“My path in environmental educator was influenced early in life by the place where I grew up and some special people in my life,” says Susan Sahnow, who works with the Oregon Forestry Education Program (OFEP) and has an office in Peavy Hall. “I grew up on a farm in Oregon that had many places to wonder and explore, including creek and forest. Time not spent helping on the farm was spent by the creek, in the creek, exploring the natural areas, and with my 4-H animals.”
Even with her love of the out-of-doors, however, it didn’t occur to Sahnow to consider a career where she got to work outdoors. “In fact, I thought that I would be a fashion designer. It’s interesting that I ended up here, huh?” she says with a smile.
Although Sahnow started her academic career in the Home Economics department at OSU, she quickly found a connection to her true calling of environmental education in the College of Forestry through a passionate professor and mentor, whose heart was in environmental education and who had been instrumental in starting the outdoor school program she had attended as a sixth grader. Her first experience in environmental learning actually came when a sixth-grade student in northwestern Oregon participating in the Outdoor School program during its early days. “The program brought together four sixth-grade classes, one from each of four counties, for a week and allowed them to learn about their environment in a very hands-on way,” she says. “This experience really changed the way I thought about myself and academics. I didn’t believe I was very good student, particularly in science and math, but using those skills for something that I could connect to, like forests, and water, made sense. I could see a real life application of math and science.”
Sahnow notes that she would not have had this experience had it not been for her sixth-grade teacher, who made sure the class would get to attend Outdoor School. Sahnow continued her involvement with Outdoor School in high school and in college as a counselor and resource instructor, then ensured that her own children would have that same experience by conducting an outdoor school for their school. Connecting people with natural resources has been a theme throughout her career as she worked with youth organizations and natural resource agencies.
Now Sahnow works for the OFEP, a group dedicated to promoting environmental education curricula for teachers across Oregon to help incorporate information about Oregon’s forests, wildlife, and water into the classes they teach. “The primary tool we use to accomplish this is Project Learning Tree and Project WILD, national programs that will help us train over 1000 teachers in Oregon this year,” she says. The program is designed to build teachers’ confidence and capacity to teach about forests, wildlife, and water, in their classrooms and still meet national and state standards and benchmarks.
“It is important that the work we do is contributing to student success and achievement,” says Sahnow, “So, our job at OFEP is really two-fold: One part is natural resources and the other is student achievement, allowing students to use the forest and natural environment as a window to learning.”
Reflecting on her work, Sahnow is proud of the progress that has been made in reaching out to the teachers in Oregon and through their students. “This is a great job, and I love the work I do. It is exciting to know that our work is contributing to building citizens that are environmentally literate and have the skills needed to make informed decisions about natural resources.”
Bio of Susan Sahnow written by Bryan Bernart, Editorial Assistant, Forestry Communications Group, College of Forestry