How CBF's Expedition Chesapeake led to my career in environmental education.
Eight years ago, during my junior year at Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Va., I decided to be a part of a unique paddling expedition—the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Expedition Chesapeake to be exact, also lovingly called Bay Bound. Twelve other high school students and I journeyed from the fertile Shenandoah Valley to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay over the course of 30 days during the summer of 2005.
As we canoed the Shenandoah River and kayaked the Potomac, we discovered the story of the watershed. We witnessed the impact of each unbuffered river bank, waterfront property, wastewater treatment plant, farm land, and the impact of 17 million citizens living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed as we journeyed to CBF's Port Isobel Island Education Center in the middle of the Bay. We were able to talk with other high school students and watermen on Tangier Island. Many of these people depend on the water for their livelihood, just as farmers in Rockingham County depend on the land. On the Bay Bound experience, I learned how my actions "up river" have a direct effect on the health of the Bay.
I returned to my high school feeling energized about the Bay, environmental awareness, and education. After I graduated high school, I pursued a college degree in environmental science while maintaining my relationship with CBF. Serving as a CBF oyster restoration intern, I spent many glorious days out on a boat working oyster reefs. I also had the opportunity to assist in facilitating an education trip at CBF's Karen Noonan Education Center in Maryland. Looking back, it is clear to me now that CBF and that month-long expedition have opened so many doors for me.
One of those was the opportunity to attend graduate school at Virginia Tech and work for the Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) program. While completing my master's degree in agricultural and extension education, I worked as a program coordinator for VALOR—a new, premier leadership development program at Virginia Tech for adults in agriculture. Each of the 10 members of this year's inaugural VALOR class is challenged to engage in all segments of the industry, to create collaborative solutions, and to promote agriculture inside and outside of the industry.
The two-year VALOR program provides class members with opportunities to meet legislators, decision makers, industry leaders, agencies, and organizations during 10 regional visits, one national trip, and one international trip. For example, while in Washington D.C., class members met with Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte, representatives from Farm Credit, and the American Farm Bureau, as well as professionals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and America's Promise.
So when the VALOR director and I started planning for a seminar in the Northern Neck of Virginia, I knew exactly whom to call: the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings, CBF Hampton Roads Senior Scientist Chris Moore, and two CBF educational staff members hosted VALOR members at CBF's Port Isobel Island for two days in July. After setting crab pots, fishing off the pier, canoeing, oyster dredging, and trolling underwater grasses, participants had a greater understanding of the health of the Bay and agriculture's role within the watershed. Many candid conversations followed, and opportunities for collaboration were discussed. Read their thoughts here.
I felt honored to be a part of another experience that builds bridges between agriculture and the environment. And it all started with that Bay Bound journey eight years ago.
—Kelsey Church Brunton
Kelsey Church Brunton recently graduated with a master's degree from Virginia Tech. She currently lives in Blacksburg, Va., and on the weekends enjoys hiking the Appalachian Mountains and kayaking on the New and James Rivers. She recently accepted a position at Virginia Tech as the 4-VA Grant Assessment Coordinator. The 4-VA Grant is a multi-institutional initiative to enhance the success rates of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The collaborative effort also intends to decrease the cost of delivering instruction, increasing access to programs, and increase research competitiveness. When Kelsey is not working, "I am always trying to find a way to spend time on the Bay."