As educators and students begin a new academic year, we focus on a standout educator in our UCOWR community, Dr. Natalie Carroll. Serving as Professor of Extension Education in the Department of Agricultural Sciences and Communication and Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University, Dr. Carroll has dedicated her career to promoting high quality science education and outreach for students of all ages. Her early career began in the public schools, and after three years teaching math and general science in high school, she returned to Michigan State University for her advanced degrees. Carroll earned her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Agricultural Engineering, wishing to impact water quality and quantity issues in her work. As it happened, Purdue University had a faculty position opening perfect for her background. “I found the opportunity to combine my teaching and engineering experiences and my desire to educate others about water and other natural resources. I took a position that is primarily in informal youth education about our natural resources (department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication) with a minor appointment in Agricultural and Biological Engineering where I teach.”
Dr. Carroll has made impactful contributions in extension education throughout her career. In February of 2015, Purdue Extension published her Soil and Water curriculum for 4-H leaders and other youth educators. Leading a team of researchers, practitioners, and fellow extension professionals, Natalie designed a comprehensive, experiential science program. “The curriculum is designed for youth who enjoy learning about science and two very important natural resources: soil and water. There are 3 levels and a teacher’s guide. We strove to have active, hands-on activities as much as possible and to lay the groundwork for upper elementary aged youth and then progress to a college freshman level (or higher) for the students who use the curriculum in its entirety.”
Carroll received an Education and Public Service award from UCOWR in 2015 for her Soil and Water curriculum, as well as the 2016 Blue Ribbon Award for Publication, Comprehensive, from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ASABE). Additionally, Dr. Carroll has developed six 4-H projects (entomology, geology, shooting sports education, soil and water science, weather and climate science, and wildlife) and collaborated on others (aquatic science, beekeeping, and forestry). She developed educational pieces to teach important environmental topics including: Bioindicators of Water Quality, Proper Disposal of Unwanted Medicine, and Biocontrol of Purple Loosestrife. Records from Indiana 4-H indicate that an average of over 20,000 Indiana youth use Carroll’s curriculum each year, while national 4-H records indicate average use at another 4,737 youth per year. These and similar efforts earned Dr. Carroll Purdue University’s Christian J. Foster Contributions to K-12 Stem Education Award in 2016. She loves her direct interactions with youth as well, and over the course of her career in extension education has led or been part of some 495 training sessions, with a total of 9,839 adults and 11,881 youth involved, overall.
Her appointment in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering gives Dr. Carroll additional opportunity to positively impact rising young leaders in natural resources. She describes her ABE 236 course as “an inch deep, mile wide” introduction to natural resources management issues. Often taken by a mixture of engineering and agricultural systems management students, the course gives students a basic overview of the pieces involved (soil, water, climate, economics, etc.), and continues with a deeper look at ag systems issues in national and world news, including such topics as Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and Conservation Reserve Programs (CRPs). The course introduces the complexity of water resources issues, and the necessity for interdisciplinary approaches to problems. Natalie adds, “I’ve been excited to get more students from across campus! We have had aviation recently adding the class as an option for their students, to prepare them for working at airfields in rural communities. Even Health and Human Services students can benefit from the basic knowledge of how agricultural water systems work.”
Natalie offered some observations about current extension education challenges. The biggest change she has seen during her career is “the change from face-to-face meetings with our county staff and volunteer educators to online interactions via e-mail and web trainings. I don’t drive around the state much at all anymore.” This particular change is “probably necessary, particularly with the move to digital contacts in a time of reduced support.” One change that concerns her, however, is a trend in 4-H programs around the U.S. “The focus has changed from teaching subject matter to a focus on life skills, putting subject matter specialists in a role that they were not trained for…I tend to think that youth Extension programs should focus on the actual knowledge base of the universities.” She adds, “Our society expects educators to provide increasing services for youth, which can be difficult. Research does show that a strong role model can help youth achieve their goals, but it is a relatively new role and often one that county educators aren’t prepared for, so it can cause rapid turnover in the field.”
Dr. Natalie Carroll continues to promote extension science education through her tremendous educational outreach projects and through her generous service to every community to which she belongs. “It is the high value I place on service orientation that led me toward extension, I think. Sometimes it gets me into trouble though – it’s hard to say no!”
Natalie’s curriculum materials are available at the following sites:
Resources for Educators’ website, www.ydae.purdue.edu/natural_resources/resources.html