Meet Lisa Winters, an inspiring young woman whose childhood love for nature would lead her on the path to becoming a mentor for America’s 1st STEM City, also known as Flagstaff, Arizona.
Lisa grew up in Michigan fishing and exploring with her father, during which time she became intuitively aware of the world around her with an innate desire to explore and protect nature. She became very interested in telling the story of not only how things survive but also our part in the maintenance and retention of it all. Lisa’s journey took her from her home in Michigan to her first university in Indiana and finally to Utah State University where she received her degree in Aquatic Ecology. Following college Lisa took a job working for Arizona Game and Fish as a biologist in the Grand Canyon where her office included a raft and fishing pole in order to study the marine habitat of the mighty Colorado River. She would later take on an internship with Grand Canyon Trust as a Citizen Science Coordinator where she remains employed to this day.
As Lisa became involved with Grand Canyon Trust she had a chance encounter with Kathryn Wertz, a 6th grade teacher at Sinagua Middle School in Flagstaff. She expressed to Kathryn how fun it would be to bring her fish into the classroom to help better educate the students as to the life and sustainability of not only the wildlife but also the environment around them. Lisa wanted to not only share her interest in science with the children but to also help foster developing young minds on an exploration of discovery, connecting the dots for responsible management of the ecosystem. Lisa believes very strongly in keeping a child’s sense of curiosity alive so they continue to learn. She credits an environmental educator for doing just that for her when she was a kid in school searching for killdeer eggs and becoming inspired herself.
Lisa is very adamant about bridging people with nature and teaching them about protecting it. Her passion lies in expanding the knowledge base on policy and decision making in the real world with an understanding of the effects on our natural environment as being part of this process. She strongly believes it is important to take these steps with young minds and help to integrate this knowledge early in life so they may carry it on into their adult lives as stewards of the spaces around them.
Lisa recognizes Mindy Bell, former STEM City Coordinator and long time STEM educator, as an important influence and mentor who has an undying passion for STEM Education. Mindy is admired for her ability to connect people and build a shared vision of a successful and thriving Flagstaff community. Lisa is thankful for not only a wonderful mentor but thankful to live in Flagstaff, a science literate community where people and fields of science intersect uniquely and with great impact.
Lisa reflects on a particular moment in the classroom that helped to encourage her continued involvement as a classroom mentor while working with a group of 1st graders at Haven Montessori Charter School. She had brought in some fish to do a different style of teaching which in turn made quite a mess. With water all over and a few remaining students helping to clean up, she had an encounter with one little girl who looked up at her in the midst of the chaos and told her she wanted to be a fish biologist someday.
When asked what advice she would share with students Lisa had some great things to say. She recommends they follow their curiosity in what excites and drives them such as she has for her love of the outdoors. She also suggests not to be afraid to dig into a subject they like and unpack it. Take a leap of faith and do something they enjoy so it doesn’t feel like just a job later on in life.
The advice Lisa would give to others looking to become a fellow mentor is to not be intimidated by the amount of work it takes because it is worth it. It is also good practice as scientists to communicate their work to the general public and what better way to start than with 6th graders, who Lisa claims are not near as terrifying as a person may think.
You can learn more about Lisa and her work with Grand Canyon Trust here: https://www.grandcanyontrust.org/staff/lisa-winters
Written by Molly Brown incoming NAU Journalism student