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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

Environmental education as a policy tool

Julia McGuire
Julia McGuire

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Looking out over the acres of peat bogs and woods at Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Milford, Maine, University of Maine senior Julia McGuire sees lessons in environmental education just waiting to be written for schoolchildren.

The ecology and environmental sciences honors student is developing a winter ecology curriculum for Sunkhaze as her honors thesis. She is studying whether environmental education, namely the community's knowledge about and use of the refuge, can affect policy. Her goal is to offer educational lessons that can be incorporated into classrooms, "developing outreach and support in the community from the bottom up."

McGuire has spent the past year conducting research about the status of national wildlife refuge educational outreach efforts in Maine, and studying Spanish and tropical ecology in Costa Rica. She was recently named one of 81 Morris K. Udall Foundation Scholars for her outstanding potential and commitment to pursuing a career related to the environment.

McGuire traces her interest in environmental education to a nature camp she attended as a youngster near her home in Augusta, Maine. When she was too old to participate as a camper, McGuire volunteered and later worked to help with the nature-oriented lessons.

At UMaine, McGuire discovered that a degree in ecology and environmental sciences, coupled with a Spanish minor and honors coursework, gave her a breadth of academic experience that informs her research in environmental education. In addition, she has taken advantage of other learning opportunities at the university.

Last year as a Margaret Chase Smith Public Affairs Scholar, McGuire surveyed Maine's national wildlife refuges to better understand the status of their educational programming. Of the eight areas she contacted, McGuire found limited or no resources available to devote to environmental education.

"Environmental education raises more awareness, helping to create a bond between the refuge and surrounding communities," says McGuire. "National refuges are wonderful resources that need to be tapped."

In Heredia, Costa Rica last semester, McGuire studied tropical ecology and Spanish. In particular, she learned about environmental education programs that involve teacher training and classroom curricula. "The environmental education made applicable to students' lives was an inspiration for me," she says. "It would be a great experience to work in Latin America."

Study Abroad was an important part of her college experience. "I'm interested in a world perspective, a global base of knowledge," McGuire says. "We live in a really big world, but everything is so interconnected. Policies in the United States can affect others in the world. It's important to understand their perspectives."

This past summer, McGuire had an internship with Planning Decisions in Hallowell, Maine, helping create a database of information on property ownership in the state's unorganized townships. The data, including private/public ownership and seasonal/year-round status, will help state land use planners better understand shifts in property ownership in those areas in the past decade.

"It's interesting to see what's going on in our state," she says, especially in light of recent proposals to develop some of Maine's North woods.

McGuire is headed to graduate school to study environmental policy and management. "I'm interested in environmental education and its use as a policy tool," she says.


UMaine Today Magazine
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