The Education Operating Committee provides governance and leadership to Project Learning Tree. The committee’s responsibilities include:
- Recommending goals and policies for PLT and other educational programs
- Developing annual operating plans and budgets for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s (SFI) Board of Directors’ approval
- Assisting with fundraising activities
- Participating in PLT’s programs and activities
- Initiating strategic planning for PLT and other SFI education programs
PLT National Staff
Senior Vice President
Kathy is Senior Vice President of Education for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and Executive Director of Project Learning Tree (PLT). She is a past president and board member of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) and has served on a variety of other advisory and education boards of organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and the National Association of Conservation Districts. Kathy has received numerous awards for her work in environmental education, most notably the prestigious Walter E. Jeske Award for lifetime achievement in environmental education from NAAEE. Kathy holds an M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and holds a B.S. in Natural Resource Management from University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Senior Director, Education Programs
Esther Cowles, M.Ed., has worked as a consultant for the past seven years, both for National PLT and as a Senior Research Associate with PEER Associates. She specialized in strategic planning, organizational development, and the evaluation of conservation, environmental, and place-based education programs for nature centers, zoos, colleges, and state and national environmental education organizations. Prior to consulting, Esther worked as an educator, program designer, and executive director in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years, with 17 years at New Hampshire PLT. In this capacity, she was responsible for all aspects of strategic, financial, programmatic, and organizational management for this statewide nonprofit organization. She also served three years as the State Coordinator representative on National PLT’s Education Operating Committee. Her skills are deeply rooted in participatory involvement and building collaborative processes and partnerships. She holds a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Plymouth State University and Bachelor of Economics from the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire.
Director, Communications and Marketing
Vanessa develops and executes communications and marketing strategies to raise awareness of the importance of environmental education and learning outdoors, and publicizes the resources, training, and support available to teachers through a variety of digital, print, and traditional media. Previously Vanessa was Publicist at the National Geographic Society where she promoted documentary films, television specials, and classroom educational videos about the world’s culture, history, and natural world. Vanessa has a B.S. in Biology from Nottingham University in England.
Coordinator, Partner Network and Program Operations
Haley helps to manage PLT’s Model Program Initiative and state capacity building efforts, governance, service-learning programs (GreenWorks! and GreenSchools), and professional development programs. Haley holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from State University of New York (SUNY), New Paltz.
James Riley McGirt
Manager, Service Learning and Community Engagement
James manages PLT’s GreenSchools service-learning program that helps teachers, students, and schools adopt practices to make their campuses more green and incorporate environmental education into their teaching. James started his career as an education specialist for the District of Columbia’s Board of Education, then went into the classroom to teach 3rd-12th grades. Later he was Director of After School programs and Principal for both the middle school and the adult education program at the Friendship Edison Junior Academy in Washington, D.C. James holds a BS in Early Education from the University of the District of Columbia in Wash., DC and Masters of Public Administration from Baruch College in NY, NY.
Manager, Professional Development and Instructional Design
Jennifer oversees the design and development of high quality professional development experiences for educators and PLT’s network of state coordinators. These efforts include design, production management, and evaluation of our online professional development courses. Jennifer has over ten years of experience in designing technology-supported learning experiences in both not-for-profit and for-profit contexts. Jennifer earned a B.A. in psychology and a M.S.Ed. in adult education and human resource development from James Madison University, and a Ph.D. from George Mason University in education and learning technology design research.
Senior Manager, Curriculum and Outreach
Jackie leads the strategic direction and creation of the next generation of PLT’s PreK-12 environmental education materials, as well as other instructional materials and resources. She also presents and exhibits PLT’s curriculum and programs at education and forestry conferences across the country. She serves as the subject matter expert on PLT curriculum materials as they relate to PLT’s accompanying professional development programs and communications efforts. Jackie holds a B.A.in Environmental Studies from Allegheny College in Meadville, PA and an M.S. in Ecological Teaching and Learning from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.
Fellow, PLT and Conservation
Piper provides communications and curriculum development support for the PLT program and for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s Conservation and Community Partnerships Grant Program. Piper holds a B.A. in Social Relations and Policy from Michigan State University.