YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK—While Kate Owen prefers teaching face to face, reaching young students online from Yellowstone National Park during the COVID-19 pandemic still produces the rewarding moments that drive her passion and career.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to learn the history of human/bison interaction or the importance of water quality at the Grand Canyon from Owen? You can see the sparkle in the education technician’s eyes just as clearly on Zoom.
A Natural Resources and Environmental Science (NRES) graduate, Owen grew up near St. Louis. She was destined to attend the University of Illinois.
“My parents are alums, so I’ve worn Illinois gear since I was out of the womb. Visiting campus on a spring day – with people hanging out and playing Frisbee on the Quad – confirmed I’d go to Illinois,” she said. “I just felt ‘ho hum’ about the other schools I visited.”
Until it’s once again safe to gather on campus, interested students can explore NRES in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) by visiting aces.illinois.edu/visit or academics.aces.illinois.edu. Or call 217-333-3380 today.
Owen’s studies at ACES helped her define a career that would show her the world and help her impact it.
Initially she wanted to be a marine biologist. But working with Midwestern preschoolers made everything click.
“Outdoor education is so impactful. All the little kids kept saying ‘wow’ to everything I showed them, and their parents said the kids talked and talked about learning about nature,” Owen said. “I knew then that I wanted to share with others all the exciting things that happen in the lab and out in the field.”
NRES degree programs serve people interested in restoring, preserving, and protecting life around the world.
“Our students and faculty care deeply about the environment and the role humans play in shaping it,” says NRES interim department head Bob Schooley. “We are so proud of the work our alumni do – in the field, online, and in eventually in person once again – to create a more sustainable future.”
As many children spend more time on electronic devices to learn and connect because of the pandemic, Owen encourages them to explore nature however possible. Families and educators can learn more about expanded virtual offerings on the Yellowstone website.
“At Yellowstone, we amped up our distance learning. We use Zoom, Skype, Google, Facebook Live – whatever we can to reach people while they stay safe at home,” Owen said.
She hopes kids and families will one day visit Yellowstone and other amazing places they learn about online.
“I love showing kids that there’s so much more than what’s in their backyard,” she said. “Plus, maybe they’ll want to work in the parks someday. There’s nothing like having a park ranger uniform and badge.”
Owen has worked in fisheries in the Great Smoky Mountains and as an AmeriCorps park interpreter, among other adventures. She counts her year in North Carolina as the most impactful. She taught coastal ecology to fifth-graders, many who had lived in the state their whole lives but had never been to the beach or seen the ocean.
“I want kids of all ages to remember their cool nature experiences – online and in person – so they become future stewards of our natural world,” Owen said.
Now that Owens’ seasonal stint at Yellowstone is over, the self-proclaimed gypsy is heading back to the East Coast to work in fish and wildlife in Maine.
Owen remains a fan.
“ACES offers a small-college feel within a big university. You get to go on field trips, learn from experts in their fields, and go into the field,” she said. “It’s like a hands-on, get-your-feet-wet learning environment.”
ACES encourages other alumni to share how they’re helping their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alumni and others who wish to support ACES can learn more and give online.