MAEEC Student Engagement: NAAEE and EECOM

November 1, 2018
Rick Kool

Over the past few weeks, I’ve attended two conferences: they could not have been more different.

Since 1995, I’ve been attending the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) conferences; not every year, but often enough to keep connected. I was crazy enough, along with the late Dr. Rick Mrazek, to co-host the 1997 NAAEE meeting in Vancouver. These meetings, usually with over 1000 participants, are a smorgasbord of presentations with many opportunities to learn and teach. As I get older, I’m more and more aware that while I go to these events to learn and be inspired, I am now an elder and I find myself meeting with young practitioners who are eager to learn something from whatever it is that I may have done that they see as bringing value to their own work.

The NAAEE meetings, while fun, have, to me at least, two major drawbacks: lack of connection to place, and questionable corporate funding. The last time the NAAEE held its conference in Canada, they scheduled it on our Thanksgiving, missing, it seems, the fact that many Canadian participants would want to be with their families on that weekend. Using large convention centres also tends to ‘de-place’ events. This year’s conference was in Spokane WA and while the conference centre is along the river that runs through the city, the connection to place was minimal. And with corporate sponsors that many conference participants openly mocked - but are clearly needed to keep the organization going - my cynicism does at times go over the top.

After NAAEE I drove to Cranbrook BC in the beautiful Rocky Mountain Trench for the conference of the Canadian Network for Environmental Education and Communication: EECOM. This conference is also one that I try to regularly attend for a few reasons: it’s always small, usually less than 300 people; EECOM tries to pay strong attention to place; great people show up; and sponsorships rarely raise my hackles. The Cranbrook meeting, organized by the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network, was fabulous. We met at the old St. Eugene’s Kootenay Indian Residential School northeast of Cranbrook, now a resort owned and operated by the Ktunaxa First Nations; the whole conference was done with the amazing and gracious collaboration of that community and its leadership. We were welcomed and educated by this community, a community who turned a symbol of pain and loss into a place of cultural renewal and pride. With conference registrations limited (and there were LOTS of people who wanted to come but found registration closed), there was ample opportunity for rich discussion, extensive sharing, and lots of time to connect to place. 

The MAEEC program past and present was very well represented at EECOM. From the faculty side, both Hilary Leighton and Rick Kool were engaged in presentations and workshops. There must have been at least 15 alumni and three present students, many of whom were significant contributors to the event including Patrick Robertson (MA, 2004 cohort) who MC’d the entire conference.

Our program is a real leader in the Canadian environmental education and communication ecosystem, and our students and alumni have made their mark!