Iowa’s Master Conservationist Program is working to “plant the seeds of conservation” through their recently redesigned educational curriculum on natural resource stewardship for adult learners. The program takes participants on a deep dive into the ecology and management of Iowa’s natural resources and challenges them to take their learning home and apply it on farms, homesteads, and public spaces. Dating back to the late 1980s, the program today is a far-cry from the teaching methods of the 1980s, as it blends online learning modules with hands-on field experiences and instruction to make the most of participants’ time and instructors’ talents.
The program’s flipped classroom approach allows participants to dig deep on the science and history of natural resource management at their own pace and in the comfort of their own homes, with lectures recorded by campus-based Iowa State University educators. After completing the four learning modules over the course of five to seven weeks, participants report to class ready to get their hands dirty on farms, parks, and educational centers across the state in sessions led by local natural resource professionals.
The first module covers the basics of conservation and land in Iowa, exploring the history of and the key players involved in conservation, as well as exploring the landforms and waterways of the state. The second module dives into detail on the three major ecosystems found in the state: prairies, forests, and aquatic environments. The third module applies the lessons from the first two modules and explores opportunities for conservation practices ranging from urban rain barrels to cover crops, and grazing bison on native prairies. The final module asks participants to reflect on their learning in the program and explores the ways people receive and act on messages about conservation.
The curriculum is delivered in communities throughout the state through partnerships between Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and a broad cadre of partner natural resource organizations, including Natural Resource Conservation Service employees, Iowa Department of Natural Resources biologists and foresters, watershed coordinators, local non-profit employees, and Iowa’s unique system of County Conservation Board educators and managers.
2019 marked the first full year of the redesigned curriculum following a pilot phase in 2017 and 2018. During 2019, 145 people completed the training in nine different offerings across the state. Program evaluations indicated widespread satisfaction with the curriculum, and 94% of graduates said they would recommend enrolling in the program to family or friends.
Program coordinator and Assistant Professor in Natural Resource Ecology and Management Adam Janke said the program has seen widespread interest because of the importance and high profile of the topics covered in the curriculum and the appeal of a program that features local educators and local natural resource challenges. Janke says he hopes the seeds of conservation sewn through the hard work of local educators will soon be growing across the state as healthy soils, water, and wildlife habitat for future generations of Iowans to enjoy.
Adam Janke, Assistant Professor, Iowa State University
Adam is an Assistant Professor and the statewide wildlife extension specialist at Iowa State University in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management. He holds degrees in wildlife conservation and management from Purdue (B.S.), Ohio State (M.S.), and South Dakota State (Ph.D.) Universities. His extension and research interests focus on finding opportunity areas for wildlife conservation in working agricultural landscapes of the Midwest with a specific focus on the intersections between water and wildlife conservation.