Just as an artist uses their brush to illuminate a canvas with distinct color and design, an educator uses their tools to illustrate lessons with distinct tone and purpose. As the Outreach Specialist for Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network, Emily Cook draws on the unique topic of invasive plant species to inform and educate both children and adults alike.
Emily grew up in Ionia Michigan, spending most of her time outside – playing in the creek, building rock bridges, and climbing trees. Emily’s passion for environmental education stems from her connection to Michigan’s natural resources and her understanding of how invasive species threaten Michigan’s native plant communities. As an educator of an emerging topic, Emily says her favorite thing about teaching is “exposing students to something they have never been shown before and being a part of that light bulb moment.” She continues, “You can see how students are able to relate what they’re learning to how it affects their home and their community.” The outreach program is also crafted to ensure students know what they can do to prevent the spread of invasive species and why it is important.
After her visit with a class that had received an outreach program the previous year, Emily proudly points out that they were more than just familiar with the topic. She was impressed by the amount of information they were able to recall, “They’re retaining the information over the years, sharing it with their parents, and making connections to their life.” It truly shows the potential of one well conceived presentation. Emily attributes her lessons’ success to ensuring there is an outdoor component where students may identify invasive species nearby. Students also play the Invasive Species Game, a lively population simulation with “dramatic deaths.” To top off the whole experience, Emily brings along a variety of real plant specimens for students to see and feel. It’s a holistic approach that makes a clear and lasting impression.
Emily advises all educators to “focus on the little moments of inspiration” in order to continually motivate their work. Aside from her work with the Invasive Species Network, Emily spends her time painting wildlife and natural landscapes, hiking, birding, and is currently training for a half marathon. Her favorite local park is Green Point Dunes Nature Preserve in Benzie County, a beautiful preserve with bluffs that overlook Lake Michigan, providing inspiration to all who visit.
The Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network is a partner of the Grand Traverse Conservation District. For more information on invasive species, events, and outreach programs, please visit habitatmatters.org