Association for Environmental & Outdoor education
Our mission is to advance the impact of environmental and outdoor education in California
LIFETIME Achievement award
The Lifetime Achievement Award – created in honor of one of AEOE's founding members and an influential leader in the advancement of outdoor education in California – was established to recognize outstanding lifetime achievements and contributions in the area of environmental and outdoor education. Anyone may submit a nomination form to the Board of Directors for this annual award. Nominees do not necessarily have to be an AEOE member. Past honorees can be viewed below.
Nominations are kept on file for three years 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.
Click here to nominate an outstanding individual (deadline for 2023: March 31)
2022 Howard Bell Award Winner
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!
Past Howard Bell Award Winners
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
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