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Getting credit for appreciating nature


​Student Brittany Pedersen releases an American Robin following a bird banding. Many birds, such as this one, don't know what to do when on their backs so they lay there until they are turned right side up.

Photo: Anoka-Ramsey Community College

​In 2010, Jennifer Braido and Kristen Genet, biology instructors at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Minnesota, re-designed a field biology course to include a naturalist certification program and open it to the community.

Since then, more than 50 students and community members have become certified as Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteers and completed various service learning projects that have provided innovative learning experiences for students and tangible benefits to the community. Projects have included:

  • Conducting a sugar maple tree inventory at local nature center
  • Designing interpretive signs for a local ecosystem science reserve and an environmental education area
  • Developing pre-K–12 curricular materials about Minnesota’s gray wolf, porcupine and fox
  • Assembling enrichment materials for black bear, gray wolf and cougar enclosures
  • Investigating potential diseases of captive gray wolves as an undergraduate research project

Designed to develop a corps of well-informed citizens dedicated to conservation education and service in their communities, the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota Extension. Almost every state in the U.S. has such a program, often developed in conjunction with universities and county extension offices. The programs are similar to the Master Gardeners Programs around the country.

Keeping in practice

Enrollees in the Anoka-Ramsey program receive many hours of classroom and field instruction. Upon graduating from training, master naturalists are expected to complete a number of hours of volunteer service in their first year and 20 hours annually thereafter along with annual continuing education requirements.

The program allows six spots for community members along with the 18 spots for Anoka-Ramsey students. That means community members can experience a college-level field biology course while earning the certification without paying college tuition.

“By incorporating this Master Naturalist Certification into our field biology course, we have expanded the age and socioeconomic range of volunteers for the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program to include a younger collegiate audience enthusiastic about conserving the state’s natural resources and attracted community members who are not necessarily biology majors, but who may choose to continue taking additional courses here because of their positive experience in this course,” Braido said.

One student, Brittany Pedersen, described her experience in capturing and banding birds.

“Mist netting is one of the safest ways to capture and band birds without harming the animal,” she said. “Once they are banded, their migration patterns can be tracked. On campus, we captured chickadees, robins and nuthatches. I really enjoyed watching how the different birds reacted to being handled by humans; some of them were reasonably calm, while others were really aggressive.”