to remember every student, but one student definitely remembered Rink! Continue Reading →