Dena Harshbarger, a professor of teacher education at UNK, was recently recognized by the Nebraska Forest Service with an Excellence in Conservation and Environmental Education award. She received the 2023 Outstanding Veteran Facilitator Award for her involvement with the Project Learning Tree (PLT) and Project WET environmental education programs.
“Dena is a joy to work with. Her enthusiasm for environmental education and the PLT curriculum shines through in her work,” said Matt Jones, an educator with the Hastings Museum and Project Learning Tree and Project WET facilitator. “She is great at providing future classroom teachers with the confidence and support they need to get out of their comfort zones and grow as professionals. We are fortunate to have someone like Dr. Harshbarger in central Nebraska to guide and influence the next generation of educators.”
Project Learning Tree uses trees as “windows to the world” to increase understanding of our complex environment. Project WET advances water education to understand global challenges and inspire local solutions. In Nebraska, both programs are coordinated by the Nebraska Forest Service but are supported by a wide network of over 50 partner organizations that curate professional development experiences, youth festivals and other resources to increase and elevate environmental literacy across the tree-planters state.
The Outstanding Veteran Facilitator Award recognizes an active facilitator who has demonstrated fidelity to leading PLT/WET professional development events for over three years and supporting their implementation in Nebraska. This individual’s commitment to the program goes above the minimum requirements and encourages others to “get involved,” benefiting local educators, their community and the Nebraska network from their years of contributions.
“Dena was a pivotal catalyst helping us to re-engage Nebraska’s colleges and universities in providing environmental education training to the next generation of classroom teachers,” said Jack Hilgert, conservation education coordinator with the Nebraska Forest Service and state coordinator for Project Learning Tree and Project WET. “Dr. Harshbarger was the first professor to dive in and say ‘yes’ enthusiastically to partnering with our program. As a result of her enthusiasm for environmental education, we have been able to train her science methods class each semester, reaching over 150 future teachers over the past several years. Numerous studies show that incorporating environmental education training into the coursework of future classroom teachers increases their comfort and skill at incorporating outdoor learning into their future work with youth.”
Thanks to this initial partnership with Harshbarger, the Nebraska Forest Service has expanded this model to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Hastings College, Creighton University and Concordia University.
“The Nebraska Forest Service could not reach its conservation education goals without the vast network of partners who work together to meet the diverse needs of Nebraska’s schools, educators and youth while connecting them to the natural world,” said John Erixson, state forester for the Nebraska Forest Service.
Learn more about Project Learning Tree and Project WET here.