By Local Tech Wire STEM News

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Educational treasures throughout the state are just waiting to be explored by curious North Carolinians. One area of increased interest involves the environment.

Found in 66 counties, (EE Centers) are open to the public throughout the year.

Defined by the as “facilities that provide quality environmental education for the public,” these centers include private museums like the Museum of Life and Science in Durham; large state run facilities such as the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences; to more community-based facilities like the Reedy Creek Nature Center in Charlotte.

There are more than 190 centers across the state.

Local Tech Wire recently talked with Marty Wiggins, community outreach consultant with the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, to find out more about these centers.

What designates an Environmental Education Center?
We have a broad definition. It’s our role to identify and partner with facilities. Part of the original 1993 legislation that set up our office directs us to encourage the establishment of environmental education centers in the state and promote and support existing facilities that provide environmental education. Since that time we’ve sought out places that already do environmental education and try to help them do an even better job. A “North Carolina Environmental Education Center” does have to be a physical place – a facility like a nature museum or science museums. We also look for places like parks and educational state forests that don’t necessarily have a classroom building but do have exhibits and provide public outreach to inform people about the environment.

There’s a wide range of facilities?
There are EE Centers for just about any interest area; from geology to energy to wildlife and more. We have a few that are one-or two-person operations. Some museums may have 50 or 60 staff members doing education, but others may be a ranger doing it part-time at a city park. The one quality we look for is that they want to provide quality environmental education. We help people out in the field by providing professional development to the staff, and helping them find volunteers, grants and other funding opportunities. We also help employers and potential employees at EE Centers connect through our jobs listing and email listserv.

Where do you see STEM fitting in the mix?
I think sometimes there’s the misinterpretation that environmental education is an extra subject or an add-on, and really it’s an integrated way to look at the world around you. It’s a discipline and a methodology. Environmental education principles can be used across the curriculum. It goes beyond nature education – Where does your water come from? What’s your air quality? How do the daily choices you make impact the environment?

How can someone find out where the centers are located?
One way is to visit the office website. There’s an online listing of Environmental Education Centers there. You can search by zip code or city so you can find the ones closest to you. People who are travelling for the holiday may be surprised at what’s around them. We also have an online calendar where the centers place all their events and workshops for the public. People can always call the office as well.

Closing thoughts?
I hope people explore their local facilities. They are definitely community assets. They’re places where the community can learn more about where they live. Some of them are truly hidden gems so we hope folks will explore more and find out what opportunities are out there.

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