Assistant Professor Kathryn Stevenson is Connecting Kids, Communities to Nature
This article is part of a series highlighting faculty at the NC State College of Natural Resources and their research expertise.
Kathryn Stevenson is the director of NC State’s Environmental Education Lab and an assistant professor of parks, recreation and tourism management. She graduated from NC State with a Ph.D. in fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology in 2014.
Before coming to NC State, Stevenson earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Davidson College. While there, she volunteered in the herpetology lab, where she ran outreach efforts with schools and the community.
After graduating, Stevenson went to work at the Catalina Island Marine Institute, a residential outdoor school off the coast of Southern California. She has also taught high school science in San Francisco, California and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“In college, I quickly learned that I had more fun talking to kids and communities about our herpetology work than actually doing the field research,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson’s passion for environmental education eventually led her to NC State, where she worked with Nils Peterson, a professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, to study environmental and climate literacy among middle school students.
She has since completed her education as a postdoc and been named a faculty member in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management. Her research focuses on youth and nature. “I’m interested in the benefits youth gain from spending time outdoors, particularly as it relates to connection to nature, science learning and environmental behaviors,” Stevenson said.
Currently, Stevenson and others researchers in the Environmental Education Lab are studying the potential impact of children’s environmental education programming on environmental literacy at the community level. Stevenson is also supporting evaluation efforts aimed at making environmental education more effective at fostering youth development, connection to nature, and mental health.
“We’re looking at how environmental education programming that gets kids into communities might build environmental literacy across communities, as well as facilitate conversations that bring people together around environmental challenges,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson has two main goals with her research: to get kids outside and to amplify their voices in conversations about environmental issues. “I hope this work supports efforts to provide more opportunities for kids to get outside, including acknowledging and addressing inequalities in access to the outdoors,” she said. Stevenson is also interested in the unique perspectives youth offer in environmental conversations, including their ability to speak to universal values even in a politically-polarized environment.
Looking back, Stevenson says her interest in environmental education likely stemmed from time spent outside as a child, and later seeing students benefit from the outdoors as a teacher. As a parent, she’s also seen how much children influence adults, and hopes to make their voices heard at the community level as well.
“I was lucky to have pretty wonderful experiences outdoors growing up, ranging from summer camps to travel to just having a mom that sent us to the backyard all the time,” Stevenson said. “As an educator, I saw time and again how much kids came alive outside. They learned more, but they were also just nicer to each other and happier. We need more of that.”