KENTFIELD, Calif. —Sept. 13, 2011—Environmental educator Sharon Barnett who teaches hiking in the College of Marin Community Education program was lauded last week for her work sharing the natural wonders of Marin with students of all ages.
Known for teaching her students to investigate rather than squeamishly avoid many of the earth’s more strange and gooey creatures, she received last week the Terwilliger Environmental Award, an annual honor bestowed by WildCare on Bay Area educators who are making a significant difference through their work.
“Whenever we come across something new and people say it’s gross or yucky, I encourage them to say ‘Oh, how interesting!’” Barnett says. “I want them to look at things how a naturalist might.”
Barnett, 40, began teaching hiking at College of Marin in 2007 where she quickly gained a reputation for inviting students deep into new natural worlds. In the winter, it may be a trail where the newts cross; in the spring, it will be a trail of unbridled seasonal flora and nesting birds and in the fall, a hike through the Pierce Point Ranch to hear the rutting tule elk.
“I like to create my itinerary to coincide with the seasons,” she says. “I try to give people a feel of what it’s like to be out in the open and also on a single track trail. Students are often somewhat surprised at how the place we’re visiting came to be and the historical conservation effort that made it possible.”
Terwilliger Award recipients are noted for innovative teaching and commitment to responsible action and a sustainable world.
“She has an incredible passion about education at all levels,” said Ken Meier, vice president of Student Learning at College of Marin. “She is truly an extraordinary leader and advocate in keeping as much of Marin as possible in good shape. We are blessed to have somebody with her intellect, her energy and her commitment as part of the College of Marin family.”
Barnett received a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from the New York State University at Buffalo and a master’s degree in Education from Dominican University. She started working in the field of environmental education in 1996 at Beaver Lake Nature Center in upstate New York and eventually landed in Marin where she has designed and led inquiry-based and multi-sensory teaching programs at Walker Creek Ranch, Richardson Bay Audubon, Marin Art and Garden Center, WildCare, Point Reyes Field Seminars, Point Reyes Bird and Nature Festival, High Country Passage, and Marin Nature Adventures. A certified naturalist guide, she has studied ecology in New York, Florida, and Alaska.
Cofounder of Marin Nature Adventures, Barnett currently teaches science at Marin Country Day School and leads Beginning Hiking for College of Marin. Next summer, she will be working as a naturalist on international family excursions for Bushtracks.
Among Barnett’s long list of volunteer activities is work with the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, the Marine Mammal Center, Gerstle Park Neighborhood Association and the Point Reyes National Seashore. She also served as a director for the Marin Audubon Society.
WildCare, founded in 1974, is a San Rafael-based urban wildlife rehabilitation center with a focus on community education. The award was created to honor Elizabeth Cooper Terwilliger, a Mill Valley outdoor education pioneer who led outdoor trips for more than four decades. She died in 2006. Past recipients include: Martin Griffin, environmental activist and author (2001); Wendy Dreskin, California Native Plant Society (2003); Joe Mueller, College of Marin (2008); John Muir Laws, California Academy of Sciences (2009); and Norman Gershenz, SaveNature.org (2010).