We are delighted to announce that our Environmental Education team is growing! We would like to welcome our new teammate, Amy Campagna, & introduce you to this terrific educator. Amy will be taking on the daunting task of assisting our Naturalists in presenting educational programming as well as assisting in program development, overseeing the department schedules, & so much more. We are so excited to have her on board & look forward to all the experience she brings with her.
I sat down with Amy to get to know her so check out her interview & then stop by the park to say hi in person this season!
What is your personal and educational background?
I grew up on a small family farm in south-central Nebraska. I received my BS and MS degrees in Human Services fields from UNL and worked as a Youth Program Coordinator and then as a Counselor in the Omaha area before my husband and I moved our family to an acreage west of Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. There I focused on raising our three children and taking care of all the animals that soon followed. In 2011, I completed the training for the Nebraska Master Naturalist program, and that’s where I found my people. I’ve been working and volunteering in the field ever since.
Where did you work prior to joining the staff at Pottawattamie County?
Prior to joining the team at PCC, I was the Education Coordinator for Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, an organization dedicated to rehabilitating sick, injured, and orphaned native wildlife. Because most of those animals are in need of help because of things people do, public education is a big part of their mission. I spent a lot of time in schools and in the community educating youth and adults about native wildlife and ecosystems. I had the great privilege of taking care of some very special animals, too. I was also an Educator for Fontenelle Forest where I facilitated nature-based programs for a lot of fun, energetic young people.
What are you looking to the most in your new position with Pott. County?
Places like Hitchcock Nature Center feed my soul. I’m looking forward to working in such a cool place and getting to know everyone involved with PCC—staff, volunteers, speakers, visitors, friends—who share in my passion (cliche I know, but what other word is there?) and commitment to making a difference around crucial environmental issues.
Tell me about a project of accomplishment that you consider significant in your career.
If I have changed a few individuals’ perceptions about wildlife and the importance of protecting our natural systems, I consider that a great accomplishment. Once a student cried in fear of a live educational opossum I brought to her classroom. By the end of the hour learning about opossums and getting up close and personal with one, she exclaimed with enthusiasm that it was her new favorite animal.
Who or what inspired you to pursue this field as a career?
Over the years, many people have inspired me, but my parents planted the seed when I was very young. Growing up on a farm, I spent a lot of time out of doors and life revolved entirely around our natural world. I learned early on that when we respect and care for the land, there are great rewards to reap, and I left home with a sound understanding of how people and the environment are inextricably linked. In raising my own three children on our acreage west of Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, I witnessed the impact that playing outside, growing our own food, and raising animals had on their understanding and relationship with nature, and I wanted to share it with others.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced in pursuing your chosen career?
There are a lot of volunteer opportunities in this field but not a lot of jobs. I’m optimistic about the prospect of the expansion of the field as more people are prioritizing environmental causes. I’m also excited to see more women in roles traditionally filled by men.
What is your favorite Iowa native species and why?
I have so many favorites. One that fascinates me is the Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum). It has unusually deep-lobed leaves that feel like course sandpaper and tend to orient north-south to avoid the hot, midday sun on the prairie. It’s said that early pioneers used the plant to help navigate and that Native American children chewed the dried sap for gum.
I’m a book lover. I think a person’s taste in books tells you a lot about their personality. What books would you recommend to our followers?
I would recommend articles and books by Benjamin Vogt, native plant landscaper, owner of Monarch Gardens out of Lincoln, NE. His gardens are incredibly beautiful and sustainable and his writing is reflective, introspective, and inspiring, as well as practical. I would also recommend the blog, The Prairie Ecologist, by Chris Helzer, Director of Science for the Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. He writes about the importance of prairies and prairie conservation. His articles are informative and beautifully written, and his photos are amazing!!!
Amy hard at work with her corn snake our 2019 Fall Festival at Hitchcock Nature Center
What indoor and outdoor activities do you enjoy in your off time?
Besides spending time with my three kids, now all in college, I enjoy taking care of my animals: two horses, three dogs, six cats, fifteen chickens, one goose, and a corn snake. I also like to experiment with native plant landscaping and have been trying my hand at beekeeping.
What is one thing that fans of our Environmental Education Dept. can look forward to with you on the team?
I love being in the great outdoors & think it’s the greatest classroom you could ever ask for. I really look forward to presenting more programs that make use of this resource & getting more people from all age groups & walks of life out on the trails & learning in nature. So if you join me on a program be prepared to hit the trails & interact with nature in a hands-on way.