WESTFIELD, N.J. — Imagine being able to discuss climate change with the state climatologist or learn about New Jersey’s geology from the people who map it. How about learning about habitat restoration in your own community or helping improve water quality of a local river or stream? These are some of the opportunities available to enrollees in the 2017 Rutgers Environmental Steward Training Program.
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County will offer the Environmental Stewards Program at the EARTH Center, in Davidson’s Mill Pond Park, 42 Riva Ave, South Brunswick. Classes take place on Wednesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. starting Jan. 25 and run until June. The program is also run in Passaic, Somerset, Burlington and Atlantic counties.
The Rutgers Environmental Stewards Program educates the public about the science behind pressing environmental issues and helps participants create positive change in their communities. Stewards start out by attending class once a week on topics including climate change, soil health, energy conservation, water resource protection, invasive species management, pollinator protection, habitat conservation and environmental policy. Optional field trips to environmentally significant sites around the state are included as part of the program.
“Anyone can become a Rutgers Environmental Steward,” said Michele Bakacs, coordinator of the Middlesex County program. “The program introduces non-scientists to the science underlying key environmental issues in the Garden State.” Leading researchers from Rutgers are joined by colleagues from government and the non-profit sector to share their knowledge with the Stewards and help them make a difference in their own communities.
In order to become a certified Environmental Steward, graduates of the class portion of the program complete a 60-hour volunteer internship of their choosing. Internships are unique and intended to align with the passion of the individual, the needs of the program, and the community.
Steward internship projects have included helping farmers adapt to climate change, composting restaurant food waste, mapping and eradicating invasive species in local parks, restoring native dune vegetation in shore communities, and creating rain gardens, among others.
The classes, field trips and internship does not replace a science degree, but helps citizens educate themselves when presented with a real world environmental problem. Students are introduced to a network of expert individuals and organizations who can be of service to them in the future as they wrestle with solving local environmental problems.
— Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County