Nuclear science brought Deb Thrall into the world of environmental education, but it was attending a first grade ballet folklorico performance that assured her she had chosen the right path.
Deb grew up on a farm in the Oklahoma panhandle, and there she fell in love with the natural world. As a child, she walked the fields with her father. Her mother raised birds and other animals. Together, the family grew and raised their own food while nurturing the land around them. It was in these early years that Deb learned to look at the environment holistically and to see its many interwoven connections.
After moving to New Mexico and teaching high school science for several years, Deb attended UNM to pursue her doctorate in environmental education, with a focus on nuclear education. For Deb, this opportunity allowed her to use education to tie NM’s environment and culture to nuclear waste management.
This pursuit connected her to various organizations, and as a self-described “board junkie,” Deb soon found herself guiding the development of NM’s Project Learning Tree and EEANM. Deb later served on the boards of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), NMSTA and Explora, often simultaneously.
For Deb, “the beauty of EE is that it incorporates who you are.” She encourages all educators to “follow your passion in life. That’s when it all comes together. You don’t have to dig weeds to be involved in the environment.” No matter what educators do for the earth, “it’s all tied together.”
Today, Deb also serves as the Executive Director for the Albert I. Pierce Foundation, which funds the arts, education and the environment. In her first year with the Foundation, a first grade classroom in Las Cruces received funding for ballet folklorico. This grant provided material for dresses and vests, travel costs, a sound system and the opportunity for parents to attend their children’s performance.
After Deb watched their performance, a young dancer asked her, “are you an angel?” Although Deb jokes that it was probably her white hair that gave the child the idea, it was the moment at which she knew how powerfully important her efforts were to communities across the state.
Deb still joins grantees to witness their accomplishments. Also an avid golfer, gardener and volunteer, her holistic approach to life has certainly made an impact on the world.
Deb was also the 2007 recipient for the Outstanding Service to Environmental Education Award.
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