Au Sable's environmental education program is designed with five dimensions in mind. Read more about the program below:
- Beginnings: The Story of EE at Au Sable
- Earthkeeping: Biblical Rationale for Creation Care
- Pedagogical Approach to Teaching and Field Instruction
- Training Environmental Education Leaders
- Program and Institutional Support
Sixty years ago, a young high school science teacher from Grand Rapids, Michigan came to a realization. He was convinced from his own teaching experience that students learn better and have greater enjoyment studying God’s creative work in nature than they could in labs and lecture halls. This young teacher was Harold Snyder, and Harold was so gripped by this conviction that he was compelled to see such a place established. Harold began the search for a property that could be developed into a summer science camp for junior high boys, where the boys would “learn God’s word in God’s world.” With financial help from his family, Harold purchased 65 acres on Big Twin Lake in Kalkaska County to serve as the place to build his vision. Au Sable Trails Camp for Boys was offering its first summer sessions in 1958. By 1962, Harold had earned a PhD in Conservation Education from Michigan State University and accepted a position on the faculty of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. Harold quickly recognized the value of the Au Sable campus for existing courses in the Education Department in Camping and Recreation. The first college students began taking courses at Au Sable in 1963, while also serving as counselors to the younger campers. Over time, a full curriculum of field-based programming options for K-12 students was developed in a formal Environmental Education Program (EEP). As the EEP developed, the integral role of college students expanded, and the task of delivering educational experiences was formalized into an Environmental Education Internship Program (EEIP). Today, the institution Harold Snyder founded, now known as the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, is engaged in inspiring and educating people to serve, protect, and restore God’s earth through an array of programs and resources, including the EEIP. In the nearly forty years since the EEIP was organized, over 130,000 public, private, parochial, and home-school students have participated, and over 400 college students have served in the environmental education internship.
The Christian theological basis of Harold Snyder’s vision and work rests on six biblical premises. First, that the natural world around us represents and reflects a good and intrinsically valuable creation of God (Genesis 1:1-25). Second, that the appropriate response of humankind to God’s good creation is to serve and protect it (the more literal translations of the words “till” and “keep”, Genesis 2:15). Third, that human beings, created in the image of God, bear a unique capacity among all creatures to represent God’s intentions and love for His creation in such care (Genesis 1:26), as well as (fourth) a unique and God-given authority to exercise that care for the good of other species (Genesis 1:28). Fifth, that human disobedience to God resulted not only in estrangement and brokenness between God and human beings, but between human beings and God’s creation (Genesis 3:17-19), creating a need for all creation’s redemption (Hosea 4:1-3). Sixth, that, through our redemption in Jesus Christ, human labor and effort to serve and protect God’s creation can be consistent with and motivated by the hope and promise of creation’s ultimate redemption in the kingdom of God (Romans 8:18-22, Colossians 1:15-20).
Au Sable’s pedagogical approach incorporates a place-based education model, wherein larger conceptual objectives are taught using resources representative of a participants home-place. Furthermore, each of Au Sable’s educational programs utilizes direct investigation in the natural world as the primary driver for the learning experience. This hands-on approach to instruction promotes the engagement of the full spectrum of learner types and results in an increase in academic performance as well as a myriad of physical, psychological, and behavioral benefits for students and participants. Lessons are tailored towards each age group’s unique learning capabilities and strengths and a sequential programming framework moves students from an initial environmental awareness to environmental concepts.
The professional outcome of Au Sable’s EEIP is to train college students and recent college graduates in the skills and techniques of effective outdoor environmental education. Interns receive intensive preliminary training by education professionals on Au Sable’s own staff and gain significant teaching experience delivering field-based lessons on ecology and the environment to local school groups and citizens. Mentorship and professional development opportunities are woven into the internship experience, further enhancing the program’s effectiveness preparing individuals for careers in the environmental field. In the process of such training and experience, interns receive internationally recognized certifications in Project WILD and Project Learning Tree. Alumni of the EEIP pursue advanced degrees in environmental education, education, and an array of specialized sciences. Over the last 4 years, 40% of EEIP interns subsequently have enrolled in master’s level programs in the sciences, 87% now hold positions in an environmental or educational field. Interviews with former EEIP interns have confirmed the strong role that the internship has had in their professional development.The EEIP is itself the subject of regular periodic assessment by outside reviewers with expertise in environmental education.
The leadership of the Institute recognizes additional benefits that the EEIP has produced, including goodwill in the local and regional communities, students who return in later years to enroll in college level offerings and internships, and the financial support of former students who valued their experiences and want to help assure the same opportunities for children in the future.
Au Sable is institutionally committed to the continued growth and excellence of its EEIP program through dedication of staff, budget, and strategic planning incorporating the EEIP’s work in advancing Au Sable’s mission. Paul Wiemerslage holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Education and serves as Au Sable’s Environmental Education Coordinator. He assumes primary responsibility for facilitating enrollment of local schools and students in the program, recruiting interns from Au Sable’s participating colleges and universities, and planning and executing community programs with the help of other staff including Au Sable’s Executive Director, Dr. Fred Van Dyke, Director of Educational Development, Dr. Brian Keas, and the Au Sable Board of Trustees.