Being a Naturalist in the 21st Century: Perspectives from the Field

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. on Zoom

It began with a spark…ever wonder how Ohio’s naturalists started their journey and what inspires them? 

Join us to explore the experience of being a naturalist with four Ohio naturalists whose work weaves in the core capacities naturalist will need in the future (e.g., fostering inclusivity, inspiring stewardship, observing and documenting, connecting social and ecological justice, and excellence in education). 

Each panelist will share their personal and professional journey to connecting with the natural world, what has helped them, and their vision for the future.  After the panelists share their journey we will have plenty of time for questions and discussion.

You will leave the afternoon inspired and equipped with new knowledge and ideas for your 21st century naturalist journey!

Zoom Panelists

Susan Leopold PhD

Susan Leopold, PhD, is an ethnobotanist and passionate defender of biodiversity. Prior to working at United Plant Savers, she worked as a librarian at the Oak Spring Garden Library, specializing in digitizing rare herbals and botanical travel manuscripts. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Botanical Dimensions and the Center for Sustainable Economy. She is an advisory board member of American Botanical Council. She is a proud member of the Patawomeck Indian Tribe of Virginia and the author of the children's book Isabella's Peppermint Flower, teaching about Virginia's botanical history.


Nancy Stranahan

Highlands Nature Sanctuary/ dba Arc of Appalachia Preserve System

Nancy Stranahan is the Director of the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System, and was one of the non-profit’s founders back in 1995. Since that time, Nancy has, alongside others, cultivated a vigorous citizen advocacy network (tree-roots as well as grass-roots) that has succeeded in founding 28 preserve regions across Appalachian Ohio, stretching from Holmes County to the Ohio River. The Arc of Appalachia stewards 11,000 acres of natural areas, 70 miles of hiking trails, the Appalachian Forest Museum, and eight overnight lodges. A few of the signature wildlife species protected inside the Arc include Henslow’s sparrows, cerulean warblers, golden star lilies, native bats, chuck-will’s-widows, synchronous fireflies, spadefoot toads, and timber rattlesnakes. The Arc has also been instrumental in saving Native American Indian ancient earthwork monuments, including Spruce Hill, Glenford Fort, Steel Works, Junction Earthworks, and, most recently, Tremper Mound. The Arc’s headquarters is located at the 3000-acre Highlands Nature Sanctuary, the Arc’s largest preserve region. Earlier in her career, Nancy served as Chief Naturalist for Ohio State Parks and later operated Benevolence Café and Bakery in downtown Columbus’ city market, promoting healthy and intentional food choices. Nancy LOVES teaching, learning, networking, and SAVING LAND!!

Nicole Jackson

Environmental Educator

Nicole Jackson has made it her mission to bridge the gap between nature and mental health. She demonstrates a profound commitment to environmental justice and the well-being of historically marginalized communities. With a strong background in environmental education and a deep appreciation for the natural world, she has forged a unique path as an advocate for mental health, equity, and better representation of Black voices in the outdoors. Having earned a bachelor of science degree in natural resources from The Ohio State University, she's developed heart-centered programs and worked directly with individuals to help them find solace, joy, and liberation through nature connection.

As an advocate for green spaces in cities, she is committed to ensuring that Black communities have access to nature, environmental knowledge, and an understanding of the power of story in outdoor spaces. As a tireless advocate for environmental equity, Nicole is committed to dismantling barriers and working toward a sustainable, just future. She continually engages in educational outreach, community building, and environmental activism to promote her vision of a world where excluded and marginalized communities can reconnect with themselves through meaningful nature experiences. 

A few years ago, Nicole started her own nature coaching business, N Her Nature LLC, focused on nature therapy for women. She's also a freelance environmental education consultant, leveraging her love for the outdoors to empower individuals to connect with nature, embrace its healing powers, and foster a deeper understanding of self and the natural world. Her coaching expertise encourages those seeking more joy and healing practices to experience the transformative benefits of spending time in nature, further amplifying the call for environmental justice.

Rick Gardner

Chief Botanist

Rick Gardner is currently the chief botanist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Areas and Preserves.  Rick has been studying Ohio’s flora for 30 years.  He has spent most of his career with the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves and a few years with The Nature Conservancy Ohio.  He is a visiting scholar at the Ohio State University Herbarium conducting research on Ohio’s flora including non-native invasive species and the sedge family. In addition to his botanical pursuits, he also has been very active in land protection and management.

Register Here 

This webinar will be recorded and posted to our OCVN current volunteers continuing education page: