Environmental Studies Major Heads West to Yellowstone

Jess Greenburg ’21 took her research on the road to mountainous and snowy Wyoming over two weeks in March, when she visited two of the country’s great national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone, and co-led a workshop for ecosystem educators.

The 40 educators from the greater Yellowstone area—Wyoming, Idaho and Montana—were there to learn how to effectively structure their environmental education programming, better advocate for the environment and get others interested in environmental stewardship.

“At our workshop, we had everyone from national forest rangers and national parks administrators to private wildlife guides and K-12 educators,” Greenburg said. “We don’t just experience the environment in one way. We can learn from being outdoors, from recreating and from classrooms.”

“I think that by creating a space where different types of educators can collaborate, the experience for those living in or visiting the greater Yellowstone ecosystem will be more integrative and cohesive,” she said.

Greenburg is an intern with the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative (NRCC), where Rich Wallace, a professor of environmental studies and Greenburg’s advisor and mentor, is educator-in-residence. NRCC helps develop conservation ideas and, boasting a team of 45 researchers, serves as a launching pad for innovative start-up projects. The organization’s work is focused on species and ecosystems and the human institutions that have been developed to manage shared resources.

As part of her task for her internship, Greenburg helped lead a workshop for educators in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem about how they can more effectively structure their environmental education programming to achieve certain goals like advocating for the environment and getting people interested in environmental stewardship and keeping our ecosystems healthy.

The second-year Ursinus student, who helped design the structure and goals of the workshop, said working on this project helped build her confidence in her abilities as an environmentalist and an academic.

During her trip out west, Greenburg also attended a wildlife symposium, met with local environmentalists, and of course, made some time to take in the unique landscapes—and wildlife—found in the northwestern part of the country.

A highlight, she said, was seeing wolf packs and experiencing bison come up beside her car. “Just immersing myself in that ecosystem was so incredible,” she said.

“On this trip I had the opportunity to learn how to analyze the social, environmental, political and economic challenges that the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is facing. It’s incredible to be able to learn about these complex issues while being in the ecosystem itself and speaking with professionals who are dealing with these issues daily.”

“Yellowstone is known for being one of the most intact ecosystems that we have,” she explained. “It is a fantastic place to see some geologic features and animals that can be difficult or even impossible to see anywhere else in the world.”

Greenburg is focused on how environmental studies educators can support students throughout the existential demands of the topic.

“Environmental studies students are introduced to global problems like climate change, environmental destruction and species extinctions, and it will be up to a younger generation to help solve those problems,” Greenburg said. “My research looks into how educators can empower students to find their place in environmental advocacy while supporting them in a way that keeps them happy and healthy and good at doing their jobs.” – By Mary Lobo ’15