Environmental Stewards Turn Interest Into Action

Photo: Piping Plover stands guard over eggs.

Piping Plover stands guard over eggs.

To a Rutgers Environmental Steward, a summer visit to the Jersey shore - and an important one-mile stretch of Cape May beach front, in particular - offers more than fun and sun; it's a timely opportunity to protect the Piping Plover, a nesting shore bird whose eggs are hardly distinguishable from the sand and the rocks scattered on the beach.

For his 2009 certification as a Rutgers Environmental Steward, Gibson Reynolds of Collingswood, New Jersey, helped the Nature Conservancy protect and monitor Piping Plovers, beach-nesting shore birds that nest and feed at the Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge. As part of the project, Reynolds educated beach-goers about the importance of the birds and recorded information about human-use along the one mile beach-front of the refuge. His stewardship has led to the site producing nine healthy Piper Plover fledglings, so far, for the 2009 season. The Cape May Migratory Bird Refuge is the most successful breeding site for Piping Plovers in the state, due in part to the protection efforts at the site, and in particular, to the hard work and dedication of seasonal interns like Reynolds and volunteers called Piping Plover Patrollers.

Photo: Piping Plover Patrollers install fencing to protect nests.

Piping Plover Patrollers install fencing to protect nests.

Thuy Anh Le of Hillsborough, New Jersey, was installed as a Certified Rutgers Environmental Steward in October after completing her internship, including work with the Sustainable Montgomery Steering Committee and the Sustainable Hillsborough Steering Committee to promote home energy audits and successfully sign up 200 local residents to convert to energy efficient lighting in their homes.

"I personally feel energized by my participation in the Sustainable Committees in Montgomery and Hillsborough. I am valued and respected by my colleagues and believe that the Environmental Stewards program provided the background that I needed to speak up about environmental issues," said Le.

Reynolds and Le are two of the twenty-one participants, drawn from among all the classes, to successfully conclude their 60 hours of internship projects and be installed as 2009 Certified Rutgers Environmental Stewards in a ceremony at Duke Farms in October. Overall, fifty-two members comprised the Class of 2009, completing the 60 hours of pre-certification classroom and field experience to become the fifth class of environmental stewards since the inception of the program.

Rutgers Environmental Stewards are a committed segment of New Jersey residents who turn their interest in environmental issues into action through this statewide environmental stewardship certification program, which won the 2007 Governor's Environmental Excellence Achievement Award for Environmental Education.

So strong was his "interest in working toward a more sustainable world" that Joe Basralian resigned from a private sector job in 2008 and soon thereafter enrolled in the Rutgers Environmental Stewards program. Basralian credits his preparation in the program with helping him land a job as a conservation advocate with the New Jersey Audubon Society. "I found the Stewards program online and leapt at the opportunity to join a highly accessible program - no "industry experience" required, locations around the state, and an affordable price - that was also designed to be serious and substantive. This is a rare combination of attributes for any program!"

An innovative partnership between Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) and the Duke Farms Foundation, the Rutgers Environmental Stewards program teaches participants about land and water stewardship, best management practices, environmental public advocacy, and leadership.

Photo: Members of the Essex Class visit the banks of the Passaic River as they learn the environmental challenges facing one of New Jersey's most burdened rivers.

Members of the Essex Class visit the banks of the Passaic River as they learn the environmental challenges facing one of New Jersey's most burdened rivers.

To become Rutgers Environmental Stewards, participants receive approximately 60 hours of classroom and field trip exposure calculated to give them a better understanding of the science behind today's most pressing environmental issues. To become certified, however, participants must put their knowledge to work in the second part of the program, by volunteering 60 hours to an internship in which they work on solving real-life, environmental problems.

According to Bruce Barbour, RCE extension agent and originator of the Rutgers Environmental Stewards program, the curriculum is designed to introduce non-scientists to the science underlying key environmental issues in the state. "Students do not only receive facts, but also are introduced to a network of expert individuals and organizations who can be of service to them in the future as they wrestle with solving local environmental problems."

Rutgers University provides the training using faculty and partners from several governmental and non-governmental environmental organizations and agencies, including the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), New Jersey Audubon Society, the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, and a rapidly expanding list of environmentally-related organizations from government, academia, and the non-profit community. Interns are exposed to internship experiences with partner agencies like local environmental commissions or watershed associations, placements with NJDEP, or as volunteers in projects at Rutgers University and Duke Farms.

Read more on the projects of the 2009 Certified Rutgers Environmental Stewards.

To learn how you too can turn your interest in the environment into meaningful action, review the registration information at the Rutgers Environmental Stewards website.

Piping Plover image on homepage © Damon Noe.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences