Interview with an Environmental Educator

As a child who watched The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau on public television every chance she had, Niki Espy dreamed of one day studying aquatic mammals for a living. She went to college with the intent of continuing on to graduate school to focus on behavioral studies in marine biology. But while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology, she interned as a naturalist. Today, Espy works for the Milwaukee Public Museum. She provides educational programs for children, adults, and families and is responsible for developing and implementing school programs that focus on cultural and natural history. Espy also facilitates training for educators, including teachers, student teachers, museum volunteers, and museum docents.

Q: How does your current job relate to environmental education?
Espy: I use the principles of environmental education to teach about natural and cultural history. The basics of awareness, appreciation, knowledge, and action assist me daily in my educational endeavors. I believe that if we don’t have an understanding of the world, we can’t begin to value or protect our resources. The museum’s educational programs lead students to question, explore, analyze, evaluate, and discuss how the introductions of exotic plants and animals and the urbanization of the Milwaukee area have affected biodiversity. While interpreting the plant and animal changes, we don’t forget the people and how indigenous groups used the land.

Q: What is the importance of including people in a discussion on biodiversity and environmental impact?
Espy: If we look at humans as a separate component of the world, we will not be able to truly reach sustainability. By placing people in the equation, we can look at our behaviors and our impact on local and global ecoregions, economies, and social systems and can obtain the answers we need to create a sustainable future.

Many museums have volunteer programs in which volunteers work directly with the public or in different administrative or scientific departments. For example, volunteers at the Milwaukee Public Museum may provide assistance at the information desk, give tours to the public through the exhibit galleries, demonstrate objects visitors can touch, help educate visitors about special exhibits, and work at special events. In addition, volunteers may work “behind the scenes” in research areas such as anthropology, archeology, botany, geology, paleontology, and zoology. For more information on volunteer programs, contact a museum near… you.

More to Explore

Volunteer Opportunities at the Milwaukee Public Museum
North American Association for Environmental Education