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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.

A Conversation with Jenna Cobb: The 2023 Southern CA Environmental Educator of the Year

October 16, 2023 6:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Jenna Cobb is an environmental educator and leader who is committed to equity and inclusion in the field. She has served with various organizations in Southern California, at the intersections of urban ecology, culturally-responsive teaching, and justice. Jenna inspires her colleagues, students, and community to create opportunity and increase access to outdoor learning for all students. We asked Jenna about her start in environmental education, and what has kept her committed to the field. 

Jenna explores the outdoors with students on a scavenger hunt.

What brought you into a career as an environmental educator?

I grew up in Torrance, which is near the coast of LA County, between LAX and Long Beach. I got to spend a lot of time in nature with my family. We'd do some habitat restoration at the local vernal marsh, do walks and clean ups at the local beaches, go hiking up in the mountains. From an early age, I felt like, “Oh, like these places are so special. I feel a sense of peace here that I don't at school or at home watching TV.” So I knew I wanted to do environmental work. 

I didn't really step into environmental education until my last year of college. I did an internship with Grades of Green, which does a lot of student-led environmental action projects. I worked with the trash free lunch challenge around Los Angeles County. It was so great talking to elementary school students who were leading the charge to make their school lunches trash free, whether it was setting up a sorting system or advocating for the elimination of Styrofoam trays at their schools. I love the relational aspect of this work, as well as the direct impact of saying, “Hey, I'm not just doing this work from afar. I get to be with communities as we're working towards this better future together.” 

My first full-time environmental education job was at Chino Basin Water Conservation District. My supervisor at the time, Becky Rittenberg, who's now at Parks California, nominated me for this award back in 2017 when I was a 22 year-old. Feeling that support and being surrounded by great educators there, as well as within the Environmental Education Collaborative of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, has been such an encouragement for me. I can see some really great things ahead. 

Jenna presents on soil to a classroom of curious youth.

What has sustained you in this field?

The people I've worked with. I had some great partners in this work. 

During the Environmental Education Certification Program with AEOE, I got to work on my project with an old colleague, Monica Curiel, where we did a trilingual environmental education field trip for adults in our community. It was such a positive experience working together to achieve a common vision we've had for a while. Throughout my career, and currently at Community Nature Connection, I’ve had great colleagues who are inspirations in how they connect with the community of Southern California. 

The Environmental Education Collaborative, the AEOE certification program, and the networks I'm connected with in the North American Association for Environmental Education make [me] feel like I'm not alone in this work, which is so important. This is also echoed by my faith as a progressive Christian. I believe that the divine is working with us to bring about healing and wholeness in our communities. So both in my spiritual practice [and] my relationships, [I am] being reminded that we are working towards this together. That helps me believe that even in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss, there is hope. I can point to ways that so many people are working towards a better future and that makes me feel sustained in this work.


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