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Association for Environmental & Outdoor education

AEOE strengthens environmental education in California by connecting providers, building professional expertise, and championing environmental literacy and outdoor learning.

LIFETIME Achievement award

The Lifetime Achievement Award – established in honor of one of AEOE's founding members – recognizes outstanding lifetime achievements and contributions in the area of environmental and outdoor education. The Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to those who have made a significant impact in environmental and outdoor education over the course of their career, both within their organization(s) and the field at large, and who demonstrate a strong commitment to equity and inclusion. Anyone may submit a nomination for this annual award. Nominees do not necessarily have to be an AEOE member. Past honorees can be viewed below. 

Nominated individuals must do their work primarily in California. Nominations are kept on file for one year for future consideration. The award is presented at the annual spring conference and the awardee (or a designee) must be able to attend the conference. You can access the nomination form questions here if you would like to see them ahead of time to prepare your submission

2024 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Sarah-Mae Nelson

Please join us in congratulating Sarah-Mae Nelson, the 2024 Lifetime Achievement Awardee. Sarah-Mae has been a dedicated educator, interpreter, and climate communicator for 28 years. Currently she serves as the UC Climate Stewards Initiative Academic Coordinator for UC Environmental Stewards. In this role, Sarah-Mae has demonstrated exceptional leadership in the development, implementation, and maintenance of the UC Climate Stewards certification course. She brought a strong vision for Climate Stewards to include social and emotional learning; trauma-informed education and communication principles; interpretation, communication, and education skills; climate science at the local as well as global level; a spotlight on water, energy, and agriculture issues; and tools for engaging communities in action to build community resilience. As noted by her nominator, "In every endeavor she undertakes, Sarah-Mae approaches challenges with unparalleled determination and meticulousness. Her resilience in the face of adversity serves as an inspiration to all who have the privilege of working alongside her." Thank you, Sarah-Mae, for the impact you have had on our field!

Past Lifetime Achievement Howard Bell Award Winners

2023 – Mark Nolan

Congratulations to Mark Nolan, the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Awardee. "Marine" Mark worked for 25 years at San Mateo County Outdoor Education, with 42 consecutive years in the field of outdoor education. Mark began his career as a naturalist for Exploring New Horizons, designing and leading nature discovery hikes with groups of fifth and sixth grade students. He developed and ran the Pigeon Point Environmental Education program, which he established in 1984 and is still going strong. He served as Executive Director of Exploring New Horizons and most recently, served as Director of San Mateo County Outdoor Education between 1996 and 2022. 

In addition to the impact Mark has had with all of the programs he’s touched, Mark’s influence has reached all corners of the state, serving as a coordinator for the statewide California Regional Environmental Education Community Network (CREEC) and chair of the California Outdoor Schools Association (COSA). Mark is also a founding member of the Banana Slug String Band, a former lifetime achievement winner in its own right, and a frequent presenter and performer at AEOE conferences. 

One of his nominators shared: "Marine Mark has led countless naturalists to become the next generation(s) of leaders. His contributions through exemplary leadership, deep care, and excellent music are unparalleled." We couldn’t agree more. Mark's contributions will be celebrated at our statewide conference in May at Camp Jones Gulch, the site of San Mateo's Outdoor Ed program. Congratulations and thank you, Mark!

2022 – Charles Thomas

Congratulations to Charles Thomas Jr., the 2022 Howard Bell Award winner for lifetime achievement in environmental and outdoor education. As the Executive Director of Outward Bound Adventures, Charles has dedicated his life to increasing diversity in the outdoors and providing access to transformational experiences in nature. For the last 40 years, he has created outdoor education programs which have engaged and franchised thousands of historically absent youth of color and families into the outdoor recreation, conservation, and environmental sectors. Participants of his programs have gone on to staff and diversify a multitude of agencies and organizations, including: the US Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and outdoor retail businesses like REI, and Patagonia. 

As the Regional Youth Programs Manager, Pacific West Region, National Park Service, Charles managed and assigned $4 million dollars in congressionally appointed funds for Youth Conservation Corps, Public Land Corps, and Youth Partnership funds. He designed and implemented the Pacific West Region’s 5-year Youth Engagement Strategic Plan encompassing over 300 youth programs. He has a B.S. in Physical Geography and Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies from Southern Oregon University and M.S in Environmental Studies.

In recognition of his lifelong commitment to diversifying the outdoors, he has also been honored by U.S Congressional Representatives, State Senates, numerous community-based organizations, and invited to the White House to witness President Obama signing the America’s Great Outdoor Initiative. When he is not scouting new and exciting locations in Costa Rica or Hawaii, he spends time hiking in Altadena with his wife and daughters. He is currently completing his book, Urban Spaces to Wild Places scheduled for release in 2023. Congratulations and thank you, Charles!

2021 – Miho Aida

Please join us in celebrating Miho Aida, accomplished educator and environmental justice champion. Miho is an environmental science educator and the Director of Equity & Inclusion for NatureBridge, which operates multi-day programs in national parks. Miho is based at their campus in the Marin Headlands, north of San Francisco in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Miho is also involved in the leadership teams of People of the Global Majority in the Outdoors, Nature, and Environment (PGM ONE) and The Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge. She is also an accomplished filmmaker, and regularly rides throughout the west coast advocating for Indigenous rights and environmental action through her documentary The Sacred Place Where Life Begins: Gwich'in Women Speak. Everything Miho touches has helped people to connect with the natural world, champion the voices of members of marginalized communities, and pushed to hold leaders accountable for building a more just and inclusive movement. Click here to read more of Miho's inspiring story and her vision of a field driven by purpose

2020 - Kevin Beals 

AEOE was proud to present Kevin Beals with our 2020 Howard Bell Award. The Howard Bell Award acknowledges lifetime achievement and contributions towards advancing the field of environmental and outdoor education. Kevin has been involved in environmental, outdoor, and classroom education since 1985. He is now the Director of the BEETLES program at the Lawrence Hall of Science, which he co-founded in order to bring quality resources to outdoor science school instructors. Outdoor and environmental education programs in California, across the country, and even internationally have made use of the BEETLES project's free resources, and BEETLES has inspired countless educators to change the way they think about outdoor education.

Kevin has also contributed to environmental and outdoor education through his continued and consistent engagement with educators and program leaders. At conferences and other gatherings,  Kevin makes a point to reach out to current educators and program leaders, listening to their struggles and successes while meeting them with openness and enthusiasm. Kevin has conducted more than 250 professional learning workshops, institutes and keynote addresses locally, nationally, and internationally, and he has authored more than 90 published curriculum guides, children’s books, and professional learning videos. Finally, Kevin is a founding member of the Bungee Jumpin' Cows, a science rock band, and has penned some campfire classics, such as Banana Slug and Gusano, that are shared weekly in outdoor programs across California.

2019 - Celeste Royer
AEOE was proud to present Celeste Royer with the Howard Bell Award beneath the beautiful redwoods of Westminster Woods. The Howard Bell award acknowledges lifetime achievement and contributions towards advancing the field of environmental and outdoor education. Celeste is the Director of Environmental Education at Rancho El Charro and has been with San Luis Obispo County Office of Education for more than 30 years. Additionally, Celeste provides leadership to the California Outdoor School Association (COSA) and California Environmental Education Foundation (CEEF), and teaches Wilderness & Environmental Education at Cal Poly SLO. She served on the California Blueprint for Environmental Literacy Steering Committee, has worked with CREEC (California Regional Environmental Education Community), BEETLES, NAAEE, and many other amazing institutions. Celeste earned degrees from UCLA, San Francisco State University, and Cal Poly SLO. Married with two adult children, Celeste enjoys nature, family and pet time, traveling, and reading. Celeste's contributions have strengthened the field of environmental education and touched the lives of thousands of children. Congratulations, Celeste!

2017 - Steve Van Zandt

Beneath the beautiful redwoods of Camp Jones Gulch, with an audience of outdoor educators and banana slugs, AEOE presented the Howard Bell Award for achievements in environmental and outdoor education to Steve Van Zandt, Program Manager/Principal of San Mateo County Outdoor Education.

Jymn Meier, who nominated Van Zandt for the award, recalls, “I remember the first time I met Steve Van Zandt. It was at my first AEOE Conference in the early 90's. I was amazed at how many wonderful people I met and interacted with, but left inspired and empowered by Steve's "Keeping the magic alive workshop". He honored the current teaching trends while reminding us that, at its core, our mission is to connect children to nature. I revisited his workshop some 20 years later and he has literally kept the magic alive both within himself and sharing his passion with us all.

Steve has trained hundreds of Naturalists during his time at SMOE. Many have gone on to have long inspired tenures in environmental education. I have personally worked with many of Steve's former interns and all have been incredible. While I believe outdoor educators are amazing in general, it's easy to see the impact of Steve's mentorship.” Steve's contributions to AEOE are monumental. He has led workshops at conferences, directed incredible skits and performed on stage as member of the Banana Slug String Band. The Slugs were awarded The Howard Bell Award as a group in 1997, and 20 years later Steve is honored again for his individual contributions to Outdoor and Environmental Education.

Steve is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara in Environmental Studies/Geography. He received a multiple subject teaching credential from San Francisco State and an Administrative Credential from San Jose State. He worked as a Naturalist at SMOE, Exploring New Horizons Outdoor Schools, Youth Science Institute and as a Co-Director/Intern Coordinator at Hidden Villa. He also was a Co-Manager for the Pigeon Point Youth Hostel. He was a kindergarten, 3rd and 4th grade classroom teacher and a K-7th grade Life Lab/ESL teacher. He is a founding and active member of the Banana Slug String Band. He is returning to SMOE for a 24th year.

Previous Award Winners

2016 - Kim Laizer
2015 - Bill Andrews
2014 - Randy Widera
2013 - Tom Preston
2012 - Dean Thompson
2011 - Helen de la Maza
2010 - Lisa Curnett
2009 - Pete Devine
2008 - Zayanne Thompson
2007 - Pam Ivie & Kathe Hendrickson
2006 - Rick Mitchell
2005 - Jenny & Marty Rigby
2004 - Stephen "Hoppy" Hopkins
2002 - Carol Schloo Wright & Dan Allison
2001 - George Stratman
2000 - Bruce Daub
1999 - Joseph Cornell
1998 - Bernie Lemm
1997 - Banana Slug String Band
1996 - Greg Schuett
1995 - John Hendrickson
1994 - Elna Bakker
1993 - Jim Hastings
1992 - Ben Bird
1991 - Ruth Crew
1990 - Norris Beakes
1989 - Rudy Schafer
1988 - Dan Baker
1987 - Don Bielefield
1986 - Pat Crocker
1985 - Marty Marcus
1984 - George & Louise Donaldson
1983 - Shirley Mason
1982 - Dean Orahood & Fred Partridge
1981 - Leonard Beeman
1980 - Oscar Clark
1979 - Josephine Duveneck
1978 - Michael Johnson
1977 - Esther Railton
1976 - Richard Brians
1975 - Elizabeth Sears
1974 - Nanette Sullivan
1973 - Charlene McDonald
1972 - John Kirk
1971 - Ernie McDonald
1970 - Bill Hammerman
1969 - Ed Pulma
1968 - Jane Westenberger
1967 - Ken Pike
1966 - Don Hammerman
1965 - Jack Davidson
1964 - L.B. Sharp
1963 - Elwood Mitchell
1962 - J. Holley Ashcraft
1961 - Howard Bell


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