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Refuge hires urban education leader

By REFUGE / DDWS - | Oct 28, 2020


Melissa Maher recently accepted the position of urban education leader for the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Funded by the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, the position was created to oversee the refuge’s education outreach, including the Wildlife on Wheels (WoW) mobile classroom, which will deploy this month to schools and venues in underserved areas throughout the five-county region.

A native of Joliet, Illinois, Maher comes from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, with more than 20 years of experience in development and oversight of student-focused strategies and programs. Within the past 15 years, she has held positions as teacher, school program manager and district career coordinator.

Maher will lead a team of two bilingual Spanish interpreters, interns and volunteers to schedule visits with the WoW and facilitate curriculum to benefit teachers and meet Florida education standards.

“I am honored and excited to be able to launch the WoW project,” she said. “I will be able to share my passion for nature conservation and wildlife protection with students and community members while they gain a deeper meaning and appreciation for it.”

Museum-quality hands-on exhibits inside the WoW will offer a taste of the refuge and natural science lessons to those who are unable to travel to Sanibel for the full experience, in keeping with the national refuge system’s Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership initiative.

PHOTO PROVIDED Artist renderings of interpretive exhibits for the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge's Wildlife on Wheels (WoW) mobile classroom, which is set to debut in this month.

Learning stations will interpret mangrove ecosystems, water quality and conservation, pollution and plastic, animal scats and tracks, Florida’s native animals, and wildlife sounds. The education team has developed lesson plans and bilingual activity sheets geared for grades kindergarten through 12.

“I am looking forward to implementing an engaging curriculum for students that will correlate to the real world,” Maher said. “Additionally, I am excited to build positive relationships within the greater community to share the mission of the refuge.”

“Melissa is a results-oriented and high-energy educator,” DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said. “Her work experience and skill sets — along with her energy, enthusiasm, and true belief in our mission — are a perfect fit for the refuge and DDWS education and development team in reaching and exceeding our short-term and long-range goals, particularly with WoW.”

“The positivity and passion for the mission of the refuge truly shines through everyone whom I’ve met at ‘Ding’ Darling,” Maher said.

To support the WoW project, call Miller at 239-472-1100 ext. 232.

To schedule a WoW appearance, contact wow@dingdarlingsociety.org.

For more information, visit dingwow.org.