Holly Thomas-Hilburn

Tucson Program Coordinator

Pima County

Holly Thomas-Hilburn Portrait Photo

My first classroom (as a teacher) was the Vassar Farm, a nature preserve across the street from Vassar College, where I was a student. Second grade students came for field trips to explore the beautiful deciduous forest. My favorite lesson involved letting students experiment with snails crawling on different surfaces. One day I managed to get 15 second graders to silently observe snails in their terrarium, sharing their observations afterward. That moment was magic--and I was hooked on teaching with, in, and about the natural world. Since then my "classrooms" have included a Girl Scout Camp in northern California, a beach in San Carlos, Mexico, Arizona Water Festival sites all over the state, the Hassayampa River Preserve, and Sweetwater Wetlands.

In 2006 I began a master's program at the University of Arizona with one goal in mind: To teach kids science outside. My program was called Teaching and Teacher Education, with an emphasis in Environmental Learning. That study brought one key idea into focus for me: Young people need exposure to science and the environment early and often in order to become the good environmental decision makers that the future of our planet requires. My work with Arizona Project WET gives me the opportunity to teach adults (classroom teachers, University of Arizona students who work with us as Water Educators and hundreds of wonderful, enthusiastic volunteers) how to better engage students in science and help them feel a connection to the natural world.

Since I began with APW in 2008, I've filled a number of roles from Water Festival Coordinator to curriculum writer to evaluator, and what I've seen in every role is that Arizonans care deeply about protecting our state's water resources for the future. We've even changed our lessons to reflect the fact that students today know much more about water conservation than they did a decade ago! I look forward to seeing what the next decade will bring.