Being a California native has made me mindful of how vital environmental education is for our communities and to advocate for a greener future. Growing up in the city of Torrance, our family loved to take advantage of going to the local beach which was only a few miles away. I found myself either taking strolls along the beach watching dolphins swim parallel to the shore or partake in various water activities (surfing, fishing, swimming). Although I enjoyed my little adventures, some of my friends preferred to stay indoors. As a teenager, it always baffled me why they did not want to explore outside and see the amazing things in our own backyard. Their reasoning would always fall along the lines of the outside being “dirty” and/or “boring”.
Once I began my undergraduate studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, it occurred to me that those childhood friends only got to experience our environment through textbooks or online pictures. While in high school, our course curriculum only lightly brushed on the environmental issues. We mainly focused on the core STEM subjects which were essential for either completing certain college application prerequisites or helping secure jobs. Since we lived in a city, it was harder to relate to environmental issues since it seemed as if it did not directly affect us. The transition from the city jungles of Los Angeles to the enormous redwoods in Santa Cruz inspired my interest in environmental education.
I joined the James River Association education team in September of 2019. I came across this opportunity since my partner is currently attending William and Mary as a MBA student. I decided to move with her because I saw an opportunity for myself to expand my experience in both a different environment and to work with students from different backgrounds. Working out of the Presquile National Wildlife Preserve has been a rewarding experience especially because we witness students’ excited and surprised reactions to uniquely natural events.
During this month of September, it will be an exciting experience to be paddling alongside the community and further learn more about how some are connected with the James River and how I as an educator can enhance the interest for more individuals to become James Changers.- Chase Oishi