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Roanoke graduate brings science to life at North Carolina museum

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  • Roanoke graduate brings science to life at North Carolina museum

  • 06/05/12
  • Tamara Poles has made a big impact in the field of environmental education since she graduated from Roanoke in 2008.

    A few months after graduation, Poles, a biology major who minored in environmental science, landed a job as nature and outdoor education manager at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, Va. In the four years that she was there, Poles revolutionized the environmental education program at the museum and in the Martinsville-Henry County community.

    Recently, she took a new job as coordinator of distance learning in the new Nature Research Center wing at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, N.C.

    Poles said she became interested in environmental education while studying at Roanoke College.

    "Environmental science professors, like Dr. [Jon] Cawley, always spoke about environmental issues, so I wanted to find a way to prevent these issues through education," Poles said.

    With Cawley's guidance, Poles created a video project as an independent study at Roanoke when she was a senior. She interviewed various people who were making advances in the field of environmental science, including an architect who designed a building in Roanoke that received LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

    "Tamara's video project was the first attempt ever at this school to combine environmental science and media communications," Cawley said. "She represented the school and the [environmental science] program very well."  

    Poles used copies of this video during her interview for the position at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

    Roanoke professors "were so willing to help," said Poles, a native of Manassas, Va., who while at Roanoke was a resident advisor, softball player and a member of numerous clubs and organizations, including the biology club and Alpha Kappa Psi, a business fraternity. "Those relationships helped prepare me for life outside of Roanoke College."

    Poles applied the knowledge she gained from Roanoke to her position at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

    In her first year, Poles helped initiate and organize the first annual Earth Week, which sponsors more than 25 nature and outdoor programs for the Martinsville-Henry County community.

    "Before I was there, [the museum] only had a handful of programs that were nature or outdoor driven," Poles said.

    Poles also became coordinator for the Martinsville-Henry County Community Nature Initiative, which teaches and encourages local students to appreciate nature. By 2011, the Nature Initiative provided 247 educational and recreational programs for nearly 13,000 people.

    "I am amazed by her accomplishments and ability to organize the community at such a young age," said Donna Hicks, the Nature Initiative representative for Henry County schools with whom Poles worked. "She strengthened the partnerships with other entities in the community, Henry County being one of them."

    In addition to her work at the museum, Poles spoke at different conferences in Washington, D.C., including one on behalf of the Children & Nature Network. Poles was selected by the Children & Nature Network's national board to be Virginia's representative in the Natural Leaders Network in 2010.

    Poles also has given back to the science program at Roanoke.

    As a youth fellow for the Sierra Club, Poles received $1,000 to create a program that educated people about the impact of large populations on the environment. Poles decided to use this money to create innovative games that taught Roanoke College students about proper family planning. She organized and presented these games during the 2011 Darwin Days event at the College.

    Poles' environmental education experience is giving her a strong foothold at her new job in North Carolina.

    Using different media resources including print, web, radio and video, Poles develops and presents to the public educational programs about the environment, health, ecology and the history of life from dinosaurs to modern day. She is also working with educators and researchers "to help bridge the gap between [environmental] scientists and the general public," Poles said.

    "I feel as though I'm on the cutting edge of something great at this museum," she said.

    --Posted June 5, 2012