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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

4 questions with Andrea Lorek Strauss

When it comes to addressing controversial issues in Extension teaching, you’ve recommended to “teach the questions.” What does that mean? 

Andrea Lorek Strauss,
Extension Educator, Fish, Wildlife & Conservation Education,
Rochester Regional Office
“Teaching the questions” means helping audience members to think about an issue at a bigger picture level. I view Extension as playing a critical role helping our citizenry understand the larger societal and scientific questions that a controversy raises. We are in a unique position not only to share factual information about a situation, but also to help people recognize when larger questions are at play, such as “What is nature for?” “Who gets to make decisions?” “What is the appropriate role for government?”

The conflict of the moment may be about a current situation or problem, but differences of opinion are often rooted in differing value systems, differing world views. When we disagree about buffer strips, we’re really disagreeing about larger questions like “Who makes decisions about land use?” “Who should pay the price for clean water?” “What value do we place on democratic processes?” and so many more. Thinking about the issue through the lens of these larger questions helps to uncover the roots of the issue, the sources of our disagreement.

Understanding these larger contexts helps us understand ourselves and each other better. It helps us talk about what really matters and what’s at stake with any given issue. And when citizens understand an issue more clearly, they can engage more effectively with each other and the public processes that affect us all.

What programs are you part of and who are the major audiences? 

About half of my time is dedicated to working on the Minnesota Master Naturalist program; I specialize in training and supporting our corps of 200 instructors, writing the curriculum and other special projects such as the annual conference. We are excited about our new model of volunteer engagement, which is helping us understand and support our participants through all phases of their involvement.

Invasive Blitz workshop in Duluth.
This workshop was covered by local media. See the story.

The other half of my time focuses on a program called “Driven to Discover,” which trains volunteer adults to help youth get involved with citizen science and to use that experience to conduct real science research projects. By monitoring birds, monarch butterflies, phenology, dragonflies or pollinators, young people can’t help but to become curious about what they see. This program capitalizes on that interest and channels it into investigations.

So, I work with volunteers, naturalists, educators, youth group leaders, citizen scientists and anyone else interested in natural resource conservation!

What do you see as the major challenges facing citizen science? 

Sometimes also called “Public Participation in Scientific Research,” citizen science entails getting the general public involved in following specific protocols to gather, report and analyze scientific data. Research scientists at universities or public agencies can’t address large-scale ecological questions on their own, so calling on the public produces valuable conservation information while at the same time helping participants build a connection to nature, engage with their communities and build their scientific literacy.

The field of citizen science is fairly new to the world of science, and there are a few skeptics reluctant to trust data collected by “untrained” members of the public. But acceptance is growing, if slowly. Another challenge is helping prospective volunteers, including youth, to see their power to make a difference in the world, to see that it really is possible for them to do work that matters. And once these volunteers are engaged, supporting them over time with feedback and new opportunities can also be a challenge.

How did your interest in conservation education start?

Like many, I grew up playing outdoors. My siblings and I loved family camping trips around east central Wisconsin where I grew up. My mom wasn’t the roughing it type, so she and my dad – a definite woodsman – compromised with a pop-up camper. I have great memories of camping: cool nights in the camper, playing in the woods, paddling with my dad, hanging around the campfire, swimming in fast-moving rivers, and attending naturalist talks everywhere we went. I also spent summers attending scout camp, eventually earning opportunities to go on wilderness canoe trips. In this setting I really found my own footing in the outdoors and learned to love wild places. I had poor experiences in high school science classes, so in college I studied the things that came easily to me – communication, English, secondary education. I was all set to be a high school English and speech teacher. But after college I knew I needed to be outdoors and took a big leap of faith by accepting a seasonal outdoor education job in Massachusetts. I had the teaching experience, everyone else there had been biology majors, and together we figured out how to teach kids about food webs and the like. A year-long training program at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in northern Minnesota cemented my confidence that I was headed in the right direction.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Minnesota Master Naturalist sponsors National Public Lands Day Sites across Minnesota

On September 26, 2015, The Minneosta Master Naturalist Program made a concentrated effort to get as many volunteers out as possible to provide conservation service on MN public lands.  Staff worked with 13 sites across the state to host 319 volunteers who provided 1,677 hours of volunteer service for a value of $41,639.91.  What an incredible impact!
Projects included, budcapping at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids and at Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center, Duluth.  Volunteers staple small pieces of paper over the small tasty tops of the newly planted white and red pines to protect them from hungry deer over the winter.  Over 26,000 trees were fitted with their bud caps!
The Rochester area had volunteers doing native seed collection and invasive species removal.   It was a great day of service for the state of Minnesota.  For more information about the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program and upcoming classes check our web page at Other activities, included work at a Monarch Weigh Station in St. Paul, creating pollinator gardens in Brainerd, and TONS of buckthorn removal at the Lac qui Parle Mission in Watson.  The Rochester area 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Monarch Citizen Science Project on PBS show SciGirls

The third season of the hit PBS show SciGirls is focusing entirely on citizen science. The show, which encourages girls to become involved in science and engineering, will begin airing its latest season this month. One entire episode will depict girls participating in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, which is led by Extension faculty, Karen Oberhauser. You can view a preview of the season here, and check your local listings to find out when the show airs on your local PBS station.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Minnesota Master Naturalist is EXCITED to welcome Sam Ham to Minnesota for an environmental interpretation presentation

The Minnesota Master Naturalist program will welcome Dr. Sam Ham to Minnesota for a environmental interpretation presentations on July 21-22, 2015 in Mankato MN.

In two-hour keynote address on July 21, Dr. Ham will draw on recent advances in communication research to pose some questions about the "endgame" of interpretation--when is interpretation "successful?", what does professional "excellence" in interpretation look like?, and how would you recognize it? Interpreters who want their work to make a difference have a great advantage when they can envision the pathways through which making their difference can plausibly happen. And seeing these pathways is far easier when you have a clear sense of interpretation's endgame.

In a July 22 workshop, open only to Master Naturalist Instructors, Dr. Ham will lead participants through a series of practical exercises that they can use to train others in thematic interpretation. These exercises will emphasize how to think thematically, how to distinguish between strong and weak themes, and how to craft strong themes that will provoke an audience to think. Ham will also introduce the "zone of tolerance" idea and explain why it is needed to know how "successful" a thematic interpretive product is.

Dr. Sam Ham is Professor Emeritus of communication psychology and international conservation in the University of Idaho's Department of Conservation Social Sciences. Sam's research has focused on the role of interpretation in parks, protected areas and sustainable tourism destinations and in applying communication theory to heritage and nature-based tour guiding, travelers' philanthropy, and other free-choice learning settings.

Master Naturalist instructors can attend these events for FREE (all expenses covered by Bertha Lewis Trust Fund)

All others are invited to the evening Keynote program for a plated dinner and evening with Sam Ham! Students $20, General registration $40.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Citizen Science in Action: Driven to Discover Project Featured on PBS News

The NSF-Funded Driven to Discover: Enabling Authentic Inquiry Through Citizen Science project was featured this week in a story about the SciGirls television show. The PBS NewsHour show briefly highlighted how citizen science is helping to involve young women to explore and observe their natural surroundings, learn and participate in scientific data collection, and even answer their own scientific questions.

You can learn more about the Driven to Discover project on the University of Minnesota Extension Citizen Science website. You can also watch a short video about the project.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Master Naturalists Participate in National Public Lands Day in Minnesota

National Public Lands Day was first held in 1994 with three federal agencies and 700 volunteers. The event is now hosted by the National Environmental Education Foundation, each year on the last Saturday in September. Nationally in 2014 over 2000 individual sites were registered to participate. Minnesota, Master Naturalist co-sponsored 10 sites across the state. Each site had a different activity to be accomplished.

At Itasca State Park, volunteers bud capped approximately 23 acres of red, white, and jack pine seedlings near the north entrance to the park and around the Mary Gibbs Headwaters Center. Participating in the crew were, 68 people, including 2 DNR staff, 4 Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteers, 49 students at the University of Minnesota Crookston, and 13 members of the UMC faculty, staff, or their affiliates.

Picture: Bud capping crew at Itasca State Park
bud capping.jpg

In Rochester, Master Naturalist hosted two locations. Volunteers at Indian Heights Park worked on buckthorn removal. Volunteers at Chester Woods County Park hosted a crew who hand collected prairie seed.

Metro sites included Crow Hassan Park, where volunteers hand collected prairie seeds; and Carver Park, where volunteers removed woods invasives, mostly bittersweet and buckthorn. Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge site volunteers removed invasives and worked on site prep for a pollinator planting. Afton State Park had a crew working native seed collection and buckthorn removal. William Berry Woods hosted a buckthorn bust.

Picture: Volunteers learn about bullsnakes from Naturalist John Moriarity
Pic 1.jpg

Master Naturalist volunteers at Lake Vermillion State Park/Soudan Underground Mine State Park worked on a timber stand improvement project. This included GPS locating trees and bud capping seedlings for winter protection.

Northland Arboretum volunteers worked on removing Japanese Knotweed and cleaning up the memorial garden and Scout garden areas.

National Public Lands Day was coordinated and sponsored by the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program that provided lunch and a t-shirt to all participants. The University of Minnesota provided transportation for the students and faculty from Crookston. There were 10 sites across Minnesota that participated in the event and hosted 186 volunteers who recorded 781 hours of volunteer service valued at $18,986.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Oberhauser Discusses Monarch Citizen Science on KARE 11

Thumbnail image for EXT_PHOTO_OBERH001.jpgFish, Wildlife and Conservation Education Specialist, Dr. Karen Oberhauser was featured in an KARE 11 story about the role of Minnesota Citizen Science in understanding the migration of Monarch butterflies. The story highlighted the new Butterfly House at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and associated Omnitheater film, Flight of the Butterflies. Oberhauser was an advisor on the film. She noted that the movie "not only captures the biology, but also this incredible human story," illustrated by one of the citizen scientists who tagged Monarchs for a research study at University of Minnesota. "This tag, a tag that was put on by Minnesota students and a Minnesota teacher, was the first one that Fred Erkhadt found in the over wintering sites when he went there. So it's a great connection with Minnesota," Oberhauser explained on KARE 11.

Visit the University of Minnesota Extension Citizen Science website to learn about ways to get involved in citizen science.

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