I became unemployed in August of 2016. In my mind, I felt I would be gainfully employed again by February 2017 at the latest. Well, it’s April and despite 63 applications, I have only been invited to two interviews and have had 31 rejection emails. Three years ago, I had three job offers before I finished my last position. It’s a different and scary world out there. I wonder how much of it is the political and financial state of Illinois, how much of it is the current federal government with all the cuts and wrong people in charge, how much of it is my age (now 52), or is it a little out of column A, a little out of column B, and a smidge out of column C?
Whatever the reason, I know one thing. I can’t stay still waiting for someone to see me as the right candidate for their position or for me to fit myself into a position that I will likely be miserable in. In December, I decided to do something for myself and others and created a platform to do what I do best, educate. I knew I wanted to connect the public with scientists, to bring awareness about what they do on a daily basis. I also wanted to bring some more creative elements to the mix. With so many beautiful nature pictures my friends and others have taken, I wanted to share those as well. I was having difficulty coming up with a name even though I had an idea of what I wanted to convey. Like so many of my better ideas, it came to me in the middle of the night, The People and Nature Connection. I was familiar with Weebly as a site builder, so I started creating what I wanted it to look like.
Then, I knew I needed a good logo and hired a graphic design site to create something simple, but eloquent. Then, I got my networking hat on and went to task on finding scientists and artists. I started with those I knew, and thankfully they agreed. From there, it was all about letting people know that I wanted to promote them for free! I searched all the social media sites and Google, and continue to do so, to find what I was looking for. I introduced myself to people I have never met and told them about my goals for the site. Those who answered, did enthusiastically, and I am grateful for that. I knew I had to do this as a labor of love with my own funds for it to fly. I also knew the strength of social media and that I needed to use the three main venues (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to my advantage. I knew I had to cross-post to get those who follow me on my social media sites to also follow my website. I did have an ace in my pocket for social media with my daughter who works as a social media site campaign coordinator in Chicago. Lucky me.
I've found the experience so far has 1) afforded me something worthwhile to do, 2) given me the power to do what I love to do under my own rules and schedule, 3) helped me connect with some amazing people from all over the world, and 4) filled the void of self-value by doing important work. I’m my own boss with this venture and it would be great if I could earn a living doing it. Maybe in the future, something will come about, but for now I’m enjoying the ride and opportunities.
I have almost filled the year 2017 features and I am always looking for scientists and artists to promote. If you are one or know of someone I should invite, please contact me using the contact page. - Kirsten
As I feature my friend Jen as the March expert, I realize that educational programming is truly ending at the Prairie Research Institute.
This is a sad reality because the job of the Survey educators was to disseminate and promote the work of the research scientists to the public, especially school teachers and children. We worked in the non-formal arena creating and implementing programs so that students could see what real scientists do. Our job was to inspire the next generation of scientists.
Now, one could say, “Well, they have a communications team to inform the public.” Here is the problem with that. Communications falls within the 3rd form of education, informal education. Here is the difference: Formal education is information that you receive that you will be tested on and received some sort of diploma, degree, or certificate for completing the required work. Non-formal education is information you receive at a conference, nature center, museum, or other chosen venue where you learn about a topic through a presentation but may or may not be quizzed on the learned information. Informal education is information received by choosing to read a newsletter, listserv, journal or by talking with an expert. The Survey educators fell into the non-formal education category with programming.
My point is that the Survey educators were of value because they provided a larger outreach to the public. If a research scientist publishes a paper on an exciting breakthrough, they reach their colleagues through publications like journals, but then what? Will Johnny Q. Public know about it? Not likely because there is no one to translate the science jargon and data for them. Communications teams speak in short blog posts or journal-lite articles. There is no “what does this mean for me” or critical thinking exercises involved. That was the value of the Survey educators. Those who are currently in charge of PRI have killed the education program.
However, the one thing the “kill education" plan has not done is kill the bond of the survey educators . As one of us put it, we are loyal to each other, like dogs.
A few days ago, friend of mine on Facebook posted a timely article called Five Ways Science Says to Handle Difficult Times.
As someone who has felt pushed out of a job through current state and federal administrative acts like budget cuts, I find myself experiencing all the stages of grief. I know I have contributed so much to my profession, yet can’t seem to stay employed. The last four positions I have had were either grant funded or temporary and despite knowing that going in, the end of a job can still do a number on one’s ego. It wasn’t until a month or so ago that accepted that I can control my fate in life rather than waiting for life to control me. Here is my version of handling difficult times.
The article’s first point is to Change the Narrative. It suggests that expressive writing helps people gain new insights and become healthier. I have always seen myself as an environmental educator. It is a major part of my identity. I changed my narrative by exploring what else in life I may do to earn a living. At first, I started a stained glass business and dove headfirst into professional development classes and supplies. I heard the good, bad, and a lot of ugly about the business. Then, I panicked. I didn’t want the pressures of producing work to make a living and knowing I’m my own worst enemy for deciding if something I create is sales-worthy didn’t help. I realized I produce stained glass because I enjoy it as a hobby, not a profession. So, I backed out of that venture and I don’t regret it.
Then, in the middle of the night, I awoke to a thought that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down. The thought was to do what I do well (environmental education and curriculum writing) and find a way to do it on my terms. It took quite a while for me to plan what it would look like. I wanted something new and different. I wanted it to be something that is flexible and expandable when appropriate. I had built a website for a curriculum I created for a former employer, so I knew that was a direction I could go. I had to come up with a name that encompassed all the website covered. The People and Nature Connection came in another “middle of the night” wake up call. So, I created the concept for what I wanted and asked advice from a friend. Then, I had to network people to garner contributions. The best way I thought to do that was to do all of it for free and market it as a way to promote them and the environment.
Face Your Fears. This is the place I am at now. At some point, I would like to create a situation for this website so I can support it and myself. The article says to slowly and repeatedly expose myself to things that scare me. Remember the stained glass business panic? That reaction had a lot to do with the sales pressure from the company I used to create the LLC. I saw money I didn’t have flying out the window with no guarantee of a return. I can write those costs off, but I saw a money pit in action. So, the fears I am facing now are what to do with this new website? LLC? Non-profit? I am doing research and talking to people I trust to figure this out and I will take all the time needed to do it right.
Practice Self-Compassion is the third point of the article. “Self-compassion involves offering compassion to ourselves: confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness; without judgment.” This is something I had to fully embrace in the last 6 months. Self-compassion has helped me take necessary breaks from the brutality of rejection emails for jobs, lack of responses from inquires, and my own judgement over what my extensive education and experiences may or may not have gotten me. It has also helped me to comfort and support others who are experiencing or will soon experience the same circumstances of unemployment in this field.
Mediation is not something I do enough of, but I will not stress over it. That defeats the purpose. The fourth point states, “Practicing mindfulness brings us more and more into the present, and it offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise. That way, instead of getting carried away in fear, anger, or despair, we can work through them more deliberately.” I spend a great deal of time alone which gives me time to think, or drive myself crazy depending on the day’s events. Walking daily on our trails with the dog and cat is a meditative process. I often sit on my favorite tree stump and “meditate” on the gifts I’ve received through family and friends. Listening to the surrounding nature is also a very cathartic practice.
The final point in the article is Cultivating Forgiveness. I will admit that even though I knew the last position I had was not permanent, I was angry when it ended. I hoped to retire from the company. I had a plan to show my worth and move up the ladder. I held grudges for not finding continued funding for me as a contributor to the company. It wasn’t rational, but it was how I felt. I had to give myself a lot of time before I was able to re-approach my former coworkers and it took all I had to do it. Nothing in life is permanent. Once I forgave myself for feeling that way, I returned to self-value. I was valued by my employer, but funding can a fickle bitch that is never guaranteed. I keep going back to Buddhist philosophies of impermanence (Anicca or Anitya) to realize my life is ever changing and transient and this position was just part of that impermanence. It was also a valuable gift of time.
So, Thank you, Sue Feldman for posting the article. It has given me some direction and purpose in life on my own terms. I am inspired to continue my new labor of love and hope it will continue to grow and thrive.
A little over four years ago I met my true partner, John. Someone who made me a better environmental educator and person. Someone who convinced me to move out to his seven acre property in the middle of nowhere and love the land. He taught me how to truly reuse/reduce/recycle everything and how to let nature be in charge, not humans.
Everyday, we are fortunate enough to walk our animals on five of the acres that we have let go to old field. Sure, we could have spearheaded efforts to create a restored prairie, but we don't have the time or resources to do that and at some point, I realized that nature regenerates and maintains itself just fine without our help. We may have plants that are less than desirable for the purest, but the land feeds, waters, and shelters many of Earth's creatures. I recently started keeping phenological records of the animals and plants I see when I walk the trails. I get excited when I see the Eastern Towhees, Indigo Buntings, Woodcocks, Eastern Bluebirds, Least Weasel, Tiger Swallowtails, Red-spotted Purples, House Wrens, and so many more every year at their appointed times. It’s as if we are old friends. Occasionally, a small white-tailed deer herd flushes out of the tall grasses and into the nearby wooded area.
John bought and created this haven as a way to get away from the stresses of work and life and he asked me to share the experience with him. He is patient with everyone he meets and has the kindest heart especially with animals. We have created a small non-human family consisting of a dog, two cats, two snakes (that will soon go back to my son), and twelve fish. He is someone my human children and mother adore because he is a good friend to them and he takes good care of me. He is someone I could have easily missed had I not asked for more information about his research on penguins. If we would have met before we did, we may not have connected because we were different people in different places in life. Life and love happen at the time and place they should.
So, although I have never been much into Valentine’s Day, I would like to take this opportunity to appreciate John for all he is to me, my environmental hero and life partner.
Call for Presenters
Midwest Environmental Education Conference (MEEC)
Live in the NOW, with Focus on the FUTURE
October 11-14, 2017 St. Charles, IL
In today’s world of increasing global focus, how do your local environmental education efforts make an impact? Help MEEC attendees investigate themes that stem from our communities and grow far beyond. We challenge each participant with the question What is Your Niche? as we explore the conference strands Nature, Native, Neighborhood, Nurture and Nourishment. As a presenter you will make contacts throughout the all-inclusive experience of MEEC 2017. Help educators connect to people, places and opportunities and discover their niche by submitting a proposal for a presentation that will give them the tools to succeed!
Visit meeconference.org for more details and to submit your proposal today. Proposals must be submitted by April 1, 2017 for consideration. http://meeconference.org/call-for-presenters/
Hi. My name is Kirsten Hope Walker and I am the Founder of The People and Nature Connection. I am a life-long environmental educator with a myriad of experiences in formal and non-formal education. Environmental education is not just science; it's so much more. It involves history, math, literature, art, consumer economics, physical education, psychology as well as the physical and life sciences.
I fell in love with the natural world when I was a child growing up in Houston. My brothers and I would be outside from dawn until dusk and my fascination was with the bayou behind my house. There were several acres that my house backed up to and about a quarter mile past our back fence was a natural (non concrete) bayou that had an abundance of wildlife. My favorite animal was an anole. I would watch them for hours as their dewlap would puff out in its inflamed red coloring as a way to ward off predators.
My love of the environment has never changed despite my varied career experiences. I have always taught about nature in some way. I have also used my love of learning to gain advanced degrees in education to focus on multiple modalities of teaching and I have applied those to my job positions. I also have an interest in eco-psychology because I love to watch what effect nature has on people of different backgrounds. I have been blessed for the professional experiences I have had so far and I look brightly to the future.
There are websites out there that focus on the environment. I wanted this website to be about the undeniable connection of people and nature. I thought that along with helpful information on plants and animals, I would also include people who take a special interest in the environment. I plan to have artists and experts featured monthly as well as events that are nature related. The animal and plant profiles will hopefully give you an appreciation for what is out there beyond the four walls of your house and will be available in a PDF format for educational purposes.
The website is meant for a nationwide audience and I am always looking for contributors from different areas of the country. Please email me if you are interested.
Please ask questions, make comments, or just say hello.
Hello, My name is Kirsten Hope Walker. I have been an environmental educator for over 20 years. My passion is talking to the public about how to coexist with wildlife. It's my hope that you will ask questions and find my features and blogs interesting. Thanks for your support.