Barn swallow juveniles by Ornithologist Ian Stewart

Serious Stewards – Delaware Master Naturalists

Delaware Master Naturalists Make Big Commitments, and Find Strength in Numbers

What is a Master Naturalist?

Delaware Master Naturalists are people who study the interactions of living species with each other and the environments in which they live. DelNature educates naturalists of all ages and skill levels. Now in its 4th cohort, the Delaware Master Naturalist program connects adults to the environment – and one another – to maximize their impact through volunteering and community projects.

Part of the Master Naturalist Effort Across the US

Master Naturalist programs train participants in the basics of local ecology, botany, ecosystems, and wildlife. The goal is to develop nature stewards who give back through ongoing volunteering. These programs are offered in most states, and as of 2020 Delaware is no longer an exception.

The Delaware Master Naturalists Program

Delaware Master Naturalists
Delaware Master Naturalists

Created in partnership with DelNature and the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension, two courses were held in the inaugural year, with nearly 50 people enrolled. In 2021, 62 people enrolled in the program, and in 2022 there are currently 48 new students.

“We expected the Master Naturalist program to be popular but didn’t imagine there would be quite as much interest as we’ve experienced,” said Joe Sebastiani, Director of Adult Engagement at DelNature and Master Naturalist program instructor. “It’s really encouraging to see so many people of different ages committing to improving our local environment. It is a big commitment.”

Each Master Naturalist trainee is expected to attend approximately eight classes and field trips, create a corresponding nature journal, and complete a 40-hour volunteer project with a Local Organizing Partner (LOP)—an environmental organizations that has agreed to provide volunteer opportunities, recruitment, and further learning opportunities for Delaware Master Naturalists. Trainees have a year to finish their journals and volunteer projects.

Upon completion, Master Naturalists must continue 40-hour volunteer projects each year in environmental education, citizen science, and improving natural areas each. That requirement has proven to be a perk for graduates.

“Once the Zoom lectures and field trips ended, many of us realized we were looking for a sense of ongoing community and meaningful service using our developing skills,” said Nancy Steckel, DelNature Executive Assistant and Master Naturalist. “As graduates of the first few Master Naturalist classes, we felt a responsibility to organize ourselves such that the Master Naturalists program could continue to build, with volunteering an essential and driving component.”

Raising Awareness

Creating a sense of community is more than group volunteering. There are a variety of opportunities, each of which contribute to the goal of a critical number of people who are aware of the environmental challenges Delaware is facing, and most importantly, willing to do something about it.

“It’s important to find volunteer opportunities that are the right fit for each person. Some people want to work with a team. Others prefer to work alone,” says Jill Kennard, Master Naturalist and volunteer project matchmaker. “Some people enjoy physical, labor-intensive work, while others prefer data entry and analysis. We need a wide range of work done and finding the right place for everyone is the best way to foster long-term engagement.”

If the success of the Master Naturalist program is gauged by the dedication and enthusiasm of its community of participants to date, the future looks bright.

For more information, please contact Joe Sebastiani..