Each year individuals and organizations from across Minnesota are recognized and honored for their hard work and dedication in the field of environmental education at an Awards Event. Awards honor and celebrate environmental educators and teachers, the lifetime accomplishments of an individual in the field of environmental education, young environmental leaders and an outstanding partner organization.
h2023 Excellence in Environmental Education Awards
Each year the Minnesota Association for Environmental Education (MAEE) recognizes and honors individuals and organizations from around the state of Minnesota for their innovation and dedication to moving the field of environmental education forward. We embrace and hope to celebrate the many related educational efforts that contribute to environmental and outdoor learning. Nominations are reviewed and selected by MAEE’s Award Selection Committee and approved by MAEE's Board of Directors.
MAEE is proud to recognize Minnesota's environmental education leaders and students with awards in the following five 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.
NOMINATE Excellent Environmental Education in Minnesota
MAEE's awards recognize excellent environmental education and the many related education efforts that contribute to environmental and outdoor learning in the categories listed above. 2023 Nominations are DUE BY OCTOBER 1, 2023.
Help MAEE recognize outstanding environmental education in Minnesota by nominating your favorite teacher, educator, or student! For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2022 Environmental Education Award Winners:
Hadley is a 4th grader at Eagle View Elementary School in Pequot Lakes. Her deep love of the outdoors breaks through into her enthusiasm for outdoor learning at school and her passion for nature. Hadley participates in E-STEM classes each week and truly soaks up all information about biology and nature. Hadley has been known to bring pieces of nature home to show her family, and has also brought in pieces of nature to bring to school. Most recently, she discovered an enormous mushroom on a tree during a walk with her dad that she brought in to show her fellow fourth graders.
“Hadley is a great role model for other students. She takes great care of the earth and is learning how to teach other students how to take care of nature as well.” – Deanne Trottier, teacher at Eagle View Elementary School.
DODGE NATURE PRESCHOOL TEAM
Early Childhood Environmental Educator of the Year
Dodge Nature Preschool teachers are true innovators in the field of nature-based early childhood education, serving around 300 children each year. During the pandemic, they created outdoor classrooms that would support children's developmental needs while also furthering their connection and relationship to the natural world. Dodge Nature Preschool teachers inspired other educators to use an emergent, nature-based curriculum inspired by the changes of the season through our Learning Conference and Preschool Academy training for Catholic school early educators this past April. They understand children's different needs and plan for ways all children can participate in our outdoor program.
Formal Environmental Educator of the Year
Michelle Martin has been an environmental education leader and innovator in our school for twenty years, the duration of Prairie Creek Community School’s public charter school existence. Michelle is the very embodiment of the school’s mission to “nurture a close connection with nature and promote environmental stewardship.”
During the course of her career she has led curricular initiatives and professional development for faculty. Michelle was at the forefront of developing the “Wild Wednesday” program at the school. She worked with volunteers and donors to design outdoor learning spaces for the school. Throughout her career, Michelle has sought opportunities to bring students into the outdoors and to connect children with experts and naturalists.
Nonformal Environmental Educator of the Year
Rebecca Meyer’s career as a 4-H Youth Development Extension Educator has focused on the development of programs and curricula that elevate youth as environmental change agents. Her efforts promoted authentic, community-based, youth-adult partnerships through direct work with young people, as well as trainings for staff, students, volunteers, and program partners. Rebecca’s expertise on the intersections of environmental education and positive youth development have had a broad impact within the University of Minnesota Extension, the 4-H Youth Development program, and environmental education organizations throughout Minnesota.
WOLF RIDGE ENVIRONMENTAL LEARNING CENTER
MAEE Partner of the Year
Wolf Ridge ELC is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in environmental education and is the largest accredited residential environmental center in the nation. Wolf Ridge was a key partner in the successful coordination of the 2022 MAEE Conference. Their staff not only participated on the planning committee, but led engaging sessions at the conference, offered unique outdoor experiences, helped secure donations from local businesses, and provided discount rates that made the conference affordable at all levels. They continue to be a strong supporter of environmental educators across the state.
Lifetime Achievement in Environmental Education
Joe Deden is Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center's Founder and was Executive Director for 40 years. He retired from the Executive Director position in 2018 but stayed on the last five years to help out as a land manager/caretaker. Joe is completely retiring from environmental education in May 2023. Joe's vision and dream for Eagle Bluff has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Eagle Bluff ELC's residential program alone has had over 215,000 participants come through during its 25 year history. Joe's dedication to environmental education, sustainability, and conservation is exemplary and should be celebrated.
"Joe Deden has played an integral part in supporting the development of environmental learning centers across the state through his advice, example and support. His contributions to environmental education in Minnesota will be long lasting." - John Million, MAEE Executive Director.
Past Award Winners
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.