The Minnesota Association for Environmental Education Awards Program exists to recognize and encourage excellence in the field of environmental education.
Each November, an Awards Event is held to honor Minnesota's environmental education leaders and students with awards in the following four categories:
Formal Environmental Educator of the Year:
This award is presented for outstanding, ongoing efforts in infusing environmental education into school curriculum. Teachers from all subjects and grades are eligible.
Non-formal Environmental Educator of the Year:
This award is presented for exhibiting innovative and exemplary effort in providing environmental education opportunities for audiences outside the formal school system. Professional and volunteer educators who teach in non-school settings are eligible.
Early Childhood Environmental Educator Award sponsored by MNECO:
This award is presented for providing outstanding contributions to the advancement of early childhood environmental education in Minnesota. Both environmental educators and organizations are elgible for this award.
Student Environmental Stewardship Award:
This award is presented for exhibiting innovative and exemplary effort in the practice of environmental stewardship at the nominee’s school or community. Students in grade school through college level are eligible for this award.
Partner of the Year Award:
This award is presented to a partner organization that has make significant contributions in advancing environmental education efforts in Minnesota. Schools, government agencies, tribal communities, non-profits, and businesses are all eligible for this award.
Lifetime Achievement in Environmental Education:
This award is presented for long-term, outstanding service and contribution to the field of environmental education in Minnesota. It is intended to recognize the efforts of those people who have had a large-scale, long-term impact in the EE field.
2021 Environmental Education Award Winners:
Educator of the Year
Dave has been teaching at the Marshall School in Duluth for 25 years. During his tenure he developed a stream monitoring program on his campus and was able to expand his program, even during the pandemic, including take home kits and curriculum for his students to monitor their local waterways.
Dave developed a comprehensive monitoring protocol for the creek that runs through school property. Dave and his students have made data contributions to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen water monitoring project, St. Louis River Watch, Minnesota Department of Transportation, UMN Natural Resources Research Institute, and City of Duluth.
"Neither rain, nor wind, nor WINTER keeps Dave and his 6th grade students away from their monitoring efforts." - Marte Kitson, Minnesota Sea Grant.
Dave Johnson is a leader and in inspiration to other formal environmental educators around the state. MAEE is honored to present him with this award in 2021.” - John Million, MAEE.
ANDREA LOREK STRAUSS
Educator of the Year
Andrea is a leader in environmental education work in Minnesota. She works for the University of Minnesota Extension and is on the state leadership team for the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program where she manages the volunteer naturalist instructors who teach the courses each year. Her work with the MNat program allows her to have impacts on natural resources statewide. She provides leadership and guidance to volunteers, instructors and other EE colleagues.
“Amidst these challenging times, Andrea Lorek Strauss has gone above and beyond to help Minnesotans find a way to engage with nature and has been a leader in the environmental education field. This award helps honor her efforts for Minnesota.” – John Million, MAEE.
Early Childhood Environmental
sponsored by MN ECO
Jenn exemplifies excellence in nature based early childhood education. During her work at 10 Acre Wood Preschool, she gets the kids outside in all types of weather and lets the children guide their own learning through outdoor exploration. She has helped her program document their outdoor adventures through photographs to show families how their children are thriving outdoors.
"Jenn is a gift upon the early childhood education world and has truly found her calling working with young children outdoors." - Hannah Baune, 10 Acre Wood Preschool.
“Jenn shows incredible passion and innovation for early childhood environmental education. MAEE is in awe of this preschool teacher and appreciates the opportunity to recognize Jenn’s talents with this award.” - John Million, MAEE.
Lifetime Achievement in
Peter has been an educator at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning center for nearly 40 years. During his time at Wolf Ridge he inspired a love of nature for countless children and adults. He co-founded the MN Phenology Network and spent countless hours supporting other environmental focused organizations around the state, including Eagle’s Bluff and North Bay environmental learning centers. A conservative estimate of his impact shows that Peter shares his passion for the environment with more than 130,000 Minnesotans.
“There may be no other Naturalist in MN who has impacted as many people in high engagement field based learning experiences than Peter. " - Pete Smerud, Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.
“Thanks to Peter, many Minnesotans have discovered a sense of wonder with the natural world. Through this award, we hope to recognize Peter's many achievements for environmental education in Minnesota.” – John Million, MAEE.
TEACH OUTDOORS! MINNESOTA
Partner of the Year
Teach Outdoors! MN is a powerhouse group of educators from across the state who volunteer their time to provide resources and workshops to educators all over MN. As the pandemic put many outdoor educators’ work on hold, the Teach Outdoors crew utilized their knowledge and experience to facilitate weekly workshops for educators. They have also created a Mentorship Program and are building a library of resources for educators from all backgrounds who are interested in bringing the outdoors into their teaching practice.
"Teach Outdoors! Minnesota is an inspiration as well as a tremendous resource to environmental educators across the state. MAEE is honored to present the organization with this award in 2021.” - John Million, MAEE.
2020 Environmental Education Award Winners:
Educator of the Year
For over twenty years, Jean Schneeweis has inspired a love of nature in grade school students at Rockford Area Schools by creating meaningful learning experiences outdoors. Putting on their boots and coats, students head outdoors to a DNR school forest to explore. Jean and her students lovingly call this “Forest Fridays”. Together as a class, the first graders and Jean have taken ownership and stewardship of their forest.
First graders showed an excitement for learning, a greater appreciation for the natural world around them and a willingness to try new things. Through Jean’s instruction, students are able to make connections between ideas learned in the classroom and the world outside.
You might often hear comments from students on Forest Fridays like “Ethan is the best tree climber!” or “Sidney isn’t afraid of any of the bugs!”. Jean created wonderful opportunities to educate the “whole child.”
“Jean has spent many years re-imagining the school forest space, creating an outdoor classroom and trails. She has been using the space to connect students to nature as well as standards, which has created excitement among students, teachers, and parents about learning outdoors.” - Polly Trandahl, teacher at Rockford Area School.
Jean Schneeweis is a leader and in inspiration to other formal environmental educators around the state. MAEE is honored to present her with this award in 2020.” - Elissa Mallory, MAEE.
Educator of the Year
During her tenure at Saint John’s Outdoor University, Sarah Gainey has grown the environmental education program by almost double. Not only has Sarah worked to provide education to school-aged students, she has also mentored over a dozen Environmental Education Fellows in addition to numerous college students and education volunteers.
Due to the recent pandemic, Sarah had to transition last spring from in-person field trips to creating curriculum that students could complete from their homes. Sarah mentored student naturalists to be flexible while adapting to this new type of programming. She provided leadership and mentorship in the brainstorming, creation, and execution of at-home summer camp. Currently, Sarah is leading the implementation of “Nature Near Me,” a program aimed to support schools by providing environmental education resources that create opportunities for students to engage with nature.
“Sarah’s hard work made environmental education accessible not only during the time of COVID but also for under-served populations for whom accessibility to nature is more limited.” - Carolyn Rowley, Saint John’s Outdoor University.
Sarah has previously served on the board of MAEE, Minnesota Naturalists’ Association, and North American Association for Environmental Education. She also coordinates a science teacher’s network that offers networking events with professional development for teachers.
“Amidst these challenging times, Sarah Gainey has gone above and beyond to help Minnesotans find a way to engage with nature and has been a leader in the environmental education field. This award helps honor her efforts for Minnesota.” – Elissa Mallory, President of MAEE.
Michael Lundquist is being recognized for his innovative and exemplary effort in the practice of environmental stewardship at East Ridge High School and the greater farming community.
How can farmers not only save our ozone layer but create an entirely new revenue stream for their farms in the process? This local student may have found the answer. As part of his Engineering Design & Development capstone course project, Michael Lundquist worked with his classmate, Alec, to figure out a way to capture the methane gas released from cows, convert the gas into liquid form, and create a product ready that is ready for the open market.
His teacher, Dennis Ware, said “Michael is far more ambitious than a small school project. He wants to show farmers how to create an entirely new revenue stream for their farms and protect and save our ozone layer in one process.”
After consulting with farmers, State of Minnesota experts and professors from the University of Texas, it was clear that this idea was not only good in theory, but could be implemented in the real world. As this innovative idea is highly marketable, Michael and Alex are currently pursuing a provisional patent from U.S. Government and expect to pursue to the idea further.
“Michael shows incredible passion, innovation, and strong stewardship for the environment. MAEE is in awe of this young environmental steward and appreciates the opportunity to recognize Michael’s talents with this award.” - Elissa Mallory, President of MAEE.
LARRY A. WEBER
Lifetime Achievement in
As a dedicated science teacher for over 40 years, Larry ignited passion, curiosity and wonder in the thousands of students that were fortune enough to wind up in his classroom. He used phenology, the study of seasonal phenomena in nature, to connect students to their natural world around them. Larry used phenology to connect with not-so-young learners as well, using a weekly radio program, multiple published books, and regular columns in several newspapers to solicit his same excitement and fascination for the natural world.
“Simply put, Larry Weber is an institution in Minnesota environmental education. His educational reach and impact over the last 50 years is truly astounding.” - Bryan Wood, Osprey Environmental Learning Center.
Over the course of his career, Larry earned awards including the Minnesota Secondary Science Teacher of the Year and the National Biology Teacher Association's Middle School Life Science Teacher of the Year. He has shared his knowledge and passion for phenology as a featured instructor at the University of Minnesota, Hamline University, Osprey Wilds Environmental Learning Center, Minnesota Master Naturalist Program, and several MAEE conference workshops. Larry has helped naturalists across the state hone their skills, expand their knowledge, and gain confidence to share what they’ve learned with others.
“Thanks to Larry, many Minnesotans have discovered everyday wonders in their own backyard, realizing that nature is not a place you visit but something you are part of. Through this award, we hope to recognize Larry's many achievements for environmental education in Minnesota.” – Elissa Mallory, President of MAEE.