People of PLT | Celebrating Leaders in Education

April 26, 2024

Inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards is no easy feat, but for some, it’s a true calling. Each year, the Project Learning Tree (PLT) Leadership in Education Award recognizes those who have answered that call, making exceptional contributions to advancing PLT’s programs and initiatives at the state or regional level. 

Imagine a classroom filled with students, their eyes gleaming with excitement as they engage in hands-on activities that connect them to nature and the environment. This is the reality that PLT Facilitators Jennifer Rude and Jennifer Ortega have brought to life. We are proud to honor them as our 2024 PLT Leadership in Education awardees. We will be celebrating these two individuals at this month’s joint PLT, Project WET, and Project WILD Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas!


Jennifer Rude – Teacher, Twin Lakes Elementary School, Idaho 

Jennifer Rude Teacher at Twin Lakes Elementary School in Idaho smiling with two other educatorsJennifer Rude’s journey with PLT began over a decade ago, and since then, she has become a pivotal figure in promoting environmental education across Idaho. As a PLT facilitator, Rude has gone above and beyond to spread awareness and empower educators to integrate hands-on PLT learning experiences into their teaching practices. Her tireless efforts have transcended geographical boundaries, bridging the gap between urban and rural communities in Idaho. By conducting facilitator trainings and fostering collaborations among educators, Rude has ensured that PLT reaches students, teachers, families, and communities statewide. 

“Jennifer is a person who says ‘yes,'” shares Michelle Youngquist, the Idaho PLT State Coordinator. “Yes, to being a PLT facilitator. Yes, to being her region’s ‘go-to’ PLT leader, equally comfortable leading activities for at-risk youth or adults at a Forest Owner Field Day.”


Jennifer Ortega – Lecturer, Cal Poly Humboldt, California  

Jennifer Ortega’s journey with PLT is characterized by her passion for environmental education and commitment to nurturing future educators. Over the past 12 years, Ortega has been instrumental in promoting PLT programs and advocating for environmental literacy in California. As a lecturer at Cal Poly Humboldt, she has not only incorporated PLT curriculum into her own teaching, but has also inspired countless pre-service teachers to embrace nature-based learning experiences. Ortega’s impact goes beyond the classroom, as she actively participates in PLT’s statewide advisory committee and pre-service educator community, contributing her expertise and insights to enhance the program’s reach and effectiveness. 

“Jennifer has been a leader on the California PLT team for over a decade,” says Cynthia R. Chavez, the California PLT State Coordinator. “She is a joy to work with–her passion for education is transparent in every conversation.” 

Congratulations to all this year’s award recipients and nominees!


Bring PLT Into Your School or Community 

A group photo of 13 smiling new PLT facilitators outdoors in front of a forest

Join our growing network of educators who are empowering the next generation of environmental stewards today! With over 1,200 PLT workshops held nationwide each year, organized locally by PLT’s state programs and led by trained PLT facilitators, there are plenty of opportunities for you to get involved. Whether you’re seeking online or in-person professional development workshops or aspiring to become a PLT workshop facilitator, visit to connect with PLT in your state. 


Dia Ahmed

Dia Ahmed

Dia is PLT's Communications Coordinator and a writing and media relations professional with a passion for social storytelling. She supports communications with particular emphasis on drafting social media content and writing articles.

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