Refuge education specialist honored

Posted: Friday, March 27, 2009

Kenai Refuge environmental educator Michelle Ostrowski was honored this week as the Alaska winner of the Sense of Wonder Award sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Michelle was recognized for her skills as a teacher who has created innovative programs connecting people with wildlife and natural resources on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo Courtesy Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Staff
Photo Courtesy Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Staff
Michelle Ostrowski (left) works with a young student in the environmental education cabin at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Ostrowski was honored this week with the Sense of Wonder award by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Over the last 12 years, Michelle has organized and presented numerous campfire, nature walk, and discovery hike programs, as well as training and mentoring 40 seasonal interpreters. In 2005, she was the first USFWS employee in Alaska to become a Certified Interpretive Guide under the auspices of the National Association of Interpretation.

Michelle has employed her skills as a graphic artist in the Refuge Outreach Program by creating a variety of brochures, flyers, posters, and bulletin board displays. She has been a driving force in refuge "Family Fun Days" which has an annual attendance of more than 1,200 people, as well as organizing booths and displays at numerous community events from sports shows to Safe Kids activities. For the latter, Michelle received the 2008 Partner of Excellence Award from the Safe Kids of Alaska Program.

Michelle and her colleagues host about 3,000 students each year for environmental education programs. She was instrumental in creating nine refuge-specific environmental education units for elementary grades, three units specifically for Home-school students, and six wildlife check-out kits for educators. Michelle has received three USFWS Challenge Cost Share Grants to expand environmental education programs with local organizations, and she has trained and mentored 12 education interns over the last three years.

Last summer Michelle launched the refuge's first summer camp program for fourth- and fifth-graders. In this week-long outdoor day camp, kids had lots of fun with "hands on" learning about Alaska's plants and wildlife. Michelle received a USFWS Connecting People with Nature Award for this new program.

Michelle is currently pursuing a satellite master's degree in education from Lesley University, with the expectation of integrating art with science to improve the refuge's nature education programs. Michelle's commitment and enthusiasm to share nature with the kids of our community in fun, innovative ways makes her very deserving of the special recognition brought by the 2009 Alaska Region Sense of Wonder Award.

Deputy Refuge Manager Doug Staller summed it up well by saying, "Michelle is everything I think the Sense of Wonder award winner should be. She's an on-the-ground provider of programs. She's creative, enthusiastic and infuses others with a passion for sharing the natural world."

Great job, Michelle!

Candace Ward has worked at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge for t25 years and has been honored to be Michelle Ostrowski's supervisor and colleague for 12 years.

Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on our website You can check on new bird arrivals or report your bird sighting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Birding Hotline 907-262-2300.

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