Outdoor Play

Published 10:17am Wednesday, November 13, 2013



When ecologist Rachel Carson wrote, “if a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, the child needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with the child the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in”, she must have been predicting the special relationships that Teresa Jaskiewicz, Environmental Education Specialist, would have with the children, youth, and adults who visit the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center (PWLC) in Fergus Falls.

While Jaskiewicz jokes that her job is a fancy way to say “park ranger”, educating people about the outdoors is the heart of what she does every moment in her job. I met with Teresa just after she had tagged monarch butterflies with her students. She eagerly told me their day’s work was part of a national study sponsored by the University of Kansas. “The students think they are just having fun with monarchs. They don’t realize they are participating in a scientific research that has been going on since the 1970s.” As she explained the art and science of monarch tagging to me, she picked seeds from the tickseed trefoil flowers which had stuck to her clothing during the tagging. She taught me the meaning behind the flower’s name. “They are called tickseed because the seeds stick to you like a tick.” After our interview, the collected seeds were headed to the PWLC’s greenhouse where students will use their budding botanists’ skills.

Jaskiewicz’s teaching philosophy centers around learning to see with a naturalist’s eye. As she explains, “it is about learning to look and looking to see. I want students to care about what is around them, whether it is a bumblebee or a monarch butterfly, or an American goldfinch.” She strives to be a model for her students. “I teach by example. I won’t ask students to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.” Jaskiewicz prefers not to tell the students what they should think. Instead, she believes that by looking and seeing the prairie wetlands, the students will learn what they need to know about conservation.

Jaskiewicz has had passion for conserving the environment since her high school days.

When she was 15, General Motors dumped barrels of toxic waste on her best friend’s farm. The waste later developed into a superfund site. The clean up affected her entire community. “After that, I wanted to do something to help the environment.” To remind herself of that commitment, Jaskiewicz had an ecology flag inscribed on her high school class ring.

As a woman student in Conservation Biology and Botany at Northern Michigan University, Jaskiewicz had to earn her place as a student. At that time, women students were in the minority. Some professors created an atmosphere in class so that women would not be taken seriously. “We had to work to be treated like students and not treated as girls.” Now, women and minority students are more fully integrated into conservation and ecological degree programs.

It was not until she started working with the Michigan Nature Association that she met her mentor Bertha Daubiendick who served as the Association’s Executive Director. “She took me under her wing.” As she remembers Daubiendick, Jaskiewicz articulates what she learned from her mentor. “She taught me not to be afraid of going out into the field alone, to rely on myself and that men are not always right.” Daubiendick’s sharp eyes and ears taught Jaskiewicz how to listen for bird songs, study topographical and soil maps, and search for the best sites for rare threatened or endangered species of plants, snakes, and even salamanders. As Daubiendick hobbled along on all terrains with her two canes, she taught Jaskiewicz not to let her own disability overshadow her passion for conservation. “She believed in me. There wasn’t anything that wasn’t off limits for me.” Whenever she hears a new songbird, Jaskiewicz still hears her mentor’s voice. I cannot help but wonder how Daubiendick’s voice still speaks through Jaskiewicz as she teaches students at PWLC.

Jaskiewicz offers this advice to women who want to study and work in the fields of conservation and ecology. With more women entering the fields of conversation and ecology, women don’t have to work as hard as she did to be taken seriously. However, the current economy is making it harder to find jobs in conservation. “It’s tough now”, she laments. For women who want to work in conservation, Jaskiewicz urges them to go into work with invasive species control. Not only are there funds for such work, there is also an urgency. “We are losing species all the time”, she explains.

If you want to learn more about the joy, excitement and mystery of our lakes region, you can visit with Jaskiewicz at the PWLC. You can also catch her radio show “Nature Nugget” on KBRF at 7:50 am every Saturday morning.


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