NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Since 2005, hundreds of volunteers have made the commitment to protecting New Jersey’s environment by participating in the Rutgers Environmental Stewards Program. Offered by Rutgers Cooperative Extension, the program introduces volunteers to the science underlying key environmental issues in the Garden State so they can tackle problems and offer solutions in their own communities. In January and February 2020, participants can enroll in a program in one of five New Jersey counties: Atlantic, Mercer, Union, Passaic and Somerset. Participants do not have to be county residents to participate in the program, which costs $260 for the 20 weeks of training.
Stewards start out in weekly classes, dealing with topics that include climate change, solid waste and recycling, soil health, energy conservation, water resource protection, invasive species management, land use policy, wildlife ecology, protecting pollinators and native vs invasive species, among others. Optional field trips to environmentally significant sites around the state are included as part of the program. Leading researchers from Rutgers are joined by government and non-profit representatives to share their knowledge with the Stewards.
photo provided by Rutgers University
In order to become certified, graduates must complete a 60-hour volunteer internship of their choosing. Internships are unique and align the passion of the individual with the needs of the program and those of the local community. Previous Steward internships have included monitoring shorebird populations, composting restaurant food waste, community single use plastic ordinances, mapping and eradicating invasive species in local parks, restoring native dune vegetation in shore communities, and creating rain gardens.
The classes, field trips and internship do not replace a science degree. However, the program presents Stewards with real-world environmental problems and introduces a network of experts and organizations that can help Stewards as they wrestle with solving problems in their local communities. For more information and to register for 2020 classes, visit http://envirostewards.rutgers.edu/.
–Paula Walcott-Quintin, Rutgers University