by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director, and Kristen Egan, Development Manager

When we talk about our “Head Start Program” we’re usually referring to our terrapin conservation work. While we take great pride in the hundreds of terrapins that we are able to hatch and release each year, we are especially proud of the hundreds of students that come through our doors each year that broaden our reach and carry our mission forward to continue promoting appreciation, understanding and stewardship of our natural world and coastal ecosystems.

Building connections to the natural world is at the heart of our mission. Whether it be through our Summer Nature Program for children, our internship program for college students or simply through time spent walking our trails and exploring our salt marshes, we are inspired by the stories that highlight the impact these experiences provide and how passion for the natural world now guides these Institute head starters. Here are just a few stories that capture the ways head start experiences lead to a lifelong connection with nature.

Celina Ceballos: Fulbright Scholar
Celina Ceballos, a lifelong Avalon summer resident and recent graduate from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct sea turtle research in Honduras. The Wetlands Institute planted the seed for Celina’s passion for turtles when she attended Summer Nature Program growing up. Celina spent several summers volunteering with Summer Nature Program and the Terrapin Conservation Program gaining valuable field experience and deepening her growing passion for biology and ecology. Celina graduated from Eckerd as a Marine Science major with minors in Chemistry, Journalism, and Spanish, and looks forward to making her mark in global sea turtle research.

Carlee Scott Dunn: NOAA’s Ernest F. Hollings Scholar
Carlee Scott Dunn’s love of the ocean has always been a big part of her life. She credits her parents’ support for allowing her to attend Summer Nature Program here that sparked her interest in salt marsh ecology and environmental science. She is now a dean’s list biology major and marine science minor at The College of William and Mary and was recently awarded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Education’s prestigious Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship. This two-year scholarship program is awarded to aspiring undergraduates pursuing degrees in NOAA mission fields and is extremely competitive. She looks forward to diving further into oceanographic research, marine biology and more.

Brandon Henry: PhD student at the University of Maine, Orono
Brandon Henry’s history with us stretches back to the 3rd grade, when he and his family began attending programs and events here. Those early experiences helped cultivate his love of nature, and planted the seeds that grew into a driving passion to educate others and instill in them the same wonder he feels for the natural world. He attended summer camp here in the 7th grade, began volunteering in 2013, and became an Environmental Education intern for the summer of 2019. That summer was the time of his life, and gave him the skills he needed to join the University of Maine as a PhD student this coming fall.

“The Institute is what focused me on becoming a teacher,” Brandon says. “Before the Institute, I wasn’t sure if I would take on any graduate school; the Institute opened me up to being able to do this. Going there was one of the most important steps to getting me where I am now.”

We are honored that we could give these future leaders – and so many like them – their own “head starts”, and look forward to watching them change the world!