URI grad student aims to empower the public through environmental education

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Warwick native to earn master’s degree May 21

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 3, 2011 – Vanessa Venturini remembers writing a report about the endangered manatee as a third grader, and it inspired a life-long passion for environmental education and endangered species protection.

As she prepares to graduate from the University of Rhode Island with a master’s degree in environmental science and management, she looks forward to a career building awareness and enthusiasm for the natural world.

“I got my first taste of environmental advocacy as a high school student through Save the Bay when I did a beach clean-up, and it was one of the most fulfilling things I had ever done,” said the Warwick native who recently moved to Matunuck.

Since then, she has worked with the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, helped with the restoration of the Pawtuxet River, organized beach clean-ups through Project Clean Sweep, and taught environmental lessons to elementary school students.

“I’m passionate about working with people to protect the environment, and it’s really interesting work,” Venturini said. “I like the idea of empowering people. I know the more I learn about the natural world the more fascinated I become, and I want to spread an interest and conservation ethic along with that fascination with nature.”

Venturini earned a bachelor’s degree from URI in 2008 and enrolled as a graduate student a year later.

“I learned through my coursework how people and development have had such a negative impact on biodiversity and the environment, and I believe that through education to the general public and professionals we can help alter perceptions and practices to be better for the planet,” she said.

As part of her degree program, Venturini undertook a research project with the Rhode Island Natural History Survey and the URI Outreach Center to encourage the use of native plants in home landscaping and ecological restoration projects. She studied model programs from around the country, interviewed nursery owners and program coordinators, and designed a training program for nursery professionals that will be launched later this year.

At the same time, Venturini has spent the last three years working at the URI Outreach Center coordinating youth programs, training volunteers, developing curricula, and teaching students about the environment. She will continue these activities after graduation and start a program for the new community garden at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center that will encourage children to become gardeners while teaching them about biodiversity in urban spaces.

“I always thought I was an English and history type person, and that’s probably what got me interested in outreach activities, but I’m also fascinated by the science side of things,” Venturini said. “Eventually I’d like to branch out and maybe one day be the director of a nonprofit environmental group. It’s really important that I be passionate about what I’m doing and that I have a job that I’m happy to wake up and go to every day. Environmental education is definitely in my blood.”