Getting to Know the 2019 Walter E. Jeske Award Winner Brenda Metcalf

The Walter E. Jeske Award is NAAEE’s most prestigious award, given each year to recognize service to NAAEE and leadership within the field of environmental education. This award was established to honor Walt Jeske, Chief of the Education and Publications Unit with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. Jeske was a dedicated member of the NAAEE Board of Directors, and an outstanding environmental educator until his death in 1981. This year’s award was given (in a suprise bait and switch) to the amazing and groovy Brenda Metcalf. Brenda has been the Executive Director of the Ohio NAAEE Affiliate, the Environmental Education Council of Ohio (EECO) since 2003 and has served on the Affiliate Network Steering Committee and as the NAAEE Awards chair since 2007. Additionally she previously served on the NAAEE Board of Directors from 2010 to 2016. 

I caught up with Brenda, who was still in shock from the surprise of receiving this year’s Jeske Award a few days after the conference to learn more about her, about her path to becoming an environmental educator and how she got involved with NAAEE, as well as some general fun facts about her.

Brenda, can you tell us about yourself. What are some of your hobbies, past-times and things not everyone might know about you? 

I like to go hiking, hang out at the campfire, read and crochet. 

If anyone has ever attended a session or workshop where you are in the room, they would know that you always come bearing gifts, be it a variety of flavored popcorn from your brother’s store,  or “fruits” and “vegetables” in the form of Skittles and chocolate. So I have to know, what are some of your favorite "fruits" or "vegetables"?  

I am a huge fan of dark chocolate covered almonds, Godiva milk chocolate and Ben Heggy's chocolates are the best veggies out there!  Of course fruits in the form of gummy bears and sweet tarts are pretty fabulous too! 

I am always interested in people's journey to this field. How did you get involved with environmental education?  

My parents took me camping at Old Man's Cave in the Hocking Hills Region of Ohio and I fell in love with the Naturalist Cabin and all the programs that they had.  

Part of the Jeske Award's criteria is to have been an NAAEE member for at least five years, as well as having occupied a leadership role in some capacity with NAAEE. Could you share how you got involved with NAAEE?  

I became of the Executive Director of the Environmental Education Council of Ohio in 2003.  In 2004, I was asked by my Board of Directors to go the NAAEE Conference. That was the first time I had heard of NAAEE. At the conference I was in a different workshop when someone came into the room I was in and informed me I was in the wrong workshop. That is when I was told about the NAAEE Affiliates and that there was an Affiliate Workshop.

What was your favorite moment of this year's conference?  

The Affiliate Network Steering Committee training with the Center for Diversity and the Environment was GREAT!  However, I think getting the Jeske will ALWAYS be not just a favorite moment of the conference, but of my life. I was amazed that I received the award number one, but even more amazed that they were able to keep it a secret from me!!!

Why is environmental education important to you?  

Environmental education is the one common thread that connects us all on this planet.  No one can deny that educating others to have cleaner air, water and land is a great thing.  Having a safer, healthier place to live that is more inclusive and just is something that most people can identify with if they are honest with themselves.