AmeriCorps, a federal program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, utilizes more than 75,000 individuals, also known as “members,” annually. These members accomplish a wide variety of tasks that align with the AmeriCorps Member Pledge:

I will get things done for America – to make our people safer, smarter and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.

Each AmeriCorps member serves at a host site, a non-profit entity that shares the cost of providing each member with a stipend and an educational award. Currently, The North Carolina Arboretum hosts two AmeriCorps members, Ericka Hincke and April Hausle. These two members are doing an excellent job here in Western North Carolina, and we want to highlight their hard work and accomplishments. Learn more from Ericka and April about their experiences as AmeriCorps members at the Arboretum below.

Ericka Hincke, Citizen Science Education AmeriCorps Member

I am in a program called AmeriCorps Project Conserve, which is affiliated with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. Project Conserve serves 18 counties in Western North Carolina, with the goal to build stronger, more educated and involved communities in order to help them better understand the natural world. I chose to serve in the AmeriCorps Project Conserve program because I absolutely love its mission. I am very interested in a career in environmental education, and through my position, I have been able to gain experience working with students in grades K-12, showing and educating students about all the fun and interesting things the natural world has to offer.

One part of my position here at the Arboretum – that also happens to be my favorite – is leading activities for a program called Project EXPLORE (Experiences Promoting Learning Outdoors for Research and Education). This Arboretum initiative is a grant- and donor- funded outreach program that brings long-term citizen-science projects to schools across Western North Carolina and beyond. Teachers selected for the program choose between three citizen science projects: Project eBird, Project Squirrel or the National Phenology Network. Arboretum educators visit participating schools three times throughout the school year. At the beginning of the year, we show teachers different outdoor education techniques that they can incorporate into lesson plans throughout the year. During the middle of the year, we come back to check in and see how the class is doing with the project. Then at the end of the year, we do a wrap-up activity with the class that coincides with the N.C. Standard Course of Study. Project EXPLORE students will be showing off their year of data collection at this year’s Mountain Science Expo on Saturday, April 8, 2017, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each class will contribute a poster detailing their observations, and many students will be on-site to discuss their outdoor studies with the public.

I think Project EXPLORE is a great program for schools, because it shows students that a scientist is not always in a lab wearing a white coat and goggles. They get to see real life, hands-on experiences that demonstrate what some scientists do for a career and how their collected data can be used in the worldwide scientific community. I think the students come away from the school year with a better understanding of what science is, what is in their backyard, and a feeling of accomplishment knowing that scientists are using the information that they gathered.

April Hausle, Community Engagement Education AmeriCorps Member

I chose to become an AmeriCorps member because I want to dedicate my life and career to better the lives of others, particularly through outdoor education. By committing to six months of service through AmeriCorps, I will be able to work toward a career in environmental education. My position is hosted at The North Carolina Arboretum through a program with the Conservation Trust for North Carolina.

As an Arboretum AmeriCorps member, there are several components to my work, including the facilitation of youth programming, such as school field trips, summer camp and the Wee Naturalist preschool program. The other component of my work is working with communities throughout Western North Carolina to educate them about the educational resources available at the Arboretum and make our programs as accessible as possible.

Currently, I am working alongside other Arboretum youth educators to promote awareness throughout WNC for a program called ecoEXPLORE. This program encourages outdoor exploration utilizing technology, in which kids go outside and take photos of plants, insects or animals that they find beautiful or interesting and submit them to the Arboretum in order to earn prizes and badges. Some observations are then uploaded to the iNaturalist network, where real life scientists use them for research purposes. ecoEXPLORE has four seasons of study: botany, entomology, herpetology and ornithology. Currently ecoEXPLORERS are in botany season; they can earn their “botany badge” by making three plant observations.

At the Arboretum, we are spreading awareness about ecoEXPLORE by conducting programming at libraries and other community centers around Western North Carolina. I think that this program is a really effective program because it provides an incentive for students to go outside and interact with nature. It also shows them how technology can be used as an educational tool rather than something that separates them from the natural world. This is just one of many reasons why I love being an AmeriCorps member at the Arboretum!