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My 8-Month AmeriCorps Term with Pollinator Project Rogue Valley

by Sam Inada, Pollinator Educator and Outreach Specialist

Me in the Ashland Halloween Parade, wearing a child’s bee costume made into a vest

Hi everyone! I'm Sam, Pollinator Project Rogue Valley’s United Communities AmeriCorps member, serving (not technically working) as the “Pollinator Educator and Outreach Specialist” for our Pollinator Pals program. It took me 8 months to get that one down, but I finally got it! As my term is coming to an end, I was asked to give a run-down of what I did during my service, and what I learned along the way, so here goes.

In the spring of 2023 I graduated from University of Oregon with a degree in Global Studies and moved back home with my parents in Ashland. Global Studies is one of those weird degrees where there is no clear career path after graduation (not many jobs for Global Studiers around Ashland), and I had a lot of anxiety about what I was going to do. I happened to meet Hannah from PPRV’s Education Committee through playing volleyball, and when talking to her about PPRV’s AmeriCorps position, it sounded like a cool, unique experience, and a way to do something positive in my community, even though I didn’t know anything about pollinators.

The Education Committee in October 2023! (From left to right: Ethan, Sara, Hannah, me, Sue, Kristina, Pete not shown)

My term at PPRV has been my first full-time job experience, and in addition to not knowing anything about pollinators, when I started I had little experience teaching, and no experience in environmental education or in environmental science. I’ll admit, I was quite nervous to start and was at a place in my life where I did not have much confidence in myself, and my abilities as an educator. But, little by little, being out of my comfort zone at PPRV has helped me grow as a person, learn about the world around me, and find skills that I did not know I had. 

For those of you that don’t know, AmeriCorps is a federal organization that essentially funds people to do work that would usually be considered volunteer work, often at a nonprofit or at a school. Me, and the other AmeriCorps members in Southern Oregon, had trainings and team events every month or so, but mostly I was at the office at PPRV. At PPRV, I worked closely with our Pollinator Pals program coordinator, Ethan, to develop education materials and do classes and events where we teach youth about native plants and pollinators and the importance of these organisms for our local ecosystem here in Southern Oregon.

The 2023-2024 United Communities AmeriCorps team at our MLK day river clean up! (From left to right: Julia, Lakia, Julie, Ashtin, Julie, Kalee, Isabel, Tracy, me, and Erik)

I spent my first two weeks trying to cram in a bunch of reading and YouTube video-watching about pollinators, but even as I started to learn more, I couldn’t really picture myself teaching about them, and still didn’t feel a strong connection to the material. The first class I did at PPRV was at The Crest at Willow Witt ranch, where we did a field trip with 5th graders. We got there to set up, and I had my first real-life experience with the pollinators I had been reading about, when Ethan showed me adorable little bumblebees sleeping on flowers. Bees are exothermal, meaning they get their energy from their environment, so when it gets cold, they do not have the energy to fly, and sometimes have to take flower naps. Those bees in particular were likely males, who are born in the fall, and never sleep in the nest because they spend their time outside looking for mates. This little experience won me over to the amazing little world of pollinators. My time at PPRV has been filled with learning little things like this that I will take with me wherever I go for the rest of my life and have forever changed my view of the world.

Me showing the students a sleeping bumblebee on a PPRV brochure!

This was also the first time that I saw Ethan teach, which if you have seen before, you know is a magical thing. He showed a group of kids pollinator and flower parts under microscopes, and the way he conveyed his own passion for the subject was so infectious. You could see each kid, who previously couldn’t care less about bugs, light up with excitement (and albeit, maybe some disgust) as it was their turn to operate the microscope. Over the course of my term, I have learned so much from working with Ethan, and he has taught me so many ways to be a better educator, coworker, and pollinator scientist.

Me watching in amazement as Ethan scares (fascinates) kids with dead bugs.

One important lesson in particular that Ethan taught me during this first class was that sometimes you have to make sacrifices for science. When we were leaving the class, Ethan stopped the car because he saw a nest that he wanted to identify. He went to ID it and came back running and yelling, getting bitten and stung by a hive of bald-faced hornets (yes, anative pollinator). I took this lesson to heart when later on in my term I ended up tasting some nectar from a flower while working on a lesson plan about flower anatomy, and later learning it was poisonous, and having to call the poison control hotline (1-800-222-1222, if you too ever find yourself sacrificing yourself for science).

The rest of my term was one learning experience after another, and by the end of my time I found myself going from zero confidence, to being able to coordinate, plan and run a lesson entirely by myself, which I am extremely proud of. Not to mention, now I know enough bee facts to be quite fun at parties.

Reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to some kindergarteners at Mae Richardson Elementary

But besides the teaching aspect of my work, there are a lot of other things that I learned about that have made my term at PPRV such an incredible experience. I learned how to be creative, and be confident in my ability to make lesson plans, flyers, videos, crafts, and games. My most notable creation being our Pollinator Trading Cards, that PPRV is selling as a fundraiser for Pollinator Pals - so far, the crowning achievement of my life.

An early draft of the “Pollinator Trading Cards”

My time at PPRV has also taught me things that I would never have known about the community that I grew up in. Attending events like the Oregon Farm to School Conference at Oregon State University, the SOREEL Environmental Education Summit, and tribal partnership workshops put on by Vesper Meadows and Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, as well as tabling at events put on by organizations like UNETE showed me the different ways that others are bettering our community, and inspire me to want to do the same. 

Me posing at our table at the Oregon Farm to School Conference

I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all the volunteers at PPRV and anyone that I have had the pleasure of meeting over these last few months. You all have enriched my life, and I truly feel that this experience has made me a better, more confident person.

Click here to learn more about Pollinator Project Rogue Valley and our Pollinator Pals program.

Click here to learn more about the United Communities | AmeriCorps program.

And thank you to our funders who helped make my position possible!


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