Association for Environmental & Outdoor education


Environmental educators of the year

Each year, AEOE selects two Environmental Educators of the year – one in northern California and one in southern California – for their outstanding contributions to the field of environmental and outdoor education. Educators are nominated by their peers and are selected by AEOE's awards committee. The awards are typically announced during AEOE's fall conference. Nominations can be made at any time. 

Click here to nominate an outstanding Environmental Educator as EE'er of the Year!

2020 Environmental Educator of the Year Award Winners


2020 Northern EE'er of the Year – Rebekah Jones

Rebekah is a Senior Teacher Naturalist and Curriculum Coordinator at Westminster Woods. She was nominated by multiple colleagues, who highlighted her incredible commitment to her role as an educator. Rebekah’s colleagues describe her as an integral and beloved member of the Westminster Woods community, who has made countless improvements to the program including thoughtful evening program design, the first GIS map of campus, and homemade banana slug and albatross costumes. Rebekah’s contributions to her own program have helped to deepen each student’s appreciation for nature and science literacy.

This year, Rebekah’s impact spread much farther than her own program. When the pandemic made it impossible for students to travel to outdoor schools, Rebekah spearheaded a project to design an online curriculum, complete with a set of free activities and resources that any teacher or student can access. Rebekah worked with her team to create videos, worksheets, and even an entire lesson plan for remote classroom teachers. These resources have helped students all across the country engage in nature exploration this school year, and have helped classroom teachers who have had to create brand new materials for virtual classrooms. The online curriculum has become a blueprint for others to create their own online experiential education resources, and was highlighted by the BEETLES program as an example of successfully facilitating outdoor science and environmental education through a computer screen.

Because of Rebekah’s vision, dedication, and hard work, students throughout California and beyond have had access to thoughtfully designed outdoor education during a time when they need it most. She exemplifies what it means to make a positive impact on our field, and AEOE is so happy to recognize her accomplishments by naming her our 2020 Northern California Environmental Educator of the Year.

2020 Southern EE'er of the Year – Jeni Barajas


Jeni has volunteered at Girl Scouts as a facilitator and trainer for over 7 years, empowering young girls to have the courage to ‘make this world a better place’. She is  currently the Environmental Education Specialist at Olivewood Gardens, where she uses outdoor hands-on learning experiences and organic gardening to teach environmental education to her students. Jeni also leads Olivewood Gardens’ two high school internship programs, the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Internship in the fall and the Garden to Kitchen Internship in the spring. Both programs include a job readiness component and are designed to benefit students from National City, CA. Classes did not stop during COVID due in part to Jeni’s desire to continue serving the students during a global pandemic. Jeni found creative and age-friendly ways to keep the high schoolers engaged and provide fun, educational ways to continue their journey with Olivewood Gardens.


Jeni has volunteered at Girl Scouts as a facilitator and trainer for over 7 years, empowering young girls to have the courage to ‘make this world a better place’. She is  currently the Environmental Education Specialist at Olivewood Gardens, where she uses outdoor hands-on learning experiences and organic gardening to teach environmental education to her students. Jeni also leads Olivewood Gardens’ two high school internship programs, the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Internship in the fall and the Garden to Kitchen Internship in the spring. Both programs include a job readiness component and are designed to benefit students from National City, CA. Classes did not stop during COVID due in part to Jeni’s desire to continue serving the students during a global pandemic. Jeni found creative and age-friendly ways to keep the high schoolers engaged and provide fun, educational ways to continue their journey with Olivewood Gardens.

Additionally, Jeni has not skipped a beat when it comes to growing and producing food for the community during this pandemic! As a matter of fact, Jeni and the garden team have worked more consistently in providing fresh, organic produce every week for up to 60 families during this time. Jeni spearheads this effort along with the garden team as families in National City continue to come week after week to take advantage of this donation-based produce. Her work doesn't stop there, she also teaches citizen science to elementary school age children through monthly Garden Explorers classes, an outdoor, educational adventure where students engage with nature through science.

During this difficult year, Jeni’s enthusiastic attitude and her dedication to teaching, engaging, and inspiring youth have made a real, positive impact on her community. AEOE is proud to recognize Jeni’s work and her positive impact on our field by naming her our 2020 Southern California Environmental Educator of the Year.


2019 Northern EE'er of the Year - Michael Shanahan
Michael "Rhododendron" Shanahan has made significant valuable contributions to two environmental education programs and an outdoor summer camp. In every capacity, he brings his never-ending enthusiasm, work-ethic, and desire to improve programs with him. Michael was nominated by colleagues and supervisors at San Joaquin Outdoor Education, YMCA Camp Jones Gulch, and Shady Creek Outdoor School & Event Center.

During the 2013-2014 year as a brand new naturalist at SJOE, Michael went above and beyond, building a cob oven in the program’s garden. At Summer Camp at YMCA Camp Jones Gulch, Michael is an Assistant Camp Director who firmly believes that no job is below his pay grade – he will do whatever it takes to support the campers, whether teaching them how to sew, leading an outdoor cooking specialty (in the cob oven he built), or driving campers and staff on the bus (which he calls the Mike Express!) When challenges arise, his positivity keeps camper and staff spirits high.

Michael has spearheaded many projects at Shady Creek that have improved the school. He has partnered with a local Boy Scout troop and helped two young men earn their Eagle Scout rank by coordinating the construction of a Cobb oven for the Shady Creek Garden, and coordinating the planting and care of a fruit tree orchard. And finally, Michael has contributed many ideas and procedures for improving safety at Shady Creek and making the response to emergencies more formalized and effective.

In Rhody’s words, "It is a great honor for me to receive this award. Also I want to send an appreciation to my family and all in the AEOE community who:
- Guide students to “ah- ha” moments, and ignite inquire fever about the world around them,
- show students that they are scientists everyday,
- and to all those who create a community that allows students to be who they want to be, and they walk away saying ‘I am best, in the whole world, in being me.’

I am one person who thinks during a skit night performance on how many other disappearing log skits are going on across the state. I smile because we are instilling self confidence in students. I smile because we have a collective positive impact and building positive communities. Thank you."

Rhody, we thank you for your contributions to the Environmental and Outdoor Education community!



2019 Southern EE'er of the Year - Katie Miller Andersen

Katie Miller Andersen was nominated for her tremendous contribution to the lives of young people in her long career in outdoor education. Katie was nominated multiple times by coworkers and supervisors at Cuyamaca Outdoor School, where she has worked for 16 years.


Katie started as a Girl Scout counselor, received her teaching credential, taught in the classroom for a year then was selected as an Outdoor Education Specialist for Cuyamaca in 2003 where she has served ever since. When Katie is not at work, she volunteers for the Girl Scouts, the California School Employees Association, and AEOE. She has been a dedicated AEOE volunteer since 2012 and our Board Secretary since 2014.


During her time at Cuyamaca, Katie has made many valuable contributions towards improving the program. She has volunteered for countless projects and committees, applying her skills in lesson planning, curriculum development, writing complex schedules, and more. Her colleagues tell us that Katie’s number one goal as a professional is to protect the environment by educating young people about their role in the environment and also providing them tremendous agency as changemakers and citizen scientists. She brings a love and respect for science and nature to every student she teaches and her enthusiasm for citizen science and its promise to save the environment is both admirable and contagious.


Katie, we thank you for your contributions to the Environmental and Outdoor Education community!

Past EE'ers of the Year

2018 Southern EE'er of the Year - Jane Mattione
2018 Northern EE'er of the Year - Nicholas Bischoff
2017 Southern EE'er of the Year - Nathan Taxel
2017 Southern EE'er of the Year - Lauren McLaughlin
2017 Southern EE'er of the Year - Elizabeth Willoughby
2017 Northern EE'er of the Year - Allison Hartman
2016 Southern EE'er of the Year - Joselito Robles
2016 Northern EE'er of the Year - Ian “Ibis” Gledhill
2015 Southern EE'er of the Year - Amy Ecklund
2015 Northern EE'er of the Year - Sean Hoppes
2014 Northern EE'er of the Year - Emilie "Dipper" Lygren
2013 Southern EE'er of the Year - Danny Sudman
2013 Northern EE'er of the Year - Korena David
2012 Southern EE'er of the Year - Megan Lockwood
2012 Northern EE'er of the Year - Robb Stolberg
2011 Southern EE'er of the Year - Paul Grafton
2011 Northern EE'er of the Year - Garth Harwood
2010 Southern EE'er of the Year - Jay Bishop
2010 Northern EE'ers of the Year - Chris & Jason Little
2009 Southern EE'er of the Year - RT Hawke
2009 Northern EE'er of the Year - Jymn Meier
2008 Southern EE'er of the Year - Laura Vandezande
2008 Northern EE'ers of the Year - Traci Fesko & Hilary Hobbs
2007 Southern EE'er of the Year - Nicole Larson
2007 Northern EE'er of the Year - Sarah Lemley
2006 Southern EE'er of the Year - David Macander
2006 Outstanding Service Award - Maggie Wolfe
2006 Northern EE'er of the Year - Lisa Murphy
2005 Southern EE'ers of the Year - Tonya & Rich Mandl
2005 Northern EE'er of the Year - Rikki Schackleford
2004 Southern EE'er of the Year - Michael Charnofsky
2004 Northern EE'er of the Year - Liza Earle
2003 Northern EE'er of the Year - Tamara Palmer
2002 Northern EE'er of the Year - Kim Taylor
2001 Northern EE'er of the Year - Dan Webster
2000 Southern EE'er of the Year - Janice Smith
2000 Northern EE'er of the Year - Stephen "Hoppy" Hopkins

CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION FOR ENVIRONMENTAL & OUTDOOR EDUCATION

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