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Dr.  Melinda Wilder, director of natural areas at Eastern Kentucky University,is spending a portion of her sabbatical training with international nonprofit Ecology Project International (EPI) as she explores the feasibility of an outdoor field science program for Kentucky teachers and students.

EPI is a field science and conservation organization that partners scientists with students and educators in ecologically critical environments in five countries. Their programs empower youth with the critical thinking and conservation skills to make positive change in their communities and throughout their lives.

Wilder, a science educator at EKU for the past 26 years, partnered with EPI to learn how to run field science programs that teach hands-on, real-world biology and conservation, including data collection that scientists and policy-makers can use. Her research and training is the beginning of a feasibility study to bring EPI-style programs to local Kentuckians. 

This winter, Wilder participated in three types of EPI Yellowstone’s field programs in Yellowstone National Park: instructor training, a Yellowstone Winter Ecology Fellowship course for educators, and a Yellowstone Winter Ecology course for local Montana high school students. While Wilder had previously led six EPI courses for formal and non-formal educators, her participation this time reached a deeper level.

“My participation in the Yellowstone programs has given me a greater appreciation for the work that EPI does,” Wilder said, “and for how they truly influence the lives of both high school students and educators.”

In April, Wilder will finish her research on conservation education curricula and teaching strategies in Costa Rica, spending three weeks working with EPI Education Manager Carlos Trejos and helping to lead the EPI Costa Rica Teacher Fellowship.

Upon her return to Kentucky, she’ll begin to look at the logistics of developing a similar conservation-focused education program in eastern Kentucky using EKU-owned-and-managed Lilley Cornett Woods Appalachian Research Station in Letcher County as the program site. She plans to contact a variety of stakeholders in the region to begin building both ecological research and educational partnerships.

About EPI

EPI’s mission is to improve and inspire science education and conservation efforts worldwide through field-based student-scientist partnerships. For more information on EPI’s programs, visit