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BANNER ELK — The Outdoor Recreation Management program at Lees-McRae now offers a new certification to add to its already growing slew of outdoor-focused certification courses.

The North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program, developed by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs housed within the NC Department of Environmental Quality will now be offered to both current and future students at Lees-McRae.

With the recent addition, Lees-McRae becomes one of the few colleges in North Carolina to offer the certification in an academic setting. Other institutions include Appalachian State University and NC State University.

The certification also brings with it partnerships across campus including the Wildlife Biology program.

“The Wildlife Biology program has always placed a great deal of emphasis on community involvement through education,” Assistant Professor and Dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences Billy Carver said. “Invariably our students seek out opportunities to educate the public about environmental stewardship, animal conservation and the many ways humans interact with our environment. By providing an opportunity to gain this certification, we can help give them better tools to share their knowledge and passion.”

The college also hired Director of Education and Natural Resource Management at the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, Amy Renfranz, to lead the program’s intricate certification process.

Unlike other certification courses offered by the Outdoor Recreation Management Program, the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification is a 400-hour, multi-year process. Candidates have four years from their enrollment date in which to complete the program, according to the EECP website.

A student’s first step in certification will be the “North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Preparation” course taught by Renfranz on campus. From there on out, regardless of whether the candidate has graduated from the college or not, students will be able to check in with Renfranz to ensure their courses, internships, volunteer opportunities or other work falls into one of the several “criteria” outlined in the certification program’s requirements.

“I hope I can provide the same experience to students at Lees-McRae [that I received earning my certification] and act as a mentor to them,” Renfranz said. “My goal is to inspire students who will become educators themselves and inspire environmental literacy in others. It’s a ripple effect from me to the student, and the student they will touch in the future.”

Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of Outdoor Recreation Management Katie Wall said that in the world of Outdoor Recreation Management, certifications “are a really big deal in our industry.”

“It’s a level of professionalism that is a standard but it is often hard to obtain, especially by those in college, because of time and expense in getting the certification,” she added.

For Wall, the addition of the EECP felt natural, especially with Grandfather Mountain close to campus.

“Grandfather Mountain is an incredible resource for our students,” Wall said. “Not only that, but our location in the High Country offers so many different local and regional internships and volunteer opportunities that students can take advantage of as they are getting their certification.”

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