AgCenter specialist wins stewardship award

Mindy McCallum Brooks does not mind doing the dirty work or any heavy lifting. Because she helps restore wetlands through native vegetation plantings, it is simply part of her job, and she does it very well. For her efforts, Brooks will be one of five recipients of the 2012 Coastal Stewardship Awards presented by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

Brooks is a wetlands educator in the LSU AgCenter’s Youth Wetlands program. Last year, she conducted wetlands field days that reached more than 7,000 students and nearly 2,000 teachers and volunteers across southeast Louisiana. She coordinated several restoration efforts that involved planting wetland perennials, shrubs and trees totaling 35 acres across several sites.

“We’ve been distributing a wetlands curriculum to teachers to use in the classroom. We decided that getting the students into the wetlands will allow them to expand on that knowledge and apply that knowledge while at the same time helping to restore wetlands,” Brooks said.

At one of her recent field days, students from Tangipahoa Parish schools were capturing and identifying aquatic invertebrates, learning how to conduct water quality analysis tests and planting a wetlands garden. Brooks’ philosophy of getting the students actively engaged in the environment seemed to be paying off.

“We’re learning about the bacteria in the water in biology, and so it’s cool to be able to come out here and experience it and see what’s happening,” said Teddi Rayborn, a seventh grade student at Oaks Montessori School.

Ashley Mullens, program coordinator for the AgCenter’s Youth Wetlands education program, recognizes the important role Brooks plays. “She is very passionate and is willing to do the little extra effort that makes her field days such a success. The students and volunteers feed off her enthusiasm,” Mullens said.

As for winning the award, Brooks was surprised and very happy. “It helps validate that you are reaching people. And it also gives me confidence and motivation to work harder knowing that I can make a difference, “ Brooks said.

Brooks and the other recipients will be honored at the Baton Rouge Hilton on April 13.

Craig Gautreaux, LSU AgCenter