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7 Questions – Sarah Stankorb (National Park Trust)

Following a great 3-day weekend … we bring you an even greater 7 Questions with Sarah Stankorb, Education and Communications Director of the National Park Trust, which develops and safeguards critical parklands for generations to come. Check out her thoughts on bison, blogs, and being both a thinker and a doer:

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

Launching the Where’s Buddy Bison Been? program year has been wonderful. As we helped prepare for another year with the program, we heard again and again that the program allowed teachers find ways to bring their curriculum to life and make it more relevant to their students. Teachers are making environmental videos with their students, having kids learn writing and perspective — some by, looking at the environment from a bison’s perspective. One teacher taught younger students about the earth’s climates and ecosystems by “adapting” their Buddy Bison for survival in a variety of habitats. We provide the tools and our Buddy Bison teachers are thrilled to have a fun way to prompt creative lessons and, in turn, the kids feel deeply connected to what has turned into a growing grassroots movement.

2. What else are you up to?

In October we have SIX outdoor experiences planned for our Buddy Bison students. For what might be called a small but mighty staff, this is a huge undertaking, but also the sort of thing that motivated many of us to join the nonprofit community in the first place. We’ll be outdoors (with Buddy Bison, our education mascot), working with park staff and teachers to get kids exploring the environment, learning and, we hope, growing into tomorrow’s land stewards. This means a mounted parks police officer (and her horse Steely Dan!) at two schools, “sister” Buddy Bison schools meeting to hike a Maryland state park, third and fourth graders at the amazing Patxuent Research Refuge, bringing on a new school in the Lake Tahoe area for a trip to the Lake and service learning, and right in the middle of it all, our nation’s first Fossil Day on the National Mall.

3. Is there a moment, person, or event that inspired you to do this particular work?

Toward the middle of my senior year in college, I was weighing grad school vs. taking an AmeriCorps position. I sat down with one of my favorite professors and he asked me a simple question, “Are you a thinker or are you a doer?” For years I battled with my answer, never quite satisfied that it had to be one or the other. I feel that working in education through a nonprofit organization like National Park Trust allows me to roll up my sleeves and work toward my very carefully considered positions about the environment and everyone’s right to public goods like clean, open park land. I get to be a thoughtful doer.

4. Who is your hero in the nonprofit/philanthropy world?

Tanya Simpson. While keeping busy in a VP role at a national nonprofit, she also maintains a blog to lift up younger nonprofit professionals and keep all of us thinking about what goals should be motivating us in this work. Then, she launched MAJOR Impact on her own to make workforce development all of our business. Between Resume Rescue month and similar initiatives, she’s been helping those who are out of work gain confidence and get back on their feet. On the flip side, for volunteers, she’s been reminding us that we can’t just wait for the government to heal the economy. We all have a stake and all have the ability, as she says, to make a major impact. Often in the nonprofit world, I’ve run into people bubbling over with ideas, but it’s rare to know someone with the drive to carefully plan and implement them, and do it all so well professionally and all on her own.

5. What is the single greatest (and non-financial) challenge to the work that you do every day?

Powering down. In the nonprofit community there is always so much to do and the field is full of Jill- and Jack-of-all-Trades who wear so many different hats to get the job done. In that environment, it is easy to stay in zoom mode, and bounce from one project to the next. Sometimes, it’s a struggle to hit the pause button and stop for a moment to look at everything you’ve accomplished; but it’s such an important thing to do.

6. What advice do you have for other people who want to work in education?

Teach. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to hop right into your own classroom. I started out as a classroom assistant at a public charter school on Chicago’s Southside and absorbed quite a bit about the juggle to keep kids on grade level (or get them to grade level), maintain classroom decorum and help kids navigate all of the baggage that follows them to school. Education is not something that only happens in a traditional classroom, and some of my most meaningful experiences teaching occurred as an instructor for adult community college students or counseling at summer camps.

7. What’s next? (Interpret however you see fit)

It?s an exciting time for me. Between juggling the wonderful work we do at NPT, I am also a freelance writer. I’m in the rare position where my work fulfills and gives me the energy to continue pursuing my own creative endeavors.

EXTRA: If you could have a power breakfast with any three people (living, dead, or fictional) who would they be?

Iris Murdoch, Jack Black, and David Sedaris.

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