Mary Ellen Boelhower: A Florida Master Naturalist Program Success Story

Mary Ellen standing with her binoculars on a forest path walkway.

Introducing Mary Ellen Boelhower

A native of Louisiana, Mary Ellen grew up in Ponchatoula, a small town near New Orleans. She went on to study Wildlife Management and Forestry before moving to work for a statewide conservation organization in New Hampshire for 18 years. A career change to university fundraising led her to North Carolina, where Mary Ellen continued to fuel her interest in nature by serving as a board member of a regional conservation organization. After many years dedicated to land conservation, Mary Ellen moved to Florida for her retirement.

What got you interested in the Florida Master Naturalist Program?

As a new resident of Florida, Mary Ellen was looking to make friends and expand her knowledge of southern flora and fauna. The Florida Master Naturalist Program was the perfect opportunity for her to do so. Within 6 months of relocating to Florida, she found herself in UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County’s Upland core module!

What is the Florida Master Naturalist Program (FMNP)?

The Florida Master Naturalist Program is an adult education course created by University of Florida Wildlife and Ecology professor Dr. Marty Main to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors. A main part of the FMNP mission is to teach those who teach others about Florida’s unique ecosystems and wildlife. Using science-based information and interpretive techniques, the courses prepare participants to share their knowledge with others and foster principles of sustainability, connectivity, and biodiversity to assist others to understand and respect Florida’s natural world as a community to which we all belong.

FMNP courses are open to anyone over the age of 18 who is interested in learning more about Florida’s ecosystems. They can be taken in any Florida county where they are offered and in any order. Some courses are offered in a virtual or hybrid format. Often participants start with the 3 core modules that focus on the three main Florida ecosystems (Uplands, Freshwater, and Coastal Systems). These 40-hour classes cover core ecosystems and the flora and fauna that make them their home. 24-hour Land Steward courses and 24-hour Restoration courses provide more specific technique and skill practice. Certification is provided for each course, as well as for series of courses. Scholarships are available.

What’s it like to participate in the Master Naturalist Program?

Mary Ellen began the program in May 2022 and has completed the Upland Systems and Freshwater Systems core courses. She doesn’t plan to stop there and hopes to further her learning by enrolling in the Coastal Systems and is registered for the Environmental Interpretation course.

During her courses, Mary Ellen had ample hands-on learning opportunities. When asked about her favorite part of the program, she elaborated… “The field experiences!  Nothing excites me more than being out in nature with other like-minded individuals, learning together from experts in the field about what we’re seeing.  I always observe and understand more than I ever would alone.”

Mary Ellen Boelhower: A Master Naturalist Success Story!

The Master Naturalist Program allowed Mary Ellen to indulge her interest while also learning more about Florida’s ecosystems. Equipped with the knowledge and appreciation she gained for Florida’s natural resources; Mary Ellen has become an environmental leader in her community. When asked about her experience in the program she said, “The program has also given me the confidence to share my knowledge with others.  I now have the tools to find solid information when I need to know more, including several experts to consult.  And on top of everything, it’s been such fun!”

Connections were the highlight of the Master Naturalist Program for Mary Ellen. She has now become involved with the Friends of Myakka River State Park, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, and Friends of Oscar Scherer State Park where she volunteers in the Nature Center. She has become a leader in her community by organizing monthly presentations and field trips through the Nature Club. She has used her professional connections from the Florida Master Naturalist Program to support her community work. Since the summer of 2022, she has been developing and distributing a monthly newsletter article entitled “What’s That Bird” which was inspired by her final project in the Uplands Systems core module.

How to get involved in the Master Naturalist Program

Discover the exciting world of nature with our upcoming Florida Master Naturalist courses! Join us starting on August 18th as we delve into the identification of and understanding the detrimental impacts of invasive plants in Florida. Gain invaluable insights and knowledge from our expert instructors who will guide you through an overview of invasive plants and their impacts, plant morphology, and a field experiences on aquatic and upland invasive plants. Register here before noon on August 14th.

On September 15th, join us for Environmental Interpretation (registration closes at noon on Sept. 10th). Become better environmental interpreters and educators, enhancing your skills to effectively tell the story of our natural environments so that others may learn about Florida’s natural history and conservation issues. This course covers concepts such as the fundamentals of interpretation, key elements of an effective interpretive program, and practicing interpretive techniques for a variety of audiences.

Both courses offer a dynamic blend of hands-on activities and immersive learning experiences, ensuring that each day is filled with excitement and discovery. Registration is now open, so don’t miss your chance to be a part of this incredible opportunity to deepen your understanding of the natural world.

SAVE the Dates for Freshwater Systems core module! January 22, 26, 31 and February 2, 7, 9, and 14, 2024. Registration coming soon!

Group of participants from the Upland Systems Course from May 2022
Upland Systems core module participants, May 2022.
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Posted: June 22, 2023


Category: Community Volunteers, Conservation, Natural Resources, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Course, Ecology, Environmental Education, Florida Master Naturalist Program, Master Naturalist, Pgm_EcoNR, Wildlife


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