Those associated with the field of public health know its goals are to promote and protect the health of people and the communities in which they live, work, and learn. They also know that within public health there are numerous emphasis areas that accomplish these goals, including community planning, public policymaking, epidemiology. For Melissa Bedford, her childhood passion for saving and protecting the earth evolved into a unique career in public health.
In her late twenties, Melissa attended the University of Missouri to earn her B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife, which included coursework such as Conservation Biology, Ecology, Disease Ecology, and Human Dimensions of Conservation. Although Melissa’s main area of study was wildlife management, she became intrigued by the ways humans interact with the environment and why some individuals seem to care about the environment while others do not. “It was David Sobel’s work on the importance of environmental and place-based education which led me to pursue my M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction. I wanted to use my background in Fisheries and Wildlife to design conservation curriculum that would inspire children to grow-up to be stewards of the environment,” explains Melissa.
In combination with her degrees and volunteer work as a naturalist, a graduate internship with the Missouri Department of Conservation in the Private Lands Division helped her gain permanent employment with MDC as a Conservation Education Outreach Coordinator in the Outreach and Education Division. Melissa explains the role of this position, “Healthy human populations depend on natural resources such as clean air, potable water, and healthy soils. As the population of the world increases it becomes vital to understand and educate the public about these resources and why these resources have to be protected and conserved. Conservation education outreach coordinators serve this role by providing resources to schools and to the public regarding conservation and environmental education.” The position enables a person to have a variety of day-to-day responsibilities and duties. Melissa explains that on any given day she might be writing standards-based curriculum for the Discover Nature Schools (DNS) program, training educators how to use the DNS curriculum, coordinating outreach efforts for DNS, or administering the federal Aquatic Resource Education Grant.
After working for the Department of Conservation for 4 years, Melissa decided to seek a change and work closer to home. She recently began a new position as Program Specialist for the Undergraduate Public Health Programs in the School of Health Professions (SHP) at the University of Missouri and is excited to see how it relates to her previous work and its potential for personal and professional growth. Although Melissa is only a few weeks into her new position, she notes that her background in outreach will play an important role in the work she will be doing at SHP and MU.
For those interested in this field, Melissa recommends being an active member of the environmental education community by joining professional organizations, such as environmental literacy boards and environmental education associations. These types of organizations will help individuals stay up to date on the ever-changing field of environmental education.